Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Media Literacy Curriculum

Adapted from the McREL Standards Database

What students should know about different media:

1. That media messages have economic, political, social, and aesthetic purposes (e.g., to make money, to gain power or authority over others, to present ideas about how people should think or behave, to experiment with different kinds of symbolic forms or ideas)

2. How different media (e.g., documentaries, current affairs programs, web pages) are structured to present a particular subject or point of view

3. The elements involved in the construction of media messages and products (e.g., the significance of all parts of a visual text, such as how a title might tie in with main characters or themes)

4. The production elements (i.e., rhetorical elements) that contribute to the effectiveness of a specific medium (e.g., the way black-and-white footage implies documented truth; the way set design suggests aspects of a character's socio-cultural context; effectiveness of packaging for similar products and their appeal to purchasers)

5. The influence of media ownership and control (e.g., concentration of power and influence with a few companies; diversification of media corporations into other industries; the commercial nature of media; influence of origins on a media message or product)

6. The influence of different factors in the construction of different media (e.g., media owners, sponsors of specific programs, codes governing advertising aimed at children, copyright laws) on media production, distribution, and advertising (e.g., whether a program is scheduled late at night or at peak times, whether a film is released in theaters or only on video)

7. The different aspects of advertising in media (e.g., advertising intertwined with media content, such as advertising copy presented in the form of news stories or the close association of feature articles with surrounding advertisements; the influence of advertising on virtually every aspect of the media, such as the structure of newspapers; advertisers as a pressure group; sponsorship as a form of advertising; ambiance in media that is sympathetic to advertising, such as lifestyles portrayed on television)

8. The extent to which audience influences media production (e.g., selection of audiences on the basis of their importance to advertisers or media institutions; production of programs with high audience ratings and low production costs, such as game shows; how media producers determine or predict the nature of audiences)

9. The relationship between media and the production and marketing of related products (e.g., how and why books are reissued in conjunction with film releases; how the target audience for a film determines the range of products marketed and this marketing in turn helps shape the film)

10. The influence of media on society as a whole (e.g., influence in shaping various governmental, social, and cultural norms; influence on the democratic process; influence on beliefs, lifestyles, and understanding of relationships and culture; how it shapes viewer's perceptions of reality; the various consequences in society of ideas and images in media)

11. The legal and ethical responsibilities involved in media use (e.g., censorship; copyright laws; FCC regulations; protection of the rights of authors and media owners; standards for quality programming; regulations for broadcast repeats; forms of media self-control; governmental, social, and cultural agencies that regulate media content and products)

12. The role of the media in addressing social and cultural issues (e.g., creating or promoting causes: U.N. military action, election of political parties; use of media to achieve governmental, societal, and cultural goals)

What students should be able to do to demonstrate that they can effectively interpret different media:

1. Use a range of strategies to interpret visual media (e.g., draw conclusions, make generalizations, synthesize materials viewed, refer to images or information in visual media to support point of view, deconstruct media to determine the underlying biases and decode the subtext)

2. Use a variety of criteria (e.g., clarity, accuracy, effectiveness, bias, relevance of facts) to evaluate informational media (e.g., web sites, documentaries, advertisements, news programs)

3. Identify the conventions of visual media genres (e.g., a talk show contains an opening monologue, humorous discussion between host and a sidekick, guest interview, interaction with the audience, and special performances; news programs present the events of the day as stories with setting, character, conflict, and resolution)

4. Analyze and explain how the rules and expectations governing media genres can be manipulated for particular effects or purposes (e.g., combining or altering conventions of different genres, such as presenting news as entertainment; blurring of genres, such as drama-documentaries)

5. Use strategies to analyze stereotypes in visual media (e.g., recognize stereotypes that serve the interests of some groups in society at the expense of others; identify techniques used in visual media that perpetuate stereotypes)

6. Interpret and make connections between context and values projected by visual media (e.g., the implication in television science programs that science is progressive and helps solve problems; influence of changing societal values on media products; political context, such as conflicts between loyalty and betrayal in High Noon, made in American during the McCarthy period; cultural values suggested by omissions from visual media, such as soap operas featuring only materially advantaged people)

