Tag Archives: media literacy

Branding Opportunities around the Holidays: Tesla and Radio Flyer

A child looks up wide-eyed as the holiday tree twinkles. “Ooh! A Tesla! My own Tesla!” she cries out, a smile spread wide across her face.

It’s a scene that’s been played out, in one form or another, for generations. This year’s holiday dream-come-true is the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car. In another generation long ago, it was the No. 4 Liberty Coaster — the first in the long line of historic Radio Flyer wagons to come from an immigrant named Antonio Pasin.

There’s another immigrant whose skills, like Pasin, brought him to the United States. Elon Musk, too, sought the refuge of new beginnings. After being bullied as a school child in Pretoria, South Africa, Musk attended college in Canada before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S. Musk has been the driving force behind Tesla Motors, Inc., one of the most innovative technology companies of the 21st century, and has revolutionized how we think about transportation.

tesla-radio-flyer

With a keen business sense, Musk knows that Tesla should be looking to the next generation of U.S. citizens in the same ways that other companies seek out branding opportunities. Branding, which is the marketing practice of creating a recognizable name that holds deeper symbolic meaning, identifies and differentiates a product from others in its line. And branding has the capacity to instill positive images of Tesla for generations to come through a sense of nostalgia.

Enter the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car.

Robert Pasin, a grandson of founder Antonio Pasin, is “chief wagon officer” for Radio Flyer and has run the company since 1997. He spoke about the connection between certain classic or nostalgic items from our childhoods and their associated branding. “People love them,” he admitted readily, while also acknowledging that a company is “always going to be innovating.” The idea of Tesla in the Radio Flyer business family also helped to solve some of the electric generating problems that the company had encountered.

“When we started looking at the category of battery-operated ride-ons, one of the main pain points consumers would talk about is whenever the kid wanted to ride the car, the battery was dead. Our team thought they could solve it with a lithium-ion battery, but it’s really expensive. So if we were going to do lithium-ion, we should partner with Tesla, because they have the hottest, coolest electric car on the planet. We pitched it to Tesla about three years ago.”

According to Tesla, “Every Tesla Model S for Kids is a battery powered ride on that comes equipped with high-end features to recreate the ultimate Tesla experience.” Like the Radio Flyer brand itself, the Tesla for Kids car has the potential to become an American icon.

For 98 years, Radio Flyer toys have sent children on countless voyages of fantasy. With beauty, simplicity, and standards of safety, Radio Flyer toys have encouraged adventure and discovery; they’ve helped to capture the wonders of youth. In the same way that the Radio Flyer is rediscovered with each new generation, so, too, can the Tesla become part of a nostalgia of the timeless symbol of childhood freedom.

Moreover, Tesla will be adding credibility from a parent’s point of view with the Tesla Radio Flyer Model S Electric Kids Car. Just like the full size Tesla, parents can choose the paint color, performance, accessories, and personalization. Pasin says of their pitch to Tesla, “They didn’t bat an eye at Radio Flyer, but it did take awhile to sign the deal and convince (Tesla) it was a good thing to do.”

Pasin thinks his grandfather would like the Tesla within their product line. “One of his nicknames was ‘Little Ford,’” Pasin remembers. “The idea was he did for wagons what Ford did for cars. He was really interested in the latest and greatest products; he was not a nostalgic person at all. Partnering with Tesla, he would have thought was just awesome.”

And so will lots of children this holiday season when they discover a Tesla under the tree.

[A different version of this article appeared on Teslarati.]

Photo credit: Tesla

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Revisiting Media Literacy through a Digital Lens

I admit it, readily and happily:  I’ve been an advocate of media literacy instruction since the late 1990s, when I came face-to-face with students who just didn’t want to read the required Western canon.  Students would locate and share copies of Spark Notes and, without blinking, recite plot points and character distinctions.  Yet, when I pulled out magazines and asked students to identify images that had parallel themes to A Separate Peace or Flowers for Algernon, they were hooked and genuinely engaged in learning.

I knew I was onto something significant with media literacy.

Now, two decades later, I’m ready to end full-time public school teaching.  With closure comes insight into the progress we have made toward infusing media literacy and popular culture as part of what Giroux calls “serious academic discourse” (1989).  I’m also keenly aware that challenges continue to exist and daunt the most insightful and progressive media educators, even with the seeming ubiquity of digital tools and resources.

