Friday, November 19, 2010

Harvesting Minds Roy F Fox

Harvesting Minds: How TV Commercials Control Kids by Roy F. Fox is an academic look at how Channel One News has influenced students in the public school systems where the service is provided.  Specifically, how the commercials presented between the news stories blurs the lines between hard news and the soft sell, with commercials that not only are specifically targeted to the young audience but intentionally look like public service announcements or other non-commercial programming.

And it is easy to target your audience when it is quite literally captive.  Channel One News is streamed via satellite into classrooms where teachers are forced to leave the program running while it airs in the morning.  In exchange for this privilege, the schools receive media resources they might not otherwise be able to purchase for themselves–computers, televisions, dvd players, etc.

Throughout the book, Fox gives examples of students who not only know the commercials but can act them out, verbatim.  These children wear sneakers with labels, munch on candy and soda available in snack machines throughout the school, and can tell you that although they don’t really watch the commercials they have bought something because of advertising they have seen. They interact with one another, repeating tag lines, laughing over funny moments, interjecting clarifications, and even abridging themselves in their enthusiasm.

In other words, they know the commercials.  What they seem to be missing is the driving force behind the commercials.  Some of the students in the text seem oblivious to the fact that there is a media machine behind the commercials they watch.  Instead, they think that Michael Jordan pays Nike for the privilege to be in their commercials because it’s good for his career and when Pepsi creates a commercial that has young people looking at the camera in a confessional manner, explaining their personal problems, it never occurs to these children that the face staring in the camera is an actor.  They believe Pepsi really cares because they show real people talking about real problems.

The inability of these students to critically watch the programming is especially alarming.  Most of the students seem to be oblivious of the various players behind the scenes.  The actors or athletes are seen as altruistic and sincere rather than merely doing a job. There is no conscious awareness of media manipulation or saturation.  Instead, if students feel they have seen a commercial too often, they prefer to have a new commercial rather than simply turn the television off altogether.

As with many academic resources like this book, Fox concludes with some suggestions that can be used by parents and teachers to help young minds to develop the necessary critical skills that will empower them to truly be responsible citizens.  This was, after all, the intention behind our country creating a public school system to begin with.  Naturally the schools that are most amenable to having Channel One News piped into their classrooms are also the ones that are most in need of extra resources.  Unable to afford the cutting edge in technology, the trade is made and the cost is the child’s mind.  Ideally, time would be made in the classroom to put into practice some, if not all, of Fox’s suggestions.  Ironically, the more we invite children to view media with a critical eye, the less influential these things become and Channel One News would become less impacting upon the individual.

In looking up information about Channel One News on wikipedia, I found some interesting information.  Look specifically at how some of the content is commercially sponsored, how quizzes about the news and questions of the day are used to not only encourage students to really watch what is being shown but to also feature a product.  Controversial?  It should be.  Worthy of criticism?  Absolutely.  Anathema to what a democratic educational system stands for?  Without a doubt.  So why aren’t more people raising a voice in outrage?  I don’t know.  Perhaps I am biased against such things because I grew up without a television.  I am appalled to read how these children cannot see through the commercials to their underlying reason for being.  I know that if I were a teacher in a classroom, I’d be hard pressed to not turn the damn thing off myself.  But since that would not be allowed, I could see how I might try to find ways to encourage my students to be more diligent about what they are thinking in response to what they are forced to watch.  At least I’d like to think I would.

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