Last year in this space we wrote about how summer movies serve as advertisements for various kinds of merchandising. The success of 2007’s Transformers and its sequel this summer point to a different but similar trend: making movies that are actually about the toys companies sell.
It’s been widely said that attention is the currency of the 21st Century. In an age where media occupy an increasingly central role in our lives, the need to have that media focused on you becomes intense. For no-one is this more true than for children and teens, who now expect to be connected twenty-four hours a day and for whom the Internet and cell phones are essential parts of their social lives. An interesting Facebook page, amusing Tweets, outrageous YouTube videos, even shocking photos sent by cell phone – most of us are aware of the ways that young people seek their peers’ attention. In today’s media environment, is it still possible to teach young people the value of privacy? What, indeed, does the idea of privacy even mean to today’s children and teens?
It’s a persistent phenomenon: the faster we move into the future, the more we find it embedded with the bones of the past. Why else, for instance, would we still talk about “dialling” a phone, and later about “hanging it up”? Few people remember the early TV remote controls that worked by sending high-frequency sounds, but we still call remotes “clickers.” We still say “stay tuned,” “CC” (carbon copy) e-mails, “rewind” DVDs, and “post” online messages. Even new media darling YouTube contains an old-media artefact of this kind: the name is obviously meant to make us think of television, the “boob tube,” but few TVs have tubes in them anymore.
There’s an old urban legend called “the water engine,” which tells of the discovery of a way to turn water into fuel. There are variations to the story – sometimes it’s tap water, sometimes sea water; in recent versions it’s specified the fuel is nonpolluting – but the ending is always the same: the invention is suppressed by the oil companies, either by buying the invention and burying it or by forcing the inventor into ruin and suicide. One reason the legend has persisted so long – it’s been recorded as early as the 1950s, and probably dates to the first time someone grumbled about the cost of filling up his car – is because it confirms something we already believe, which is that the oil companies are evil and would rather murder a man and doom the world than sacrifice a dime of profit.
With Christmas approaching, video games are the one media industry that seems recession-proof, with games topping many wish lists. Parents, though, can find it difficult to tell just what they’re buying for their children. They may know about Grand Theft Auto, for instance, but may wonder what kind of sins are in Sins of a Solar Empire. Of course, nobody wants to disappoint their children: if parents decide not to buy Gears of War, will little Johnny be happy with Rock Band instead? Fortunately, there are both tools and techniques at hand to help parents identify games they might find inappropriate and also to pick appropriate games their children will like.
The Web is full of great online resources for teachers and students, with new material appearing every day. With the arrival of National Media Education Week, teachers may be looking for fresh ideas to bring media education into the classroom. Here’s a quick overview of recently created (or recently discovered) resources that may help:
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.
A recent issue of Entertainment Weekly was devoted to a list of so-called “new classics,” a top one-hundred list of the best movies, books, TV shows, and so on, published since 1983. The lists themselves are liable to provoke discussion (Die Hard is #9, ahead of Goodfellas, Schindler’s List and Unforgiven?) but perhaps a more interesting question is whether, in the Media Age, the very idea of a “classic” still means anything.
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.
Summer is officially upon us, and with it comes the usual lineup of blockbuster movies. Along with the usual cast of superheroes, spies and sexagenarian, whip-cracking archaeologists comes a somewhat unusual hero: Wall-E, the nearly mute robot protagonist of the film of the same name.