Arguably, commercial media is taking over the world of civic discourse. The demise of print journalism and the rise of the image have morphed mainstream news media into another wing of the entertainment industry. Teaching high school students how to navigate between half-truths as presented by the media and advertising companies is the mission behind St. Thomas Aquinas’ Mass Media and Pop Culture class. It is time, as founder of the Media Education Foundation Sut Jhally once stated, “to teach the fish to think about the water.”
Adolescents are living and developing in an online world. Gone are the days, it seems, where outdoors and nature can captivate imaginations. In a time where teenagers spend the majority of their waking hours staring at a screen, it has never been more important to alert them to the motivation behind media marketing. Thus, teachers Ms. Pate and Mrs. Kirsch have met students on their own ground with a course that invites them to think beyond the image. In collaboration, students created advertising campaigns for a selected company and product. They explored the weaknesses of the current advertising campaign and created an ad of their own. In the process, students pitched their own advertisement for companies such as Wendy’s, Mountain Dew Kickstart, Chanel Perfume and Chevrolet and considered- perhaps for the first time- the intentions and goals behind ad production.
Depending on whether one is a consumer or a producer, the media industry can be considered either a vulture (ready to prey upon people with strategic influences) or a capitalistic force that changes the direction of economic growth. Either way, it is undeniable that young people today are saturated by corporate influences that promote “values” of consumption, competition, hierarchy, sexism, racism, etc. Targeted by advertisements on the internet, cell phones, video games and on television, adolescents are captive prey to an industry that views them as ripe consumers.
Preparing our young adults for tomorrow is at the heart of the St. Thomas Aquinas mission. Awakening their awareness to media and pop culture marks a very strong step toward fulfilling this goal.