Sunday, February 03, 2008

Seeing is believing — or is it?

Do birds, squirrells and coyotes sing together in Jeep Liberties?

Will adding something called Benefiber to your diet make you look like a supermodel?

Will a kid’s head be blown off by the yoghurty taste of Fizzix?

Will a bored “Neopet,” a cuddly, online ‘virtual’ fuzzy pet, be satisfied if you buy it virtual “costumes” with your real dollars?

Last week two Media Think colleagues (Joan Rutkowski and Matt Stockton) and I presented a televised discussion about television advertising.

We examined four ads for the above products in some detail.

In the course of the Metro East, cable access program, “Community Hotline,” we considered several questions:

Who made these ads? How were they made and at what cost?

For whom were they made?

What devices were used to appeal to the “target audience”

How successful were the ads in appealing to the audience?

What were the ads NOT telling viewers that they needed to know about the product.”

One hour wasn’t enough time to do justice to the questions or the answers, but we made a start. (The program will be rebroadcast, and I’ve listed the times below if you are interested in seeing what we had to say.)

The ability to “read” visual images critically (yes, I know, words are also visual images) is a necessity in our media-saturated culture. The field of media literacy tries to address that need. Media Think, one of dozens of groups around the country, is lobbying to make media literacy a “life skill” and a required subject in our schools.

Without the skill, we will be increasingly vulnerable media messages aimed not at our minds but at our emotions and basest instincts—never mind the cost to us, our society or the planet.

As I’ve done my own critical thinking about our on-air ad analysis, I wish we had shared some key concepts of media literacy and applied them to the ads.

Better late than never.

You can find varying lists of these concepts, but here are the ones that the Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA) circulates. After each. I’ve included my own parenthetical comments in hopes of giving you a sense of the concept’s significance.

1. All media messages are “constructed.” (This very list was constructed with a purpose and an audience in mind. How was it constructed, by whom, for whom, why? Now ask the same questions of all media messages.)
2. Each medium has different characteristics, strengths, and a unique “language” of construction. (What messages are best suited for television, the internet, magazines, radio, billboards? How does the message change to fit the medium?)
3. Media messages are produced for particular purposes. (Sell, inform, deceive, convince, frighten, etc.)
4. All media messages contain embedded values and points of view. (patriotism, eternal youth, consumerism, motherhood, loyalty, security, beauty etc.)
5. People use their individual skills, beliefs and experiences to construct their own meanings from media messages. (No two people see the same message in the same way. Your understanding of, or reaction to, a message is uniquely yours. Helpful hint: check perceptions.
6. Media and media messages can influence beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, and the democratic process. (Why do you think those political candidates are spending all that money on advertising? Why do you know what ‘Aflac’ means?)

Here’s that schedule for the rebroadcast of our discussion:

• Mon., Feb. 4 through Fri., Feb. 8, 12 p.m., Ch. 22
• Mon., Feb. 4, 9 p.m., Ch. 11
• Mon., Feb. 4, 8:30 a.m., Ch. 21
• Mon., Feb. 4, 5:30 p.m., Ch. 21
• Wed., Feb. 6, 7:30 p.m., Ch. 22

Replays on Channels 11 and 21 will reach Portland and the East Metro area.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo to you and your colleagues for making "critical thinking about media messages" important, relevant and vital.

I hope that you might also consider the role of the visual image. With that in mind, I invite your readers to surf over to my
"Is Seeing Believing" web site located at The Media Literacy Clearinghouse:

Frank Baker
Media Literacy Ed Consultant

4:46 PM  

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