Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Evacuation Day: An Alternative to Thanksgiving from the Daily Show

In the legacy of French academic superstar Roland Barthes, one of the overarching projects of practicing media literacy is to “restore history” to “naturalized myth.” This process involves both disrupting the feeling that meanings are fixed or inevitable by analysis of their construction, and entertaining alternative notions and possibilities of meaning from different points of view. When we study holidays in school, rather than opening possibilities of meaning and revealing competing points of view, we most often simply learn a “better,” or more “correct,” “official” version of history to take for granted. Learning multi-cultural perspectives on and versions of holidays is a step towards the sort of thinking involved in media literacy practice. Learning about how a holiday came to be and considering alternative ideas for what we might celebrate is another way to activate media literate thinking. To this end, here’s a crass alternative holiday to Thanksgiving from the Daily Show’s Sarah Vowell, Evacuation Day:
Jon Stewart turns to an alternative view of Thanksgiving history from Sarah Vowell.

To add media literacy to multi-cultural study of holidays, we must simply take a small step to ask: How is the holiday represented using various production values in different media?; Who created the traditions and representations and how have they changed over time?; What purposes do the representations serve?; How do different audiences understand the holiday representations differently?; and How do historical realities compare to the representations in the holiday tradition?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wealth Under Siege: Ads Constructing the Rich

How are audiences constructed by texts and authors? In this clip, Colbert mockingly praises the advertising angles for products in luxury yacht magazines that construct their readers as a threatened minority in response to the Occupy Wall Street protests. This offers a humorous introduction to how magazines offer advertisers niche markets. The products and ads in those magazines aim to reflect and direct the niche audience’s desires, fears, and even their identities. This particular segment is rich with possibility for discussing how media texts and products construct the identities of the “wealthy 1%.”

This discussion could launch students into their own exploration of how particular magazine and web advertising constructs their niche audiences. We should ask: Who is the target audience?; Who does the advertiser think the audience is?; As suggested by the ads, what does the audience want, what kind of people are they?; What production values and details of the ad tell you about the audience?; How does the construction of the audience in the ads compare to reality?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Carcinogen of Real Americans: Colbert analyzes Cain's Smoking Ad

On October 25, 2011, Stephen Colbert offered an excellent model of media literacy practice as he analyzed a political ad for republican frontrunner for presidential candidacy, Herman Cain, and then offered his own parody versions of the same ad. Notice the thoroughness of the interpretation, the use of textual detail in the deconstruction, and then the balance of analysis with production through the parody responses. This is a version of what media literacy teachers strive to create opportunities for their students to do...
Stephen Colbert closely analyzes the use of smoking in Cain's campaign ad.
After the opening jokes introducing the context of who Herman Cain is and what he's been up to in the news, Colbert shows the entire ad--a rarity on news and news parody shows alike. Then he interprets messages from the visuals, the music, and the spoken parts of the ad, linking these meanings to the values and lifestyles represented in the message. He touches on how different people might think differently about the message through the clip of the Fox News anchor interviewing Cain's campaign manager. He plays with the ideas of representation and reality as he coughs his way through his commentary while smoking two cigarettes and disrupting the message of "cool" that he claims the images of smoking construct in the ad. The parodies satirize the message of the original ad by choosing obviously dangerous and derelict activities to insert in the place of the cigarette--the huffer, the revolver, and the Listerine. Finally, Colbert makes fun of Cain's "8 second smile" at the end of the ad by upstaging him with his own, slower smile. Again, the joke reveals the technique through exaggeration.