To be a functioning adult in a mediated society, one needs to be able to distinguish between different media forms and know how to ask basic questions about everything we see, read or hear.
Although most adults learned through literature classes to distinguish a poem from an essay, it’s amazing how many people do not understand the difference between a daily newspaper and a supermarket tabloid, what makes one website legitimate and another one a hoax, or how advertisers package products to entice us to buy.
Simple questions about the media can start even at the toddler stage, planting important seeds for cultivating a lifetime of interrogating the world around us. Parents, grandparents, even babysitters can make a game of “spot the commercial” to help children learn to distinguish between entertainment programs and the commercial messages that support them. Even children’s picture books can help little ones grasp the storytelling power of images—”And what do you think will happen next?”
Sometimes a media “text” can involve multiple formats. A new animated Disney film, for example, involves not only a blockbuster movie released in thousands of theaters but also a whole campaign of advertising and merchandising—character dolls and toys, clothes, lunchboxes, etc.—as well as a website, storybooks, games and perhaps eventually, a ride at one of the Disney theme parks.
Uncovering the many levels of meaning in a media message and the multiple answers to even basic questions is what makes media education so engaging for kids and so enlightening for adults. Here are some questions to start thinking about the impact media has on our society:
Does TV have too much sex and violence?
Are the news media biased?
Have TV talk shows gone too far with their sensationalized topics?
Should the content of Internet be regulated?
Are media shaping our values?
Is TV harmful for our children?
Do media drive foreign policy?
Are newspapers insensitive to minorities?
Is emphasis on body image harmful to our society?
Should the names of rape victims be reported?
Should tobacco advertising be restricted?
Should the media cover criminal trials?
Do media reports of crime heighten the fears of citizens?
Is coverage of political campaigns fair?
Is advertising ethical?
Do paparazzi threaten First Amendment Rights?
Does concentration of ownership jeopardize media content?
Does the globalization of media industries homogenize media content?
Before you can begin answering these questions, you need to gain an understanding of mass communication and the five core concepts of media literacy. These five core concepts are very similar to the five key questions that you may have learned about in another packet.
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