The hottest media story in the past week has been the instantly infamous New Yorker cover portraying Barack Obama and his wife Michelle as terrorists. Though the Obama campaign has been measured in its response, media outlets – and particularly bloggers – have been vocal in their disapproval. Some have suggested that the cover crosses the line from satire into hate speech, while others accuse TheNew Yorker of giving ‘aid and comfort to the enemy’ by visually depicting the smears and misconceptions that have been aimed at the candidate.
Ads like the one above have been appearing in public transit systems in Ottawa, Toronto and other Ontario cities over the last month, supposedly promoting a drug called “Obay” which prevents teenagers from having their own thoughts, hopes and dreams. It’s a classic example of viral marketing: an ad campaign that doesn’t actually name the product or service being promoted, but rather tries to get people talking about it in the hopes that when the product is finally unveiled the effect will be greater than a traditional ad campaign could have managed.
People who make their living producing images, such as photographers, stylists, publicists, directors and pop idols, learn how to use those signs to convey the impression they want to make. Although teen girls who are trying to send a signal to their circle of friends and pop music producers who are trying to send a signal to an audience of millions are working on different scales, the principle is very much the same. Depending on your audience, you need to tailor the signals you send out very carefully. Even your age can have a certain amount of wiggle room when dressed in the right signs.
Ever since Cronus the Titan tried to swallow his son Zeus, parents have feared being supplanted by their children. (It didn’t take.) But it’s only in the last few generations, as the rate of technological progress has accelerated, that children have grown up in a world significantly different from the one their parents knew, and it’s only very recently that parents have seen their surpass them while they were still in the single digits. Thanks to digital media, the world is changing so rapidly today – consider that five years ago there was no Twitter, ten years ago no Facebook and fifteen years ago no Google – that even those of us who spent our childhoods programming our parents’ VCRs can feel left behind.
Joe McGinniss’ book The Selling of the President had a shocking title for 1968, suggesting as it did that in the television age the presidency had become nothing more than another product to be packaged and sold. A new MNet resource, Watching the Elections (a lesson for Grade 8 to 12 Social Studies classes), shines a light on how the different aspects of an election – from the debates to political ads to the candidates themselves – are actually media products.
When Marlene Kane’s sixteen-year-old son Andrew asked her to drive him to the nearby town of Midland last December, she was surprised to hear that he wanted to meet with someone he had met while playing the online game World of Warcraft – and even more surprised to learn that the person he was meeting was a 42-year-old mother of four from Texas. Experts on sexual solicitation of youth online were less shocked however. In fact, for them the only surprising thing was Lauri Price’s sex. Everything else about the scenario – how they made contact, Price’s openness about her age, Andrew’s willingness to meet her, and the lack of deception about her intentions – all fit the evolving picture of how youth are sexually exploited online.
Just a short while ago, concern with online predators was so dominant that anyone trying to draw attention to the problem of cyberbullying felt like a voice in the wilderness. In the last few years, though, new research has not only provided a more realistic picture of the risks of online sexual solicitation; but has also raised awareness on the severity of cyberbullying. Unfortunately, all of the media attention that is now focused on cyberbullying runs the risk of making public perceptions on this issue as narrow and inaccurate as they were towards online predation.
Three well-known companies – Xerox, Starbucks, and the Gap – have recently made changes to their most public face, their logos. Each change has met with varying degrees of success, giving media educators an opportunity to look at just what makes a successful logo work.
Someone encountering the Internet for the first time might be forgiven for assuming it was created specifically for teenagers. Indeed, the Internet could reasonably be said to have been aging backwards since its birth – the domain first of scientists and the military, then of university students in the 1990s and now children and teenagers.
Teachers who include media literacy in their classrooms often face issues that don’t arise in other subjects. Nothing illustrates this better than the issue of diversity in media. It’s not unreasonable for teachers to see the topic as a can of worms and be concerned about offending students and their parents – not to mention worrying about what the students themselves might say. At the same time, it’s a topic that is simply too important to be ignored: what we see in media hugely influences how we see others, ourselves and the world. As a result, an ability to analyze media depictions of diversity is not only a key element of being media literate, it’s essential to understanding many of the social issues and concerns that we face as citizens. That’s why Media Awareness Network has developed That’s Not Me – a new online tutorial for professional development to help educators and community leaders approach this issue through key concepts of media literacy.