Looking Back at Two Decades of Media Literacy in the Classroom

mind over media tvMuch of my grounding in media literacy (and, later, digital culture) was framed by Dr. Renee Hobbs of the Media Education Lab.  Through Renee’s influence, I came to understand media literacy analysis from the early Know TV Curriculum; then it was onto analyzing advertisements, copyright and fair use, news bias, one-minute teen films, and, most recently,  propaganda through Mind over Media which curates a majority of its collection from users.  My students contributed, linked, and critiqued ads surrounding Dove Soap and parallel ads pointing to the destruction of South Asian rain forests, among others.

I also learned about the National Alliance for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) and their analysis categories of author and audience, representations and reality, and meanings and messages.  That framework jump-started me and helped me to create my own deconstruction model for students, called the Visual Analysis Protocol. Regardless of the course I teach — which can range from Children’s Literature, Sports and Popular Culture, Masculinity and Sport, The Art of Film, Conspiracy Theory, or American Literature — my students have the requirement to analyze media texts incorporating a social justice lens and then to compose their own media texts.

The importance of original composing can’t be overlooked:  students assume critical distance from texts and persuasion when, instead of consuming, they produce.  The shift to production requires them to design within commonly accepted conventions of a genre and with clear language expression.  This is tough work for any age group, but it’s essential for teens, whose identity experiences have been formed through constant media influences. Media composition also helps students to recognize the narratives employed in mainstream media texts, alongside their associative values, as a necessary step in questioning the dominant culture.

Add in “Digital” to Media Literacy Education, and What Happens in the Classroom?

As my years of teaching continued, an evolution toward 1-to-1 technology devices was slowly occurring.  I was eager to move from familiar print text and paper-and-pencil literacy practices to on-demand online inquiry and digital multimodal text sets.

evolution of digital engagement

Digital applications have changed my pedagogy and the way that students engage with texts. I am both a teacher and digital media literacy curriculum designer, and in both roles I have reminded myself to be conscious of several pedagogical components of digital media literacy education. It is important:

  • to engage students in media literacy learning in ways that foster their currency in companion digital skills and strategies;
  • to develop instructional experiences that connect youths’ in-school and out-of-school literacy and learning;
  • to offer inquiry into topics that arouse youth passions so to guide them as they become more deeply literate;
  • to balance opportunities for analysis with original composition so that critical examination is lessens negativity and reductionism;
  • and, to think of media literacy as a socially inclusive approach which calls upon civic participation and lifelong learning.

Tying It All Together in a Common Language of Digital Media Literacy

At the spring, 2016 conference sponsored by the Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME), co-president Julia Freschette outlined how digital distribution adds to consumer-generated content in a change to the entire digital landscape.  She argued that the end goal now of digital media education is to understand the means through which communication is created, deployed, used, and shared. Sacred Heart University’s Director of the Master’s Degree Program in Media Literacy and Digital Culture, Bill Yousman, extended that discussion to reinforce how, even in a digital age, critical media literacy continues to deal with issues of power, and such power arises when media messages benefit dominant social groups at the cost of underrepresented groups.

Source: ACME

ACME co-president Rob Williams outlined a series of ways that a critical digital media classroom can also help students to identify how the social media environment fosters skills that apply to the real world. Yes, social media offers teens the opportunities to create and curate their own identities.  But, with teens’ average 7 hours, 40 minutes per day of total media submersion — not including multimedia tasking— teens can also use social media for larger purposes.  Williams suggested that educators help students to gain language to discuss what they are doing on/ with social media, which can leverage them to gain the power of the network with their particular set of skill strategies.

In a conference session titled “Global Media Literacy Education:  Teaching Beyond Borders,” by Belinda De Abreau and Melda N. Yildiz, critical digital media literacy goals pointed to “global competence,” or the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance. To gain global competence, we can recognize cultural nuances among people around us as a beginning place to examine mediated environments and topics from culturally different points of view. A companion classroom activity compares newspaper representations of specific topics through a site like NewspaperMap and ask why different interpretations of the same text occur culturally.

Censored2016_COVER_1024x1024Project Censored director Mickey Huff described some of that organization’s earliest instructional activities, in which students identified the stories were being covered by independent news organizations but not being disseminated by the mainstream media.  They asked, “Why is there such a discrepancy?” Today, Project Censored also teaches students about logical fallacies through news headlines, and they play “Déjà Vu” when news outlets do pick up and report a previously absent story.  Huff and co-author Andy Lee Roth recently published the book Censored 2016, which captures the top censored stories and media analysis of 2014-2015. Huff stated that, until we have a news system that is diverse, we need to engage in such critical media analysis.

