Students will be able to evaluate how messages in the media reflect social and cultural views in ways different from traditional texts.
Approximately two thirds of our sophomores retested today for the freshman English standardized test, so teachers have an awkward few days of lesson planning. I don’t want to do something too hard because I don’t the kids in class to feel punished for passing the test last year, and I also don’t want to move on because the kids who didn’t pass and are retesting tend to be the students who get farther behind anyway. So, in the spirit of Christmas, we watched WWII propaganda and introduced the idea of persuasive techniques in anticipation of learning how to identify and write persuasive essays. During the viewing we also cut out snowflakes and make red and green paper chains for the classroom; I felt that Christmas decorating and Disney propaganda made a nice dichotomy.
We started with Disney’s “Education for Death”, produced on commission from the US government in 1943.
We then watched a portion of “Triumph of the Will,” a 1935 documentary glorifying Germany’s military strength and potential. We then switched to a chunk of “Be Prepared” from the Lion King where the hyenas do the goose step. After discussing different persuasive techniques used in the first two clips, we talked about modern day propaganda, such as the infamous “Mitt Romney killed my wife” ad and the “Life of Julia” bit from the Obama campaign. We also watched one of the “Don’t Vote” campaign clips. We discussed different target audiences – for example, the “Don’t Vote” campaign targets young, new voters around 18-30 years old – my generation. We looked at the overt messages (Mitt Romney caused my wife to die from cancer) and the more subtle (when Neil Patrick Harris says he votes because, “I fell in love and I want it to matter.”).
We discussed targeting on the internet – for example, after I had been dating my current husband for about a year in college, I started getting ads for engagement rings. As soon as I changed my relationship to “engaged”, I saw ads for local wedding vendors, and a few months into marriage I started getting ads for baby products. I mentioned how I purposefully changed my gender on Pandora so I got ads for fantasy football instead of Tampax products. Just to prove how much control visual advertising has over our emotions, we watched the first 4 seconds of the Sarah McLaughlin “Arms of an Angel” anti-animal cruelty campaign. We only needed 4 seconds because everyone went, “NO!” Instant emotional trigger. We finished by watching a few Superbowl ads and figuring out who they were targeting. My students have done lessons on the Uncle Sam “I want you!” propaganda posters but I don’t think they’ve ever considered how much they are targeted all the time on their phones, TV, and online, and how. When I asked how many people owned an ipod and most raised their hand, I asked why. One kid volunteered, “Because it’s cool!” I said, “Who says?” He said, “Me!” I raised an eyebrow. They suddenly looked at ease at how easily advertising controls them. I think it was an intriguing start to the week.
Great question! It is a very conservative, Christian area – to my knowledge, none of my students don't celebrate Christmas, at least in the secular, decorative sense. A few have talked about being atheists or agnostics but still decorate for the holiday. However, in my lesson plan I did label them "holiday decorations". We did talk a bit about how an evergreen tree has always been known as a "Christmas tree" – calling it something different would be rather like calling a menorah a "holiday candelabra," which we obviously wouldn't do. But on the other hand, I guess it is something I assumed rather than really inquired about; it's even labeled "Christmas break" on the school calendar. And if anyone does have a problem with it, they kept their mouths shut in order to waste class time on arts and crafts. Even at 15 playing with scissors and glue is a plus.
I wish we could have gone more into the lyrics and the story of "Be Prepared" – an entire species of creatures feeling basically, well, screwed over by the world, coming to the conclusion that "it's the lions' fault". However, we just approached the visual aspect of the hyenas doing the goose step after seeing Triumph of the Will. They were horrified Disney was tucking anti-Nazi propaganda techniques in fifty years later.
Interesting post! At first I was confused about the Lion King, but then I looked up the lyrics and yow-zah! That song is nuts! I've never read the lyrics in whole before and certainly didn't know those words as a kid…I think the "decades of denial" lyric stuck out to me the most in relation to WWII Nazi Germany stuff…
Anyways, I'd love to use this lesson when I get back and teach History again, should that happen!
I'm also curious, do all your students celebrate Christmas? Or they just made decorations anyways?
Have a good one!