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Media Literacy

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Media Literacy I have advocated for 30 years that, in order to preserve our democracy and protect ourselves against demagogues, we should have courses in schools on how to watch TV, how to read newspapers, how to analyze a speech – how to understand the limitations of each medium and make a judgment as to the accuracy or the motives involved. (Cronkite) Media’s influence on society is powerful and far-reaching because they introduce us to new and different images that affect our personalities and perceptions of the world we live in. A report by the Free Expression Policy Project has shown that media glamorize violence, sex, drugs, and alcohol; reinforce stereotypes about race, gender, and class; and prescribe the lifestyle to which one should aspire, and the products one must buy to attain it (Hines and Cho 2). If society wants to correct these negative influences of media, Walter Cronkite’s message on the need for media literacy is therefore imperative. Media literacy, defined by AMLA as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate information in a variety of forms, will empower us to be both critical thinkers and creative producers of a wide range of messages using image, language, and sound (Center for Media Literacy). By becoming media literate, it is hope that we will have a better understanding of ourselves, our communities, and our diverse culture. To showcase the importance of media literacy, analyses of news and commercial media are presented and discussed. News media are responsible for presenting current news and events to the public. An essential component of this category of media is photojournalism. However, questions are raised whether photojournalism is still essential to news media. One photograph that will reinforce the ever critical role of photography in news media is “China. Beijing, Tiananmen Square 1989” by Stuart Franklin. This photograph put into visual context the atrocious incident in China that has forever touched many lives around the world. Discussion and analysis of this photograph will show that it surpasses its purpose of conveying the news; becoming a universal symbol of human character. On the other hand, commercial media, like fashion magazines, contain a variety of articles usually associated with their advertisements that finance them. While photojournalism has a positive impact on human character, fashion magazines have negative influence on people. Their advertisements purposely normalize unrealistic standards of beauty in order to create demand for their advertised products and gain huge profits for the magazine and the advertisers. Discussion and analysis of the visual and verbal elements of the covers and selected advertisements in the November 2008 issues of GQ and Glamour magazines illustrate how this strategy of creating an unattainable desire is utilized and adversely affected the issues of health, gender roles, sexuality, and changing norms in our culture. Because of the changes that is happening to media and the subsequent challenges they pose to us, it is therefore imperative that that a media literacy program be included in the educational system of this country. By doing so, we will be equipped with the tool that will make us critical thinkers and consumers. By becoming media literate, we will have a better understanding of ourselves, our communities, and our diverse culture. Has it led you to the conclusion that photography is an art? Or is it simply a means of recording? I’m glad you asked that. I’ve been wanting to say this for years. Is cooking an art? Is talking an art? Is even painting an art? It is artfulness that makes art, not the medium itself. Of course photography is an art—when it is in the hands of artists. (Sharf) While newsworthy events were photographed as early as the 1850s, the practice of illustrating news stories with photographs occurred between 1880 and 1897 (Photojournalism). Since then, photojournalism has been an essential component of print media. It changed how news is communicated to the people. A photograph’s visual characteristics make the news more eye-catching to consumers. It gives consumers a visual preview of the content of the news. However, growth and changes to the media industry bring challenges to the role of photojournalism in print media. Questions are raised whether photojournalism is still essential to news media in particular. But this anticipated demise of photojournalism has so far remained a question. Events like 9/11 and the Iraq War have shown the resiliency and unique role of photojournalism in news media. The magnitude of such events captured in still images has forever changed our lives. Such photographs surpass their purpose of conveying the news; becoming universal symbols of human character. This led Michael Kimmelman to suggest that some news photographs are worth calling art. To him, a news photograph is an art when not only it is complete, beautiful, historical and enduring in its own way but transcends its event. This transcendence entails a novel composition, an expression, the echo of some previous images we have seen so that the photograph by conscious or unconscious association and special variation is elevated from the specific to the universal (Kimmelman 639). One such photograph that I consider to have been transformed into art is “China. Beijing, Tiananmen Square 1989” by Stuart Franklin. It depicts the Tiananmen Square protest between April 15 – June 4, 1989 calling for economic liberalization and democratic reform within the Chinese government structure and its