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February 28, 2008

Week 5: The Simpsons & American Journal of Public Health on Obesity

I decided to take a less traveled route on this post. I was inspired to go straight to the source of American stereotypes: The Simpsons. This animated show has made fun of every possible people group in America during its run, yet it remains as popular as ever. I visited its website and perused the character bios, reading only the obese or overweight characters’. Here’s the way Matt Groening and The Simpsons’ creators have chosen to represent obesity in America (quotes from The Simpsons website):
• Comic Book Guy: This obese character is single, sells comic books, and “has the emotional maturity of an 11 year old.? When I’ve seen him on the show, he is eating and harassing the kids in his store.
• Clancy Wiggum: This obese character is the chief of police and is described as “donut-scarfing.? When I’ve seen him on the show, he is portrayed as a dumb cop, constantly on the prowl for food, particularly donuts.
• Homer Simpson: This overweight character is the lovable, idiotic father of a dysfunctional family. He is described as occasionally being “frustrated at being fat and bald.? His character is more complex than the first two mentioned, so he does not ALWAYS talk about food, but he does manage to twist his conversations back to pizza, beer, donuts, and other unhealthy options.

Do these yellow men, who represent the American Caucasian population, as African American cartoon characters are brown on the show, care that they are overweight? In general, no. What could be the reason, other than they are fiction? (Or are they…..?)

The American Journal of Public Health, March 2008, explains in an article titled “Feeling fat may be worse for you than being fat.? In a study conducted by Dr. Muening of Columbia University in NYC, he explains that just FEELING fat puts a person at a higher risk of health problems. Those who are heavy according to BMI charts, but perceive themselves as healthy have fewer “unhealthy? days per month than those who feel that they are overweight. Huh? Let’s look at it through the eyes of The Simpsons characters:
• Comic Book Guy: his body is clearly large, yet he delights in his comic books and his “wheelbarrow full of tacos.? He perceives himself as a happy, healthy person; therefore, he’s fine.
• Clancy Wiggum: he also has a large body, but finds satisfaction in life through his Barney-Fife police work. He perceives himself as a good father and cop, therefore, he’s fine.
• Homer Simpson: his body is the smallest of the three men, yet he occasionally is “frustrated,? as he perceives himself as fat and bald. Therefore, he tries to diet yet ultimately fails at losing weight. He is one who perceives himself as fat, therefore has more unhealthy days, as suggested in the article.

So, according to American Journal of Public Health and The Simpsons, you’re only fat if you think you are!

Week 5: Media Representations One: Obesity

I chose to write about obesity because I am a person who has struggled with weight my entire life. Watching family members encounter obesity-related health problems in recent years has made me make some lifestyle changes, like educating myself on what healthy eating REALLY is and incorporating exercise into my schedule. Taking my height and age into account, I am still considered overweight by the medical field.

It is easy to see in nearly every media how thin and beautiful people get the lead role, make the cut, win the girl/guy or prize, etc. I set out for this assignment to find some media that are sending healthy messages to people who struggle with their weight. I was looking for media addressing the issue of obesity, presenting realistic human bodies in a positive light, while also reinforcing healthy life habits like exercising and eating healthy foods. Here’s what I found:

I recently read a copy of “Seventeen? magazine, one that is very popular with teen girls – it was the April 2007 issue. While flipping through the magazine, I saw countless images of women who were thin, in my opinion some TOO thin, but none exhibiting the ghost-like figures sometimes portrayed in the fashion world. I was relieved to find some photos of women whom I considered to be a realistic size: 2 photos of Jennifer Hudson, a celebrity, Kelly, a student modeling for the “just flaunt it? article, and an ad for “Torrid? which is a company selling teen girls’ clothes in sizes 12+. There was a feature called “Real life? about a girl whose tattoo became infected – in the full body shot it is clear that the girl is a realistic representation of teen bodies; I guess she’s a size 10 or 12, about 140-150 pounds. Another “Real life? article was about a girl who confessed her lesbianism to the school; in her full body shot it is clear that she is an obese teen. There was an article about doing cheerleading workouts, like crunches and kicks, as well as an article about choosing healthy options at the school cafeteria. Both seemed like healthy advice. This magazine included an article called “How training can turn tragic,? a story about a teen girl whose eating disorder eventually killed her. While I began reading the magazine in order to discover how obesity is treated in teen girl world, I was relieved to see an article addressing another weight danger, anorexia – one that harms teen girls much more quickly.

