and the modern world

Media and Media Literacy

Last night’s rerun of “Breaking Bad”, the January edition of Vogue, the commercials you must endure on Hulu Plus – what do these things have in common? They’re all a part of the media, a way society can communicate with each other, whether through newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, television shows, advertisements, movies, or websites, etc. A powerful tool in affecting the thought processes of people around the globe, the media can be used to educate the public as well as entertain. For example, “Food, Inc.” exposed any animal maltreatment or unsanitary practices throughout the food industry to raise awareness among consumers. However, the power of the media is not always used for good as it can also be detrimental to the behaviors of society due to its ability to manipulate our perceptions of anything and everything. The photoshopped, idealized photo shoots in magazines can warp young girls’ self-images, while commercials for cleaning products featuring housewives propagate the domesticized image of women in a patriarchal society. These messages are so easily accessible through their mass availability and vast outreach that the average person requires a degree of media literacy, or an understanding of media’s intentions regarding how we think. To be media literate, one must be able to determine how media affects society and messages relayed to us through it. The process of being media literate involves an element of being able to think on your own and processing the information broadcasted, rather than consuming the ideas handed to us through the media.

GoldieBlox - OFFICIAL BIG GAME XLVIII - Ad (Uncut Version)

In their 2014 Super Bowl advertisement, GoldieBlox, a toy company that produces construction kits to promote engineering among young girls, suggests that the current market for young girls’ toys pigeonhole girls into roles that do not encourage creativity and thinking. To highlight these girls’ frustration with the social restrictions placed on what behaviors and interests are acceptable for girls, GoldieBlox displays girls throwing down tiaras and storming out of beauty pageants, abandoning their pink toys to the astonishment of boys and parents alike, all while singing a parody of “Come on Feel the Noize” by Slade with lyrics that express how girls “want to think” and “build like all the boys”. GoldieBlox urges society to discard the mentality that girls are less capable of innovation than boys in order to impassion young girls and encourage them to pursue STEM fields, known to be largely dominated by males, as adults. The commercial caters to young girls and anybody who buys toys for young girls, since these are their primary customers, with a fed-up (“more than pink”) but empowering ("time to fly") tone.

9/11 Rewritten

Early morning on September 11, 2011, several plane crashes caused mass destruction throughout the country as terrorist attacks worked to dismantle the American spirit. In New York City, one of the hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center’s north tower. The American Airlines Boeing 767 (carrying some hijackers but otherwise empty of passengers), despite its thousands of gallons of fuel, had minimal impact on the sturdy tower of 110 floors. While the 80th floor caught fire, hundreds of firefighters were able to contain the flames while dozens of police officers helped evacuate the building. Shortly after, another empty Boeing 767 crashed into the 60th floor of the south tower, causing it to also ignite. Before the collapse of the skyscrapers, however, approximately 13,000 people from the towers of the World Trade Center managed to evacuate the premises. Helicopters sent by the government searched through the smoke to rescue the civilians trapped on the higher floors, as the fire prevented them from evacuating with the others. Meanwhile, on the lower floors, all the people from the World Trade Center towers had been quick in exiting the buildings, leading themselves under temporary shelters set up by the government (to guard against protection from falling debris) until the federal buses returned to take them to safety. All those passing through were safely guided away from the towers’ cascading debris by New York’s responsive police forces. All in all, there were four American casualties (they had been unreachable by the government due to lack of proximity to windows or other escape routes) and less than a dozen injuries, mostly minor burns from the fire or minor trauma from falling debris. However, hundreds of paramedics had arrived on the scene by then and had set up stations around the towers for the injured to obtain treatment for their wounds. The two towers were completely empty of people by the time of their collapse. The debris scattered from the collapse did not injure any civilians, as they had all been evacuated from the vicinity of what had been the World Trade Center, but did cause mild irritation in the lungs of some people who had been lingering too closely along the boundaries set by the police.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon military headquarters. While a roaring conflagration disrupted power throughout the building and struck panic throughout the Pentagon, the flames proved no match for the inexorable concrete walls. Through the darkness, hundreds of people evacuated the building with the help of the Washington, D.C., police and firefighters. Out of the approximately two hundred survivors, three were injured during evacuation, either from burns or from stumbling through the darkness in the panic of the Pentagon. However, none were injured or killed from the impact of the plane, except the hijackers, believed to be members of Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda, none of which survived.