culmination in which the military cleared the square resulting in the massacre and arrest of many protesters (Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989). This photograph, which was taken at an angle from a distance by the photographer, is now famously known as the “The Tank Man” or “The Unknown Rebel.” It shows a man with his back to the camera standing in the middle of the Avenue of Eternal Peace, a road near and leading to the Tiananmen Square. The man, wearing a long sleeve shirt and black pants, holds bags in both hands. In front and very close to him, four Type 59 tanks advance with a fifth tank lagging closely behind as partially seen at the right upper edge of the photograph. The tanks occupy the left turn lane of the approaching traffic as indicated by the directional arrow on the lane. He is in the way of the advancing tanks. Seen at the top of the photograph are shadows of tree branches which get less prominent from left to right. At the middle of the top of the photograph is a burnt bus. At the foreground and to the back of the man is a cross-walk with the large white lines disappearing from left to right. The road on which the man stands is painted with solid yellow lanes, broken white lanes, and directional arrows for vehicular traffic. When this photograph circulated, it showed the desire for freedom by the Chinese people and exposed the brutality of the communist regime of the People’s Republic of China. But to the people around the world who saw the photograph, it meant something more than that. It showed courage and freedom. It showed the kind of heroism and self-sacrifice that individuals like Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Benigno Aquino of the Philippines showed in their struggle to free their countries from tyranny. To those of us living in a free world, it made us realize how fortunate we are to be free. The photograph allowed us to form a bond of solidarity with those who are trying to achieve freedom throughout the world. Because of the photograph’s ability to transcend its event and provide a universal meaning, it is art. It rose beyond its basic purpose of news dissemination becoming iconic and timeless. This photograph captured our emotions and shared our ideals in life. It also became a symbol of non-violent fight for freedom around the world. What all the ads and all the whoreoscopes seemed to imply was that if only you were narcissistic enough, if only you took proper care of your smells, your hair, your boobs, your eyelashes, your armpits, your crotch, your stars, your scars, and your choice of Scotch in bars—you would meet a beautiful, powerful, potent, and rich man who would satisfy every longing, fill every hole, make your heart skip a beat (or stand still), make you misty, and fly you to the moon (preferably on gossamer wings), where you would live totally satisfied forever. (Jong) Media have a powerful influence on us because they introduce us to new and different ideas and images that affect our personalities and perceptions of culture. This premise is utilized well by advertising agencies and fashion companies to sell their products. In order to create continuous demand for their products and gain huge profits, they purposely normalize unrealistic standards of beauty. This observation is supported by Paul Hamburg, an assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School: “The media market desire. And by reproducing ideals that are absurdly out of line with what real bodies really do look like… the media perpetuates a market for frustration and disappointment. Its customers will never disappear” (Media and Eating Disorder). Huge profits by the media and the advertisers confirm that this marketing strategy is successful. Discussion and analysis of the visual and verbal elements of the covers and selected advertisements in the November 2008 issues of GQ and Glamour magazines illustrate how this strategy of creating an unattainable desire is utilized. Such an analysis reveals that due to profit motive, the use of unrealistic standards of beauty in advertisements has adversely affected the issues of health, gender roles, sexuality, and changing norms in our culture. The cover of GQ shows Jimmy Kimmel waist up, seated with his hands in front of him with the right hand on top of the left hand. He is wearing a black suit and a black tie with red diagonal stripes. Kiss marks from a red lipstick are on his face, neck and the collar of his long-sleeve shirt. Behind him is a Marilyn Monroe look-alike whose right cheek is touching the back of his head. Her eyes are closed, lips parted, and hands touching portions of his ears, neck and shoulder. On the sides of the cover are statements, “The choice of a lifetime, How to dress for the big job, and The 25 sexiest women in film of all time.” On the other hand, Glamour features Nicole Kidman on the cover wearing a violet dress, awkwardly seated on a chair, and leaning forward. Her arms are crossed with the right hand touching her covered lower left leg while the left hand is touching an exposed right knee. Her legs are positioned in such a way that her knees are close to each other and her lower legs are far apart. The end of her long wavy blonde hair is on her shoulders and the style of her dress shows a bit of her cleavage. She is wearing a light make up and lipstick accentuating her green eyes, smiling lips and flawless complexion. On the sides of the cover are statements, “Great sex for every woman, 25 ways to never look tired, Women of the year, and Eat what you like.” The covers of both magazines reinforce stereotypes on gender. The cover of GQ implies the dominance and superiority of the male