Sut Jhally, Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts and founder and Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation, was absolutely mesmerizing as the culminating keynote speaker at the ACME conference!  He revisited Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death introduction and argued that both Orwell and Huxley were right: fear and pleasure are driving our current worlds.  Jhally suggested that we read not McLuhan but McLuhan’s mentor, Henry Innis, who describes the essential influences of empire on society. Jhally also spoke of New York Times‘ Chris Hedges, who has a new book, Empire of Illusion. In it, Hedges discusses “the triviality of American popular culture… the mindlessness that makes the magic….”  I’ve added lots of material to my summer reading list as a result of hearing Jhally speak.

Carolyn at ACME delivering presentationAnd, in my own presentation, Reaching Magazines that Reach Us, I argued that media images of athletes of color reproduce generational stereotypes, and, through digital media analysis, we can help students to transcend such embedded messaging. Anytime we reproduce images from a former generation for a new generation, we expose youth to another framework with which to know their worlds.  If we are to assist our students become active advocates for equity in the world, we must, instead,  empower them to speak as systemic reformers. Digital media literacy can offer students the skills and structures to organize and act on a larger scale in order to change laws, policy, and larger social conditions. With digital media literacy analysis, they can, in turn, educate each other about racism. Through digital media literacy, we can help students to gain tools to transform institutions for justice for all.  Advocating for equitable images is one way.   

Barriers to Full Access to Digital Media Literacy Education in the U.S.

Of course, there are many issues when considering full implementation of digital media literacy programs in U.S. schools and other U.S. cultural sites.  A tendency seems to exist in many professional development programs to emphasize digital tools without focusing on the more important learning application of those tools. Moreover, instructors who lack the technology expertise cannot fully utilize the potential of digital media education, and, additionally, teachers can feel compelled to choose preparation for high-stakes testing over digital media production projects.

internet connectivity graphIn June 2013, President Obama announced his ConnectED initiative, which aimed to equip practically every school in the country with a high-speed broadband connection by 2018. We often speak about ubiquitous digital access, but it is important to remember that not all individuals, schools, or cultural institutions have the capacity to offer free wireless or to supply personal technology devices to their constituents, especially in an on-needed basis. Indeed, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the affluent and educated are still the most likely to have good access to digital resources.

And, finally, we have to remember that the U.S. is one of the very few Western countries that does not mandate media literacy education in its public schools.  Canada has media literacy requirements for their K-12 students. Countries like Sweden, Finland, South Africa, and the U.K. have some form of media literacy education for primary and secondary students. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of all European students receive some media literacy training by the time they graduate high school. If we want to teach our youth to be informed citizens in a democracy, the U.S. needs to reconsider its blatant disregard for the place and importance of digital media literacy instruction and to implement curricular standards that require students to analyze and interpret the vast amount of information that we all encounter every day.

An informed citizenry may depend on it.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She has a twenty year background in public school teaching, and she is a part-time faculty member in the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.

Resources

Freire, P. and Giroux, H.  (1989).  Pedagogy, popular culture, and public life:  An introduction.  In Popular culture:  Schooling and everyday life. Eds. H. Giroux and R. Simon.  New York, NY.  Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Analyze Super Bowl Commercials!

In 2015, You Tube Super Bowl ads accumulated 133 million views, and many of these views came well in advance of the actual Super Bowl broadcast, offering advertisers a rich (pun intended) opportunity to attract online audiences. The Super Bowl is the largest advertising event of the year, with costs to air a 30 second ad in excess of $3 million. Clearly, planning, design, and execution of Super Bowl commercials requires meticulous persuasive rhetoric.

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

As Super Bowl audiences, we enjoy the commercials; they’ve become part of the bigger picture of the Super Bowl as a mega-media event alongside the halftime entertainment spectacle and the actual football competition.  But the Super Bowl commercials also present us with an opportunity to unpack the methods by which we are made to feel a particular way about a product or service.  And, when we step back from the content of a text like Super Bowl commercials, we become reflective. Reflexivity is a developable capacity—the ability to self-reflect is not separate from the process of coming to know and understand. When we recognize the persuasion infused within text structures like Super Bowl commercials, we become better readers of other texts and our world.

So, what language and visual analyses can we apply to Super Bowl commercials?  How can we move from deciding what the Super Bowl commercial topics are to how their composers are crafting their arguments?

