Friday, May 30, 2014

Media Literacy How-To

Following my last post on media literacy, which focused on girls, I received this question from Lindsey, “Can you share some dialogue examples for pointing out the dehumanizing tricks? I want to help my boys recognize this, but I haven't been able to come up with a succinct way of talking about it.”

Photo Source I hate to include examples of advertising
that I find so abhorrent, but we must understand what we
are up against.
Since I didn’t acknowledge it in my last post, let me say here that the harm wrought on girls by media and advertising in no way exceeds the damage to boys. Levin and Kilbourne explain, “Boys learn to look at girls as sex objects, they really learn a lot about how to treat girls. At the same time, boys are seeing images of being violent, tough and macho which go against being able to have caring connective relationships when they grow up.” How sad. Our boys are hit constantly with a double whammy (be tough and girls are objects to be manipulated for your own gratification). Those two ideas combine in a toxic way. As Levin points out, this double whammy message can erode our boy’s ability to form and maintain warm, loving, connected relationships. Of all the things I wish for my son, being part of caring relationships tops my list.

So, how do we talk about media and the myriad of negative messages therein with your children? Before I give specific suggestions, let me first say that saying ANYTHING is better than saying nothing. Media literacy is all about an ongoing dialogue we share with our kids. That conversation is a stronger antidote than you might suspect. Secondly, I have focused thus far on how women are depicted in media, but that is only one problem among a myriad. If we pay attention, there are many ideas being peddled to us that are problematic. Media communicates ideas about gender roles, sexuality, race, happiness, consumerism. . . .
Photo Source

A good place to start with kids is by helping them understand the intent behind advertising or other persuasive forms of media. Let me illustrate this point by a cross-cultural comparison. In America, television used to be regulated. Then "in 1984 the Federal Communications Commission deregulated children's television. With deregulation it became possible to market toys and other products with TV programs.” Contrast this with Sweden, where it is illegal to advertise to kids under the age of 12. This ban on advertising in Sweden is,  “based on research that indicates children can't fully distinguish between advertising and programming until about age 10.”(Source) That being the case, Sweden deems limiting advertising to kids the moral thing to do, as children clearly are not able to reason through advertising as adults are. You and I understand the manipulation in advertising. We know, of course, that we are being sold something. We assume kids know this too. They don’t. To them, this is just information about the world, as accurate or valid as any other information they get.
Photo Source Does an image like this
make anyone else angry? This would
likely be illegal in Sweden, as well it
should be. It seems an exploitation to me!
Once you’ve helped kids understand that most of what we see in media is created to try to get us to buy something, you can begin talking about how they do that. Discuss the messages ensconced within the alluring images around us. I can only give a few examples here, but if you are looking for opportunities to have this discussion with your kids, you will find many. You can point out the unkindness of portraying women as objects or portraying boys as tough and aloof. Identify how happy or exciting people look in advertising then ask, “what is making them so happy? Do you think buying that _____ would really make someone happy? For how long? What things make you happiest?” Let them know that the people creating the ads want you to believe something as a result of what they see. What is it they want you to believe? Is that true? (e.g. They want you to believe that if you drive that car, you will be cool and have lots of friends. Is that true?) What is being taught about what it means to be a man or a woman or how men should treat women? You can let kids know that almost all images they see in advertising have been digitally altered. Once you create this framework for looking at media in a critical way, your kids will start doing it on their own. I still remember driving down the road, when I heard my 6 year old declare indignantly from the back seat, “look at that picture! They are trying to trick us that we will be so happy if we eat that. That’s not true!!!” I smiled to myself. My beautiful daughter was defining the world for herself on her terms and I loved it.

Photo Source
I want to end on an inspiration note and what better than
a quote from Maya Angelou, as we honor her memory. Bravo to a
woman who taught us what true beauty looks and feels like.
Photo Source

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