One last plane, United Flight 93, was hijacked by terrorists, only to be retaken by the passengers. The flight attendants and passengers, aware of the sister attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., prepared to attack the hijackers in the cockpit. One flight attendant poured pitchers of boiling water over them, while another group of passengers defended against the terrorists with a fire extinguisher. Meanwhile, the other passengers retreated to First Class. Without its pilots, the plane began to plummet toward a Pennsylvanian field, approaching speeds of five hundred miles per hour. However, the passengers and flight attendants managed to work together to figure out how to keep the airplane afloat and safely landed the plane a few hundred meters away.

In total, there were twenty-three fatalities during 9/11, nineteen of which were members of the Taliban. After 9/11, the United States initiated Operation Enduring Freedom and displaced the Taliban from Afghanistan within weeks of arrival, and a new democracy has been flourishing ever since. Osama bin Laden was located and executed three days after the September 11th attacks.

Due to the traumatic impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks to thousands of Americans and fatalities reaching around 3,000 people, I chose to rewrite this event to boost American morale rather than admit loss to Al-Qaeda.

1984 Response

At the end of George Orwell’s 1984, I was dumbfounded. The novel was a tale of Winston’s defiance and strength of mind in a society of ignorance and compliance, so the ending was unexpected in that he was truly broken. Winston told the Party to give Julia to the rats instead of him when the two lovers had agreed that the Party could never make them confess. He wanted to die hating Big Brother in his heart, but ends up alive and loving him. However, I did enjoy Orwell’s work due to its timeless relevance. Orwell foretold elements of oppressive government, surveillance, and widespread ignorance that connected to his lifetime as well as the world today, although not on as large a scale as in 1984. Although the ending may have disappointed optimistic readers, I would not have ended the work differently. Orwell avoids Deus ex machina and ends the book in a bleak warning of the unstoppable tyranny of a government with too much power. He could have ended with Winston and Julia happily living the rest of their lives avoiding vaporization or being made sane, but instead chose to have Winston lose his individuality and become an orthodox Party member. While reading 1984, I received a message of the difficulty associated with dismantling a government that has grown too powerful. Orwell left no room for hope so that society may know not to let government garner that much power lest it become unstoppable.

Reflection on Media Literacy

A defining aspect of my generation’s lifestyle is technology, which entails unlimited access to different forms of media, from social networking sites to online news articles. With media holding such large influence over our lifestyles, being media literate is more important than ever. Through this course, I gained a stronger understanding of all aspects of media. First, we learned what media is and all the forms that it takes, whether visual or auditory, etc. Then, we analyzed articles and commercials to understand the purpose of the information we consume through media. Through rewriting a history article, I learned the influence media has over society; depending on what sources decide to let people know or not know through media, the public can have vastly differing reactions. Then we connected this information to literature through 1984 by reading about media’s impact on Winston Smith and the other members of Orwell’s dystopia.

This class was different from the other language arts classes I took in the fact that it was largely technologically-based. However, it still held many similarities with my previous classes. We wrote a précis and analyzed authors’ purposes, much like I did in AP Language and Composition. Like all the other literature classes I took, we read books and wrote the occasional essay. If anything could be done differently to make this class better, it would be the depth in which we delve into the material. While the curriculum probably entails several different topics in the short span of a semester, I feel the course would better capture the interest of its students if we analyzed more deeply. I’m not suggesting piling students with busy work or making them annotate every line of text (in fact, one of the pros of this class that many people agree on was the significantly low amount of busy work in comparison to other classes such as American Literature), but for some units, such as Macbeth, I felt we were a little rushed.