Persuasion, Messages, and Assumptions 

Source: Emergent Media

Source: Emergent Media

It helps to understand what “persuasion” is in order to get started with Super Bowl commercial analysis.  Persuasion is communication intended to induce belief or action. If they’re successful, text composers will capture and hold their audiences, and those audiences will be persuaded to think, to know their worlds, and to behave in particular ways based on persuasive appeal.  The messages that are embedded within texts like Super Bowl commercials are part of an information exchange that contains a definite world view. Composers disseminate messages in ways that attempt to persuade their audiences to see the world in particular ways.

Those particular ways of seeing the world are sometimes called “assumptions.”  Assumptions are ideas that are accepted to be true without having much accompanying evidence.  Amateur and professional sports are constantly-evolving spaces, and Super Bowl commercials describe these sports spaces and the larger society in which we live through embedded assumptions.

A Four-Part Process to Analyze Super Bowl Commercials

So much happens during a Super Bowl commercial! A full story is told within 15 or 30 seconds. As the audience, we respond not only to fictionalized characters and conflicts but stylized images made possible through sophisticated digital editing  techniques. Together, a series of elements create effects that cause us to respond in particular ways.  Breaking these elements into parts and synthesizing them afterward can help us to show evidence of measured thought and to digest multiple possible interpretations of Super Bowl commercials as persuasive media texts. 

Content and Context 

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

  • Start by listing objects within the commercial and offering detailed descriptions of these objects.
  • What do people say to each other in this commercial?  How do individuals respond to and build upon others’ language choices? Note the most important conversational exchanges.
  • Consider the structural mechanisms that are used to draw the viewer into the text. For example, how are lighting, sound, music, voice overs, special effects, editing, color symbolism, and/ or casting used to foster audience interest?
  • Is there any specific implied prior knowledge that would be important for a viewer to hold in order to understand the commercial?  If so, name it.
  • Describe the setting: time and place.  Why did the composer choose these instead of other possible times and places?

Symbols 

Source: PBS

Source: PBS

  • Return to the list and descriptions of objects you created.  Now isolate certain objects that seem to stand out as unusual, important, or curious.
  • Explain what these isolated objects often represent in society.  This type of representation is sometimes called “allusion.”  Allusions use one object to remind us of a deep series of meanings through calling to mind popular culture, history, politics, literature, religion, or art.
  • Make a hypothesis for each isolated object:  what might the composer of this commercial be trying to tell us about our own lives through this allusion?

Composer and Target Audience 

Source: Driving Sales.com

  • Research who commissioned the text.   Since Super Bowl commercials are so expensive, it’s likely that a corporation paid to have the commercial produced.  What do we know about the corporation and its holdings?
  • Who actually designed and produced the commercial?  What is that company’s or individual’s reputation and experience within the world of advertising? For what other advertisements is the designer/ producer known?
  • Who is the target audience for this commercial?  How do you know?  What features of the commercial appeal to a particular age and demographic group?  
  • What are the possible economic consequences of this commercial’s success? How might it lead to new audiences adopting the corporation’s product or service?

Messages 

Source: Subliminal Messages for Alienation Paulo Zerbato

Source: Subliminal Messages for Alienation Paulo Zerbato

  • What themes or lessons is this commercial telling us about our world and ways that we should behave?
  • What evidence or reasons does the text composer supply to support the theme or lesson? How good are these reasons or evidence? Why do you trust or distrust the reasons and evidence?
  • How might different people interpret these themes or lessons differently?  What are the possible consequences of such themes or lessons for different audiences?

Critical Thought through Analyzing Commercials

Breaking apart Super Bowl commercials like this takes methodical thought and effort. However, such textual analysis through both visual and language deconstruction moves us from being passive recipients of messages to active interpreters of media and society.  Sound bites have less power when we can demonstrate why media messages reproduce certain cultural norms in our society.  

Because we both consume and produce media texts, we can integrate the critical analysis techniques we learn through Super Bowl commercial analysis into our lived media experiences. Super Bowl commercial analysis opens us up to how advertising is played out between corporations and changing objectives of economic and cultural fields. The interplay between corporations and the media can become a bit more apparent when we recognize media’s changing forms and content and its impact on lifestyles, social norms, and belief systems that most people consider “normal.”

When we investigate the pleasure we derive from media consumption and learn how to question it, we achieve a duality of purpose that helps us to weigh the costs and benefits of media messages. Through our social media interactions, we can use media analysis to shift to our own greater community involvement and understand of media’s contributions to our collective culture. 

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches English Language Arts at a New England public high school and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.