gender and the treatment of women as sexual objects while the cover of Glamour portrays the unrealistic standard of beauty imposed on women by society. Traits of success and confidence which are expected from every man are projected realistically by Jimmy Kimmel who is a famous comedian and late night talk show host. His pose and clothing reinforce this observation. The half smile - half smirk in his kiss mark-filled face seem to tell men to emulate him so they can have all their material wants. Also, the Marilyn Monroe look-alike suggests to men that beautiful women will be easy picking once you’re successful. Unfortunately, this portrayal reinforces the issue on sexual objectification of women, which is a factor on women’s abuse. Meanwhile, the statements on the cover would like men to believe that if they follow these to do list, they will attain success and get what they want. On the other hand, Nicole Kidman personalizes society’s definition of beauty; long blond hair, blue eyes, smooth complexion, thin and sexual. She reinforces the perception that in order to be desirable, a woman has to be physically beautiful and sensual. But what is not shown is the fact that despite her being naturally beautiful and a famous award-winning Hollywood actress, her photograph has to be enhanced to meet the unrealistic standard of beauty set by society due to the influence of images in the media. Meanwhile, the statements on the cover would like women to believe that if they do the suggested actions, they will become beautiful and desirable to men. Selected advertisements inside the magazines reinforce the analysis of the covers. In GQ, on the left page of a double spread, black and white Movado watch advertisement, an unshaven Tom Brady wears a black shirt. The caption, “Tom Brady. Strategist, athlete, mvp. the art of performance,” is on the bottom left corner of the page. On the right page is a colored picture of the watch with black background and the caption, “MOVADO SERIES 800.” A Versace cologne advertisement shows an unshaven man in a white suit positioned sideways but looking straight forward. At the same time, he is holding on the neck a naked lady in front of him whose body is leaning towards his right shoulder. Her eyes are closed, nose touching his right cheek, and parted lips close to the man’s mouth. At the bottom of the advertisement is a picture of the cologne and the caption, “VERSACE. pour hoMme. THE NEW FRAGRANCE FOR MEN.” In Glamour, a colorful advertisement for a TAGHeuer watch features a smiling Uma Thurman dressed in black. She is standing sideways on the left side of the page with her head turned sideways looking straight forward. Her right arm, with the TAGHeuer watch on the wrist, is flexed on the elbow and reaching for her left shoulder while her left arm is wrapped across her abdomen. On the right side of the page are the logo of TAGHeuer and a picture of the watch. A caption, “WHAT ARE YOU MADE OF?” is also on the page. The advertisement for Dior perfume features Charlize Theron. In it, she is seated and wearing a gold-colored midrib dress. Her right arm is on her side while her left arm’s elbow is resting on her right thigh and the forearm touching her right shoulder. Her golden hair is complemented by her golden complexion. In the middle portion of the bottom of the page is the picture of the perfume with the caption “J’adore and Dior.” The advertisements showcase the notion that men are supposed to be successful in order to get whatever they want while women need to accessorize themselves with the latest fashion trends in order to be beautiful and attract men. Wearing watches and perfumes that are expensive and worn only by people of high stature will showcase a man’s success and his place in that segment of society. Men are also made to believe that by using these products, women will want them since they find them irresistible. The model in the Versace perfume advertisement points out this observation. In it, he ignores the woman and looks straightforward as if telling men that this is what they will get if they use this perfume. For women, using these products will supposedly enhance their physical beauty. Just as these famous and beautiful women are using them, women are made to believe that they need to use these products also. If they use them, they will supposedly look more attractive to men and will get their man. Having famous individuals as endorses of the products seem to give credibility to such claims. When someone not famous endorses a product, the use of a sensual woman as an advertising tool helps sell product. However, the woman becomes an object in the advertisement and appears submissive. This can have an impact on gender role, stereotyping, and sexuality. The discussion above shows that messages imparted by advertisements are nice and inspiring but in reality are hard to achieve. But despite being unattainable desire, consumers still buy these advertised products. Why? According to Susan Bordo: It increases our fascination with the possibilities of reshaping our bodies and selves in radical ways, creating new bodies according to our mind’s design. Such images carry fantasized solutions to our anxieties and insecurities. They speak to us not just about how to be beautiful or desirable but about how to get control of our lives, get safe, be cool and avoid hurt. (380)
