Media Messages

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attack, Americans need to be particularly mindful of messages which contain bias. Historical and contemporary images often contain hidden messages about us, about others and about our world. These subtle messages lie just beneath the surface. As a nation of media consumers, we need to ask questions about what we see and why we perceive things as we do. We need to teach our children to question and to reflect upon words and images to which they are exposed.

Questions when looking at images:
    What do I see?
    What Assumptions am I making when I look at the image?
    What assumptions, selections or omissions has the artist/writer made in creating this image?

With any group, select a picture from a newspaper or magazine and remove all captions. Examine the image and respond to the Questions When Looking at Images. The range of responses should produce a lively discussion and reveal some hidden biases.

While there has been a movement toward more diversity, most magazines still favor very slim Caucasian models, sending a quiet message about "beauty." Advertisements for cosmetics and certain articles of clothing often suggest attention to one's makeup, hair or dress have less to do with self image and more to do with attracting the opposite sex.

Web sites provide a fertile ground for extremist groups. Often, a site incorporates symbols and graphics in its pages. A confederate flag or a particular religious symbol send messages which we need to recognize. We need to ask,"What is the intended audience for this page?" "What is the intended visual appeal of the layout?" "What do the symbols represent?" "Do the symbols / images exclude a particular group or narrow the audience to a targeted few?"

Questions when looking at words:
    What images do the words bring to mind?
    What are my first thoughts?
    What assumptions am I making as I envision the meaning of the words?
    What other words might the writer have selected?

An often used expression, "as American as apple pie," provides a good example of an expression which has no true meaning but evokes an image of an ideal American reality which is characterized by a food associated with a particular racial group. Aren't black eyed peas characteristicallyAmerican?

At home and in the classroom, we need to be media literate.