What we see – and don’t see – in media affects how we view reality. Media works can be imagined either as mirrors that reflect an audience’s own experience, windows that give them access to experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have known, or in some cases both.
In this lesson, students learn about the ways in which news coverage of an event or issue can be biased, focusing on the aspects of the medium and industry that can lead to bias. They read an article that examines the coverage of mental illness in the news and then participate in an interactive activity that lets them compose their own article. Finally, students find and analyze a recent news story on a mental health topic and write a letter either praising or critiquing it.
Students begin by viewing a slideshow that explores common stereotypes of mental illness and mental illness treatment in media. They read a prepared analysis of the portrayal of mental illness in a TV show popular with teens, then in a small group analyze another text of their choice. Finally, students create an annotated version of a scene or excerpt from a text in which they analyze and evaluate its portrayal of mental illness.
One of the barriers to youth pushing back against prejudice is not wanting to over-react, particularly if they feel their peers were just ‘joking around.’ Humour, however, can often be a cover for intentional bullying and prejudice. In this lesson, students analyze media representations of relational aggression, such as sarcasm and put-down humour, then consider the ways in which digital communication may make it harder to recognize irony or satire and easier to hurt someone’s feelings without knowing it. Students then consider how humour may be used to excuse prejudice and discuss ways of responding to it.
Many families have media traditions around the holidays – whether that’s watching A Charlie Brown Christmas together or staging a Mario Kart tournament on New Year’s Day. It’s great to make media a family activity, and it’s also an opportunity to co-view with your kids. In fact, holiday movies practically demand co-viewing: whether your tastes run to It’s a Wonderful Life, Die Hard or Christmas Vacation, odds that that if you watch with your (appropriately-aged) kids you’ll see something that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe it’s a racist stereotype in a cartoon, or a scene that makes stalking and harassment look romantic, or yet another kids’ movie with just one female character. What do you say?
From the tablet to the TV screen, media are a huge influence on how we see ourselves and our world. Nowhere, perhaps, is that more true than when it comes to gender: media provide many of our ideas of what “male” and “female” are, and many of our models of how to behave, what to avoid doing, and whom to emulate in order to play the role we’ve been assigned.