In terms of gender, a study of advertisements reveals that men usually appear taller than women, implying male superiority. Women, by contrast, are more frequently presented lying down or seated on the floor like children. Men’s facial expressions and behavior give off an air of competence and imply dominance; women often appear childlike, submissive, and sexual. Men focus on the products being advertised, and women focus on the men (Macionis 278). In terms of beauty, Naomi Wolf contends that certain cultural patterns create a “beauty myth” that is damaging to women. This happens because society teaches women to measure their worth in terms of physical appearance. Society also teaches women to please men who they assume are attracted by their beauty and avoid challenging male power (Wolf 10). This has lead to so much focus on body image, particularly being thin, that incidence of eating disorders among women is on the rise. However, this myth also affects men. Men are told repeatedly that they should want to possess beautiful women. Such ideas about beauty reduce women to objects and motivate men to think of women as if they are dolls rather than human beings (Wolf 10). Media in the 21st century pose a great challenge to society. Technological advancement is changing media and is allowing society easier and faster access to information. This calls for the need by the consumers to be media literate in order to properly access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate the varied information they are getting. By doing so, we will be equipped with the tool that will make us critical thinkers and consumers. By becoming media literate, we will have a better understanding of ourselves, our communities, and our diverse culture. The discussions and analyses on photojournalism in news media and advertisements in commercial media show how society can become media literate; hence become critical consumers of information put forward by media. With respect to photojournalism, it was shown that a news photograph can be an art as defined by Michael Kimmelman. It can transcend the event it portrays and provides a universal meaning which makes it iconic and timeless. On the other hand, advertisements in fashion magazines reveal the media’s willingness to create unrealistic standards of beauty in order to profit with no regards to its ill-effect on issues of health, gender roles, sexuality, and changing norms in our culture. These two exercises on how to be media literate are a good case for the incorporation of a media literacy curriculum in the educational system of this country. This is advocated by various non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, and individuals. In fact, some academic institutions of higher learning are already offering courses on media literacy. However, there is a call for such course offering to be expanded to all universities and colleges. Likewise, there is an advocacy to have similar programs in the secondary and elementary schools. If these will be implemented, then Walter Cronkite’s message will finally be answered; democracy will be preserved and society protected against demagogues.

Works Cited
Bordo, Susan. “Never Just Pictures.” Seeing and Writing 3. Ed. Donald McQuade and Christine McQuade. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006, p. 380.
Center for Media Literacy. What is Media Literacy? AMLA’s Short Answer and a Longer Thought. 2007. .
Hamburg, Paul. (1998). “The Media and Eating Disorders: Who is Most Vulnerable?” Public Forum: Culture, Media and Eating Disorders, Harvard Medical School.
Heins, Marjorie, and Christina Cho. “Media Literacy: An Alternative to Censorship.” Free Expression Policy Project. New York, NY, 2003, p. 2.
Kimmelman, Michael. “150th Anniversary: 1851 – 2001 The Assignment Is to Get the Story, but the Image Can Rise to Art.” Seeing and Writing 3. Eds. Donald McQuade and Christine McQuade. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006, p 639.
Macionis, John. Society: The Basics. New Jersey, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007, p. 278.
Photojournalism. 14 October 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 18 October 2008. .
Tiananmen Square Protest of 1989. 15 October 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 18 October 2008. .
Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. New York: Morrow, 1990, p. 10.

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...Bringing together creativity and literacy POSTED IN CREATIVE LITERACY We all know that literacy is the ability to read and write but the definition of creative is a little harder to define: it can be the ability to solve problems or being able to use your imagination. Bringing creativity and literacy together can be a powerful tool in teaching, writes Tonya Meers Creativity is characterised by originality and expressiveness, so it can mean making something or it can be something new and innovative. Sir Ken Robinson has said that “Creativity is about working in a highly focused way on ideas and projects, crafting them into their best forms and making critical judgements along the way.”       Bringing creativity and literacy together can be a powerful tool in teaching. It allows children to be active in literacy, from acting out plays through characters that they’ve made themselves or through making props. It allows children to explore their imaginations. Getting involved in a story re-enforces the learning and can also teach practical skills, for example, working with templates or basic sewing.      Children are naturally creative, if you stop and listen to them they often are natural storytellers. They love to make things up and will very often have imaginary worlds they will refer to. They also love to get involved in making things, giving them a sense of achievement.       If they are engaged they will learn more, so it’s about harnessing their ability to soak up......

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