It’s not very often that I’m home in time to watch Oprah, but I managed to catch it today, February 25th, 2008. It’s a show that’s on at 4pm when students are home from school. Today, Oprah was interviewing Valerie Bertenelli about her lifestyle changes: losing 40 pounds on the Jenny Craig weight loss system and giving up drugs. I’m realistic enough to know that not all students will watch Oprah, but I also know that many do and won’t admit it. Most of the episodes I catch consist of high-interest material relative to a wide audience. I think that the teens who watch Oprah in the afternoon are receiving a positive message about what healthy people look like, as Oprah herself talks about her weight struggles often.

A recent popular reality show dealing with weight issues is “The Biggest Loser.? The premise is this: several contestants are divided into two teams and whichever team loses the most weight by percentage wins at that week’s weigh-in. The show goes on for several weeks, with the “weakest? person getting “voted off? each episode and the winner receiving a cash prize. While I don’t agree with everything that happens, I do like to watch this from time to time, as it motivates me to keep up my new healthy habits. This is a show that is on a major network during prime time, so I think that several students watch it. I think it paints a very real picture of the health dangers of obesity for its audience as well as shows how effective healthy eating and exercising is. While it seems to imply that an extremely buff personal trainer is necessary to achieve weight loss, it does place people struggling with obesity as stars of the show, rather than in buffoon characters.

I’m encouraged to find that there are media out there sending student images of healthy sized adults, especially those that encourage people struggling with obesity to follow good health guidelines. I know that my students are bombarded by the media with messages that they should be thin and beautiful. They read it in magazines, watch it on TV, see it on the internet, in movies and clothing stores in the mall. However, research also tells us that the adults in students’ lives have the strongest influence on them.

I try to set a good example of what a healthy adult looks and acts like. When I have the opportunity, I encourage healthy habits like eating breakfast, exercising, and drinking water, by beginning conversations about it. Very often, I will say, “Turn your neighbor and ask him or her what he or she had for breakfast.? This is a “brain break? that works wonders in middle school because of the student’s short attention spans, and it also gives me an opportunity to gauge their healthy habits as well as model my own, by telling them what I ate, or what exercise I enjoy.

February 11, 2008

Week 4: Critical Approaches/Lenses

Audience Analysis Summary and Examples

When analyzing media text through the audience analysis approach, one is determining which population the media is addressing and how that population would interpret various symbols and signs. The media outlet targets one or more of three areas with which the population can interpret – identification, participation, and socialization as consumers.

In my search to find an example of a media outlet analyzing its target audience through interpretation, I looked no further than the evening news. When one watches a major network news show during the six o’clock hour, one is inundated with ads catering to 50’s age male: insurance, vehicle, and most abundantly, medications directed at men who experience erectile dysfunction. This thoroughly annoys me because I enjoy watching the nightly news as I prepare dinner: I get caught up on what’s going on in the world while accomplishing the feat of getting a healthy meal on the table. Clearly, the medication companies take advantage of this time when men are coming home from work, not thinking of the hot, delicious meal that is being prepared for them (yes, there are young women who cook dinner and work full time) but of their ensuing evening foray. The most comedic one in my opinion is that of the man who is working in the kitchen; I think he’s preparing a meal. The man can identify with helping out with household chores because many a married man knows that a little bit of housework goes a long way with his wife. His wife begins hitting on him, then the sink springs a leak! This is a great example of Freud’s phallic symbol and it makes me crack up almost every time! Of course, because he’s taken the ED medication, he can fix the leak, cook dinner, AND have sex with his wife.

Media outlets also target audience participation by creating something in which their audience can get involved. I think the “hottest? audience participation media is currently American Idol. The creators of the show take advantage of the “15 minutes of fame? idea by holding a musical contest in which it is theoretically possible that any person in America could be on the show. While thousands and thousands of people participate by actually going to the audition location, many more people participate every week by voting via cell phone for their favorite contestant. Even Fox 9 News has blog on which Twin Cities locals can post their thoughts of the show.

