Sunday, November 17, 2013

Welcome to the Machine: A Response to Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us

It's difficult to consider or envision a starting point and end point for this post. I say this because I feel like I'm drowning in a sea of advertising and marketing, literally drenched in logos, makeup, branding and expectations. We all are. We are part of a massive machine which consists of what seems like an infinite number of gears constantly churning and being oiled. When you really stop and consider the ways in which your life and psyche are impacted by marketing, it's paralyzing. Everything from the clothing you wear, right down to the way you walk and talk, is impacted by somebody else. Most habits you think to be "normal" were at some point contrived by someone somewhere along the line in history. We drink eight glasses of water because that's what "they" say you should do. Poland Spring loves that this has caught on. We shower daily because that's what "they" say you should do. Meanwhile Johnson and Johnson are benefiting. You brush your hair and your teeth. Suave, Colgate and the mega companies that own these companies are happy.You eat particular foods to try to be healthy. Nabisco and General Mills laugh all the way to the bank as you crunch down on your over priced hundred calorie pack. You watch football and baseball and golf, all multi-billion dollar industries. You go to the movies. You go out shopping for shoes. Everywhere you turn you are being hit by marketing ploys and gimmicks. 

As if the gimmicks and marketing were not enough, you are also being told what to think, how to behave and what to believe about yourself and others. This is the heart of what Linda Chistensen gets to in "Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us." Christensen describes a secret education that we all receive. This secret education begins at a very early age. Picture little girls in princess costumes. Boys dressed as super heroes. Think about all of your favorite Disney Movies and the expectations for the characters in the movies. People of color are servants. Overweight people are slobs and "buffoons." People with blonde hair are beautiful and get to live "happily ever after." These are the lessons we learn, lessons that many adults have no problem allowing their children to listen to and internalize. 

It's ironic that so many people are OK with the political agenda of Disney, but outraged by the accused "liberal" agenda in movies that attempt to break the mold. There are literally people who have a problem with the movie "The Lorax" because it teaches kids to care about the environment, it pushes a "liberal agenda."

Christensen offers some wonderful examples of how to teach students about media awareness and stereotyping. Students explore cartoons and videos that send subliminal (and not so-subliminal) messages about what an ideal society looks like. Her students put what they have learned into practice and create pamphlets to be distributed in the community. The writing is meant to help readers make informed decisions about what types of material they allow their children to watch and consume.

This is all great work, but Christensen really just gets to the tip of the iceberg with her students. She plants a seed of skepticism that will hopefully flourish and continue to grow strong roots as the students move into adulthood. Her work is excellent and a great example of how to get kids to critically analyze their surroundings, a necessary 21st century skill. 

There is a need to dig deeper with this though. The foundation for this type of thinking needs to be set at a much earlier age. Christensen's work needs to be a call to parents. This type of work starts with children as young as 12 months old. It starts with less toys. Less games. Less television. As babies grow into toddlers and elementary school children, they lack what Christensen refers to as "intellectual armor." Parents must arm their children. 

Now, does this mean that we all stay stuck in a place of paralysis? No. Does this mean that we all move to a hippie commune and live off the land? Probably not. It does mean that we learn to think about what we are thinking, and we teach our own children and students to do the same, all of that great metacognition stuff. Why do I want this game? Why am I afraid to walk through south Providence? Why am I dieting? Why do I feel so terrible about myself? Why am I comparing myself to others? Why don't I care more about slavery in the world today? This is an arduous task, especially with the new world of social media and reality television, both of which are incredibly distracting and contributing to the machine of marketing and skewed social norms. I don't even know if I want to go there, but you probably get the picture. To learn more about metacognition and teaching, check out this link. Shameless plug, I know.

What I'm getting at is that we are part of a machine whether we like it or not. Will we ever be able to unplug the machine? Probably not. But it is at the very least possible to throw a monkey wrench or two into it by simply learning to question and critically analyze your own actions as well as the actions of others.

"Welcome To The Machine"

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been? It's alright we know where you've been.
You've been in the pipeline, filling in time,
provided with toys and Scouting for Boys.
You bought a guitar to punish your ma,
And you didn't like school, and you know you're nobody's fool,
So welcome to the machine.
Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream? It's alright we told you what to dream.
You dreamed of a big star, he played a mean guitar,
He always ate in the Steak Bar. He loved to drive in his Jaguar.
So welcome to the machine. 

-Pink Floyd 

*I would consider posting clips to ridiculous shows such as "Toddler in Tiaras" or "Jersey Shore," but I'm hesitant to give any of these shows any kind of fan-fare through the much coveted "share" function.*


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