On media literacy

I remember a few months ago there was an email going around about an incident that happened at a high school. Coca-Cola came to the school to do a promotional thing and have their execs photographed hanging out with the kids. One of the kids, just as they snapped the picture, took off his sweatshirt to reveal--oh God--a Pepsi t-shirt! (or maybe it was the other way around, a Coke t-shirt on Pepsi day, what does it matter).

Anyway, the kid got in serious trouble. It just really depressed me that schools have got to kiss corporate ass like that. It reminded me of a quote from Douglas Coupland's Microserfs:

Her reunion actually had custom mugs, and this is so weird. Susan looked at the mug last week and asked, "Your high school reunion had horizontally cross-marketed merchandise tie-ins? Where'd you go to high school...Starbucks?"

So it got me thinking again how crucial it is to teach media literacy to kids to try to combat the massive forces of media-fueled materalism. 'Cuz, greed is destroying the planet's resources, and the media acts as a tool of the corporations to keep people mindlessly buying. Obviously. We are destined for a world where the scenery will be blocked out by solid walls of billboards, like in the movie Brazil. Where pop music will consist of "post-rock sludge with lyrics sponsored by Pepsi", as David Burne predicts.

So that's why I applaud the work of Adbusters magazine and organizations like the Just Think Foundation to educate children about how the media tries to manipulate them. Because you can bet that very few schools are going to do so.

We in the younger generations were raised by television. As babes, we suckled the media teat. We like to consider ourselves too media savvy to fall for the same weak ads that sucked in our parents. But we're no better, all it took was a new generation of slick hipness marketing that invokes rebellion and freedom. We've totally bought the concept that Adidas make you cool. We have a Pavlovian response to branding--all we need sometimes to identify a brand are the colors--we see that McDonalds yellow and we salivate.

Can we imagine a workable future within the current system, or do we need to start from scrach? Can advertising ever be good? After all We the Consumers have the ultimate power and have only to seize it. In other words, can we invision striving for an enlightened capitalism where we channel profits into the well-being of soceity?

I know I'm just being a starry eyed idealist, but I can picture a future where the advertisers must behave themselves in return for our dollars. Where corporations are good to their workers, give back to the community, and don't harm the environment. They would sponsor cool art for non-intrusive advertisements. They would also sponsor educational programs, content-rich websites, hip radio stations, and other cool stuff. We could visit their websites to find out about all the groovy stuff the company does. We could refuse to support any company that made hideous billboards or engaged in spam.

I know, it'll never happen. But those Apple "Think Different" ads are cool right?

June, 1998