7. Explain how images and sound convey messages in visual media (e.g., special effects, camera angles, symbols, color, line, texture, shape, headlines, photographs, reaction shots, sequencing of images, sound effects, music, dialogue, narrative, lighting)

8. Interpret and evaluate effects of style and language choice in visual media (e.g., use of long-shots to signify both real and metaphoric isolation; rapid editing in a television commercial; juxtaposition of text and color in a billboard; words in headlines intended to attract attention)

9. Interpret how literary forms can be represented in visual narratives (e.g., allegory, parable, analogy, satire, narrative style, characterization, irony)

10. Identify, analyze, and critique a variety of techniques used in advertising (e.g., portrayals of happy families and exotic places; celebrity endorsement; use of humor; emphasis on value and reliability; sex appeal; science and statistics; appeal to fears and insecurities)

11. Demonstrate an understanding of how editing shapes meaning in visual media (e.g., omission of alternative perspectives; filtered or implied viewpoints; emphasis of specific ideas, images, or information in order to serve particular interests; the careful construction of seemingly straightforward texts)

12. Interpret and explain the effects of visual media on audiences with different backgrounds (e.g., age, nationality, gender, class, belief system)

Enduring Understandings in Media Literacy

1. Audiences actively interpret media

Meaning does not reside in the media text itself, but is a product of the interaction between text and audience. Audiences interpret meaning based on situational elements such as geography, culture, age, class, gender, time of day, and the context in which they interact with the medium. Various media forms resonate in different ways, depending upon the experiences, values and knowledge that audiences bring to it. Although audiences differ in their perceptions, understandings and reactions to media, the key to media literacy is to educate them to be aware of their own subjectivity as well as that of others.

2. All media are constructions

Media are neither reality nor windows to the world. Instead, they are carefully constructed products – from newspaper headlines to nature documentaries. A media literate person is aware that many decisions are made in the construction of each media product and that even the most realistic images represent someone’s interpretation of reality. By critiquing and constructing media, it becomes possible to analyze and produce different interpretations of reality.

3. All media are owned

All media are owned by individuals or institutions that have historical-social contexts that may be concealed from the general public. Institutional elements from production to distribution influence the content as well as audience perceptions of the content. It is important to call attention to the idea that commercial institutions are owned and ultimately operated according to principles that will generate the highest profit. Therefore, media representations are carefully constructed to achieve this goal.

4. All media express values

Media are carefully constructed products that represent a particular view of actual people, places, events, and ideas. These values are oftentimes hidden from the audience, and a critical consumer of media needs to be able to decode the media messages to uncover these values. Questions to ask of each medium are: "Whose story is told?" "Whose interests are served by this representation?" "Whose story is left out?" and "To what extent is this representative of reality?"

5. All media adhere to specific codes and conventions

Whether it be through editing, narration, sequencing, camera angles, soundtrack or timing – each media form has a language of its own and uses different conventions to achieve specific rhetorical effects. Magazine editors use different codes and convention as compared to video producers as compared to web designers. The languages used influence the constructed meaning of the media text and are intended to control the audience’s response.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Media and The Assault of Man's Body

In the movie Fight Club, the character Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) boards a bus and is confronted by an advertisement depicting a model's perfectly muscled fantasy male body, sculpted by pathological obsession and posed as if natural. "Is that what a real man is supposed to look like?" he asks.

It's a common question, though not always a conscious one. Modern life takes place amidst a never-ending barrage of flesh on screens, pages, and billboards. These images convey assumptions about what is desirable in our physical selves while dispensing with reality.


Because the media have been objectifying women for so long, researchers have had time to create a body of literature on the effects of these images on women. (In short, they make women feel worse about themselves, and often cause unhealthy behaviors.)

But over the past two decades, the gender gap in media objectification has closed. Every bit as unattainable as Barbie-doll proportions and the heroin chic look are the broad-shouldered, narrow-waisted, fat-free, and muscle-sheathed male physiques littering today's media.

