February 24, 2013

Dalton State professor’s ‘last lecture’

By Christopher Smith

— If Dalton State College communications professor Kris Barton dies tomorrow, he knows what he wants to say to his students before the end.

Barton delivered his “last lecture” Friday afternoon to members of the Georgia Communication Association at the Pope Student Center. The trend of delivering a last lecture started when a Carnegie Mellon University teacher named Randy Pausch gave a lecture titled, “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” in 2007 before dying from pancreatic cancer.

The lecture was recorded and became a popular YouTube video that inspired other college professors to give a lecture to students as if it were their last. Barton previously delivered his lecture to students on Oct. 16, 2012, and was asked by school officials to reprise it Friday.

“What I’ve worried about the most is missing the media landmarks of our time,” Barton joked. “In May of 2002, after seeing ‘Star Wars: Attack of the Clones,’ I worried that some tragedy would end me before I got to see ‘Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith,’ in 2005. The same happened when I wanted to see the end of ‘Lost,’ or see all of the ‘Avengers’ movies.”

The point? Television, books and media play a big part of everyday life. Perhaps too much, Barton said.

“I am worried about the impacts of media,” he said. “Many decry the dangers of prolonged exposure of mass media messages. Decades of study show us that the world as depicted on television is completely different from the real world but it nonetheless impacts how we view reality.”

Especially with reality television shows that blur the line between scripted and real life like “Jersey Shore,” “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Barton said.

“There’s a book called, ‘Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television,’ and it was written by Jerry Mander,” he said. “He says, ‘I raise no objections to television’s junk. The best things on television is junk. It’s when we learn from junk ... that’s when it becomes dangerous.’ I agree.

“Because of mass media, political solutions have been reduced to 30-minute ads that simplify some of the most complicated issues in our nation, religion has been taken out of sacred houses and moved into our homes with our La-Z-Boys and Pop-Tarts, while education has become edu-tainment.”

Education through media is particularly dangerous when Hollywood is involved, Barton said, pointing to “Braveheart” as an example of bad history in a blockbuster film.

“Hollywood’s goal is not to educate,” he said. “It’s to put butts in seats. At this point, ‘based on a true story’ and ‘inspired by true events’ should now read ‘based on a story that at one point was true.’ Please do not show these films (Hollywood films based on real-life events) in class, teachers.”’

Mass media isn’t “all bad,” Barton added.

“The media have their good intentions,” he said. “Mass media has brought us so much joy in our lives ... media helps us deal with events in our lives. There are numerous examples of how media help us deal with trauma in our lives.”

One example Barton used was when actor Ron Perlman visited a child named Zachary who had leukemia. Perlman visited Zachary through Make-A-Wish Foundation dressed as the child’s favorite superhero, Hellboy.

“Then there was Catie Hoch who struggled with neuroblastoma,” Barton added. “She had read most of the ‘Harry Potter’ series, but Catie’s mom didn’t think she would read the fourth book, ‘The Goblet of Fire,’ to her daughter. Then author J.K. Rowling contacted Catie and began to divulge what were at the time huge secrets to the plot and began reading parts of the book to her before anyone else.

“Can anything that brings this much happiness in the world be entirely bad like some media scholars say? I doubt it. Television, music, books and films have shaped who I am ... look through your old picture albums and you’ll see how much the media has been a part of your life. The media has their dangers, but in the end what they give us is so much more powerful than anything they take away.”