The third and final way that media analyze their audience is through “socialization as consumers? (Beach 35), meaning they try to sell the product or service based how cool or popular one can be if one owns the product or uses the service. I think that Apple, Inc. has the corner on the market with their abundance of electronic gadgets. They advertise their newest product, the iphone on TV using a single person against a black backdrop demonstrating how the iphone helped a man remain “cool? when he forgot a person’s name whom he was about to meet at a restaurant: he simply looked it up on the internet using his iphone. Apple, Inc.’s ipod product also has television and print ads with cool- looking youngsters dancing to the tunes on their ipods.
Semiotic Analysis Summary and Examples

Semiotic Analysis focuses on the audience’s interpretation of a sign or code; for instance, the media understands that most people interpret the color red to mean stop and the color green to mean go. I remember an Olive Garden commercial that showed its very happy chefs training in Tuscany, Italy, to make their new dishes. The ad consisted of many shots of the warm, romantic- looking countryside, olive trees, and juicy, red tomatoes bouncing out of a colander. The chefs were laughing heartily and deeply inhaling the aromas emanating from the piping hot pasta. The images of the scenery were be interpreted by the American audience to mean that the food served at Olive Garden is authentic Italian food. The images of the olive trees and the bouncing tomatoes are to be interpreted by the audience that Olive Garden uses extremely fresh ingredients, and the happy, laughing chefs are to be interpreted that the Olive Garden has a fun, relaxing atmosphere.

I don’t know for sure if the Olive Garden chefs really trained in Tuscany, how much fresh vs. frozen food they use, or how relaxed one feels there, but DO know this: it doesn’t compare with a lunch on an Italian piazza!

February 6, 2008

Week 3: How I plan to teach film/editing

At my school, we offer a 9th grade class called Media Technology and have a very qualified and experienced teacher who covers all of the film techniques covered in Beach's Chapter 3. I would not want to detract from her curriculum, but, seeing as how her class is an elective and my 8th grade Communications class is required, there are a few things I could do.

Because we use Simon Birchat the very end of our one semester course in a unit on perspectives, I would take some time to cover the film techniques described by Beach on page 23. I will have a few short shots from U tube to illustrate the different camera angles, then give them an assignment to go home and record a certain number of camera shots they could identify while wathcing television that night. There are a few spots in the movie where certain film techniques, such as point of view shot, are used to illustrate Simon Birch's small stature, or a close up shot of an important item, the armadillo. I would stop there and have the student identify the shot being used and why they think the director may have used it. This type of questioning will give me a good idea if they understand the film techniques discussed, and will also assess the student's understanding of Simon's perspective on life, depending on where in the film I stop. THis idea in no way incorporates all of the material covered by Beach in Chapter 3, but it gives me a realistic place to start in my classroom this semester, without infrining on the Media Technology teacher's curriculum.

February 5, 2008

Week 3 Citibank Commercial

I chose this Citibank commercial of a father and son traveling to Norway "on the trip of a lifetime" because it reminds me of what my husband and father in law would do if money and time were no objects; and surely with a similar result! Following is a shot by shot analysis of the 15 (I can't BELIEVE this) shots in the 30 second commercial. The first universal idea that it uses is that everyone's family "story" is unique, and wherever one travels with family, Citibank can be used to pay for it. It also capitalizes on the idea that everyone has a dream vacation destination and that they should use their Citibank card to pay for it.

1. Point of View shot from narrator (son) perspective: seeing the front of the boat, water, and mountains ahead. Bright and cheery music plays in the background throughout the commercial. This tells the viewer that one will be seeing this enjoyable trip through the son's eyes.

2. A medium shot of the son and dad on the boat establishes who is on the trip. Narrator/son says, "So I asked my dad where he would like to go. 'Norway' he said, 'the land of our forefathers.'" This and the following several shots are designed to trigger fond family memories in the viewer's mind.

3. Medium over the shoulder shot of the son taking the dad's picture with a Norwegian man in costume and a large building behind them.

4. Extreme long shot of dad and son examining Norwegian viking ship in a museum.

5. Close up shot of hand passing Citibank card to cashier.

6. 2 split second medium shots: son taking two beers from the bar and then dad and son holding them. Son says, "We took a pint at Ibsen's famous pub," portraying that a good time is being had by all...

7. Close up of large fish on a plate, son says, "We sampled the local fare"

8. Medium shot of father and son at table with fish between them, dad looks uncertain

9. Tracking shot of dad and son rowing a boat in a canal wearing matching sweaters, son says, "we got new sweaters". These last four shots establish all of the things one can purchase with a Citibank card in Norway.

