COMMENTARY & REFLECTION
The impetus for creating this unit on advertising
analysis has actually been years in the making. Although
I did not realize it at the time, when I began teaching
four years ago, my relationship with mass media began
shifting dramatically. My own latent discomfort with
commercial television and film now rose to the surface
as I saw my "consumer" self reflected in
my ninth grade students. What I perceived as their
unwavering allegiance to brand names and unabandoned
consumption hit too close to home. While I saw my
students and I as part of the same "market,"
I realized that media held even more primacy in their
adolescent lives than mine; their image (that they
attempted to project, anyhow) was frightfully slick
and manufactured. Even more demoralizing than this
phenomenon however, was their collective lack of imagination
and individuality. Of course many of my students were
bright and free thinking, but even those individuals
seemed gripped by the condition known as "affluenza"
Ća lifestyle centered upon the pursuit of material
goods. I feared that many of them had bought the bill
of goods that companies desperately wanted them to
purchase. My ninth grade students were in the throes
of that storm called maturation, and I wanted them
to have some power over this process. I believe that
by understanding media│s subjectivity and motives
a person may choose to "unplug" or not.
At this time, I gave away my own television set;
I had to get some relief from the advertising environment
in which we were all immersed. Although television
is just one vehicle for advertising, I needed to cut
this cord to get some perspective on the influence
of mass marketing on our society. As a lark, without
much more than some magazines and a mission, I launched
a media literacy unit on deconstructing advertisements.
It was not only a success, but it was a blast! Students
came to life as they deftly decoded and analyzed ads
and their own roles as consumers. Our students are
incredibly savvy when it comes to responding to electronic
images; I found that I could use this very thing that
I had formerly perceived as the "problem"
as a stellar teaching opportunity. Instead of being
unquestioning sheep, my students offered quick and
incisive analysis of advertising techniques.
I was so pleased with the success of this unit, that
I have focused and, at the same time, expanded the unit.
This topic of media advertising is almost limitless,
so first I had to choose a guiding question. I discovered
that my greatest interest was the relationship between
advertising and teen culture. I want to know, and I
hope that students can tell me, if their behavior is
influenced or reflected in advertising. I am most interested
in issues related to body image and sexual behavior
as it is portrayed in the media. I will have to wait
until I teach this unit again to know whether or not
the students feel they are in control or controlled
by media advertising. What I do know, however, is that
this is a greatly needed unit on media literacy that
evokes high interest and engagement amongst students.
Popular, commercial media can be used as an effective
way to foster critical thinking skills. It also provides
an outstanding vehicle for self-awareness and reflection
that is so vital to the development of adolescent lives.
I encourage teachers to integrate media, especially
advertising, studies into their curriculum. Please use
these ideas and improve upon them!