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Media Literacy via study of Advertisements

Media Literacy via study of Advertisements

Written by Meenoo Rami
May 05, 2012

Digital technology doesn’t merely convey our bodies, but ourselves. Our screens are the windows through which we are experiencing, organizing, and interpreting the world in which we live. We are doing more than extending human agency through a new linguistic or communications system. We are replicating the very function of cognition with external, extra-human mechanisms. These tools are not mere extensions of the will of some individual or group, but entities that have the ability to think and operate other components in the neural network–namely, us. (Douglas Rushkoff)

If we don’t create a society that at least knows that there is a thing called programming, then we will end up being not the programmers, but the users- and worse the used. (Douglas Rushkoff, Program or Be Programmed)

When I started teaching at Science Leadership Academy in the fall, I knew that I would have a chance to create a curriculum for a 12th grade English elective course.  It was one of the many things that drew me to SLA in the first place.  I am energized by the idea of creating a framework for learning that weaves my students’ interests with the desire to push their thinking around media literacy.  The course began with setting essential questions that would guide our inquiry throughout the semester.  The following questions captures the lines of inquiry students were interested in taking on at the beginning of the course:

  • How does Media affect culture and society?
  • What problems do we see with representation of race, class, gender and sexuality in Media?
  • How do we critically examine popular culture and push back against the biased representation of race, class, gender and sexuality in popular culture?

Throughout the semester, as a class we examined various forms of media and specifically instances of biases in representation of race, class, gender and sexuality within these forms of media.  The culminating unit involved our study of advertisements.  We were interested in studying advertising because it was the meeting point of creativity, money  and biases.  Eventually students were tasked to promote an idea or organization that more people should know about but don’t or create a satire of an existing marketing campaign.   

Some of the work that I have shared shows the potential for students to become producers of media rather than mere consumers of it. My students spends inordinate amount of time in front of the screen whether it is their television or their laptop and I wanted to ask them to take on the role of the content creator. While creating this content, I also wanted them to think about how they can push against the biases they perceived in media.  All messages have embedded biases and I wanted my students to take on the form of the advertising and in some ways, turn it on its head. Some of my students took this challenge on and the work that you see is the result of their labor.   

These projects have a quite a range in terms of quality, effort and depth of thinking on the part of the students.  These projects are by no means the ‘exemplary’ projects from this semester.  However, in their playful manner, these projects take on corporate conglomerates and general bias for consumption in American society.  The ‘stories’ being told via these advertisements show my students ability to compose in variety of forms.  In this specific part of the course, my students have gone beyond a traditional term paper composition to critique culture and media via their own creation of advertisements.  Since my students were examining such dynamic forms of media, it made sense them to create their content in the same form.  The dynamic range of projects from videos to print advertisements shows the start of the journey for my students in forming their own identities as content creators and cultural critics.  

I want to give my student William F. a chance to speak his work.  Here is the statement of purpose William wrote for his project:

Refuse acts to heighten environmental awareness within urban communities. As a not for profit company, Refuse infuses environmental design with a focus on small scale projects. For these projects, materials which commonly go without reuse are fused together or repurposed. The integration of existent materials creates a product with utility. Based in San Francisco, Refuse directly works with community members.  Located in the art district, Refuse spreads the relationship between recycling and art. Local artists take on a pledge of repurpose. This pledge establishes a relationship between artists and Refuse. Artists gain the opportunity to present in Refuse’s warehouse gallery, or more commonly called, “The Yard”.  It is here, under the high ceilings and vast space of The Yard, that our purpose becomes a practice. Course are hosted on site in The Yard free of charge. In addition to the product design project, participants are required to construct an art piece, which is then auctioned at the monthly benefit, and attend the required “scrap scavenge” — sets of groups that visit landfills and scan the streets with trucks for reusable materials. The positive effect of scrap scavenges in San Francisco has launched a partnership between the city and Refuse. In exchange for Refuse’s services to the community, Refuse functions under a free land agreement, which allows Refuse to sustain all activities and business. The instruction courses offered stick firm to the company’s roots by refusing to uplift any new ones; all materials used for the projects are in fact community gathered waste and materials. All people involved become artists with a palette dosed with environmental awareness at Refuse. But most importantly, they are willing to take their skills in a dumpster dive into past  waste and refuse.

To see more work from my students go here and here.

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