10. Establishing shot of dad and son standing on a point, presumably having hiked there to see a beautiful view of the mountains, river, sky. One character says, "I feel like yodeling!"

11. Point of view shot that mimics the perpective of the son watching his smiling dad dance with a girl in traditional Norwegian dress at a festival. This gives the viewer the opportunity to share the moment of watching one's father enjoying a long-anticipated trip.

12. Long shot of dad and son walking through what appears to be a library. Son says, "'It was the trip of a lifetime,' dad said, until we went to the hall of records,"

13. Medium low-angle shot of dad and son reading a large book, son says, "and learned that we were Swedish" another uncertain look on dad's face.

14. Close up/tracking shot of Citibank card being passed through a ticket window, son says, "two tickets to Stockholm, please"

15. Medium shot of dad grinning broadly in front of the cruise ship which he is about to board.

16. Establishing shot of cruise ship at sea and voice over (not son) says, "Whatever your story is, Citibank can help you write it."

February 2, 2008

Week 2: Rationale for Teaching Media Studies

Last fall while taking EDPA 5341, “The American Middle School,? I learned that the National Middle School Association teaches that an effective middle school embodies fourteen key characteristics, the first of which is “curriculum that is relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory? (This We Believe in Action, Orb 4). I believe that integrating media studies into our current middle school curriculum, particularly Communications and Language Arts, will make the curriculum much more relevant to their lives, due to the fact that our students are swimming in media - they spend an average of 6 ½ hours a day with it, according to the Kaiser Foundation.

We have 8th and 9th grades in our building currently and there is one media technology class offered. It is a one semester course that covers advertising, news analysis, film editing and basic web design. There are four additional media technology classes offered at the high school, and they are very popular, so in that respect, one could say that the community has a positive attitude toward media studies. However, the technology levy did not pass this fall, and it is difficult to schedule classes into the computer labs at times.

I teach Communications 8 and Literacy 8 at Farmington Middle School West. Communications 8 is required in our building and is closely linked to the 8th grade English department. We meet the 8th grade requirements for a research paper in our class as well as write and present several different types of speeches throughout the one-semester course, state standards for listening, writing, and speaking. The curriculum was designed by my mentor teacher and incorporates little media technology. The reason for this is twofold, I believe: the difficulty in scheduling computer lab time and her hesitancy to use new technology. We research in the computer lab for the information speech, and we videotape one speech for the purpose of students analyzing themselves. I would like to use more technology in the class in order to capitalize on our students’ interest in technology, making it relevant to their lives. One possibility would be to watch and analyze speeches made by people in a variety of occupations in order to establish the necessity for learning public speaking. Another would be to communicate with the 10th grade students currently enrolled in Public Speaking through the use of class blogs or wikis, as Beach discusses at length on page 14. This may help students understand how they are learning the basics of public speaking and how the class has helped others do simple presentations. Having a 10th grade Communications partner could also establish a stronger sense of community within the high school in the future.

In pitching my idea to the school board, I share with them the following:

School board, it is my desire as well as yours to see that we are training our students in the basics of reading and writing, and I would like to share with you why media technology should be incorporated into our Language Arts curriculum. Our students are immersed in media and spend hours every day listening to MP3 players, playing video games, watching television and using the internet for research and socialization. When our current middle school students graduate from college, they will be taking jobs in fields that do not exist today. It is our job to train them now for the future and the future will hold media technology wherever they go.
We strive to teach curriculum that is challenging, relevant, integrative and exploratory, and with current technology we can do that. When we have enough computer labs and carts for classrooms, students can view and analyze a wider variety of texts than one book. Students can write responses in chat rooms, blogs, and wikis, all methods useful for teaching proper writing and publication techniques in a manner relevant and interesting to our students. Our students are living in a global economy fueled by media and need to be able to analyze and interpret the messages relayed to them on a daily basis; for example, they need to understand how the media can portray different populations, and how they bias reporting. They need to learn technology skills that will be necessary in their future occupations. Even our MCA tests are taken online now, which furthers the idea that our society becomes more paperless every day.
Please consider the proposal set before you to increase funding for media studies in our classrooms. With the proper tools, we will be more able to capture our students’ attentions in what they already spending ¼ of their day using, according to the Kaiser Foundation: media technology.