Researchers are beginning to pay attention to what these stimuli do to the male body image. Guys, it turns out, have body issues too.

When it comes to the media and male bodies, size and shape aren't the only issues. There's also the so-called "real body": hair, sweat, blemishes, smells—all the characteristics that are noticeably absent or can't be fully conveyed in a picture or on a screen.

Twentieth-century communications guru George Gerbner said that what we see on TV and in magazines eventually becomes our standard of reality and desire; failing to meet it is perceived as deficiency. Characteristics like sweat and hair can be controlled on screen but never escaped in reality, so some men come to see these essential parts of their body as they might a rounded belly or unfirm bicep: as a gross, unfortunate flaw.

"Hair is supposed to be ugly, so men in ads have their body hair shaved off, or disappeared with Photoshop," said Michael Rich, director of the Harvard Medical School's Center on Media and Child Health. "Sweat is replaced with glisten from a spray bottle, and you can't smell someone through a magazine."

This spring, San Francisco State University psychologist Deborah Schooler, who coined the term "real body" with her former advisor L. Monique Ward of the University of Michigan, published the first study to measure male real-body discomfort due to media consumption. They found not only that watching prime-time television and music videos appears to make men uncomfortable with themselves, but that such discomfort leads to sexual problems and risky behaviors.

"People see the same images over and over and start to believe it's a version of reality," said Schooler. "If those bodies are real and that's possible, but you can't attain it, how can you not feel bad about your own body?"

For their study, which appeared in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, Schooler and Ward interviewed 179 undergraduate males at the University of Michigan, first asking how often each watched prime-time television and music videos, as well as how frequently they read fitness or sports magazines. Ward and Schooler also questioned the men about their sexual experiences and how they felt about their own physiques and their "real bodies."

Twentieth-century communications guru George Gerbner said that what we see on TV and in magazines eventually becomes our standard of reality and desire; failing to meet it is perceived as deficiency.

Looking at "real bodies" in addition to muscularity is a new approach for researchers, who have traditionally focused on muscularity or thinness. Schooler and Ward used a measuring system co-developed by Ward just four years ago. It utilizes questions such as, "How comfortable are you with the quantity/thickness of your facial hair?" and "How comfortable are you with the smell of your own sweat?"

According to Schooler, she and Ward predicted that average guys would feel scrawny and inadequate in the face of pictures of sculpted, muscle-bound men. But this was, surprisingly, not the case.

The students' feelings about personal size and physique didn't seem to be affected by media.

However, students who consumed more media than average, particularly music videos and prime-time TV, were uncomfortable with one aspect of their physique—their 'real bodies'.

This discomfort correlated with the men being less likely to have healthy sexual relationships.

"If all of a sudden you're in an intimate situation and these aspects of your body are exposed, you have to deal with the fact that your body doesn't meet the ideal," said Schooler. "You're concerned with how your partner is evaluating you, how you look and smell."

This discomfort appeared to increase the chances of guys to take sexual risks, such as engaging in unprotected sex.

Schooler isn't sure exactly how being grossed out by your back hair translates into unprotected sex. She hypothesizes that men, when ashamed, detach emotionally and mentally from sexual situations—they aren't attentive to their partner's needs or open with their own. She adds that they are more likely to be careless. Such behaviors have been observed in women who are uncomfortable with their bodies.

Depression could also play a role.

According to University of North Dakota psychologist Ric Ferraro, a negative body image makes people unhappy, leading them to be alternatively less likely to speak up for themselves when pressured and more likely to take risks as a way of impressing others.

"They engage in behaviors in hopes of feeling better, and end up getting worse," said Ferraro.

Whether "real-body" discomfort in men is truly new or something that's only now being noticed is impossible to say, but sociologists and psychologists say that images of hairless, sweatless, pseudo-perfect men are more common than ever before.

Ideally, psychologists say, people should recognize that billboard bodies just aren't real, and learn to be happy with their own appearance. That, of course, is easier said than done.

Maybe an ad campaign would help.

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