Contributed by Sherry Forster, Delaware Joint Vocational High School, Delaware, OH
Scan newspapers and news magazines, surf the Internet, converse around the water cooler, listen to Congress, and of course watch television, and everyone has an opinion about the media. These opinions are all diverse, even rancorous, when it comes to the effect of television on the watcher. TV has recently begun to wrestle with a rating system. Congress is talking about the “V-chip,” and parents and teachers themselves question how much and what kind of TV watching is appropriate whenever a video or show taped from television is shown in the classroom. “Turn Off Your TV” weeks always get publicity, but the reality is that the majority of students come from homes with multiple screens and multiple VCR’s. As educators, the goal of developing students into discerning, critical viewers may enable them to negotiate with more confidence through the treacherous waters of today’s multimedia. Studying the various viewpoints as expressed in contemporary song lyrics can help the students have a clearer view of their own opinion of today’s media and its impact on their lives.
The student will be able to:
- draw conclusions on the importance of media in their lives based on a log of activity that includes television watching, video game playing, radio listening, and computer using. These conclusions will be expressed in an essay.
- compare their media involvement with that of their classmates by graphing the time spent in various activities. Graphs could be both individually drawn or done on a large scale as a class project.
- analyze the songs presented for the narrator’s opinion.
- contribute either original songs and poems about media or add additional ones to those included (optional).
- read essays and current events stories on controversies surrounding the effect of media and various attempts at its regulation.
Before attending school, children have logged incredible hours in front of the television. The activities of keeping a log and graphing results could be applicable from elementary through high school. By adding the elements of the song lyrics, reading some of the suggested essays, and writing their own essay, the audience has a narrower focus--middle through high school. In terms of subject matter, this lesson would be appropriate for a variety of English/writing or social studies classes.
The diary of media involvement would need to be completed prior to the students’ being able to begin drawing conclusions from the data. Students will need 2-3 days to write rough drafts of their essays, 2 days to listen to the songs and read lyrics, 2-3 days to read essays and current events, and 2-3 days to wrap up their essays and charts their usage.
CD’s/tapes and player, lyrics, poster board and markers, newspapers and news magazines for current events and copies of selected essays.
- As an opening discussion, have students write down how much time was spent with various media the previous evening. Have them include time spent with television, video games, computer, radio, etc. At this point, and throughout the time the students spend keeping a diary of their habits, the instructor should also keep a log of how his or her time is spent.
- Each day for a week, the students and teacher should spend a few minutes of time recording their entries of the previous evening’s activities. A journal that allows the participants a chance to reflect on their reactions to the various things they views, played, etc. will serve as a foundation for later introspective writings. The students have a chance to share and recommend or pan the previous evening’s activities. It doesn’t take long before students can see that the same movie, show, or game can elicit a variety of responses.
- Listen to “I’m the Slime” and “TV Age” (or choose other songs from the selected recordings list) Provide copies of the lyrics and have the students write in their journals about the motives and tone of the authors of the songs. Have them informally discuss whether they agree or disagree with the authors.
- As homework, have students choose another song relating to the media theme and write about it in their journals. These songs can be either student- or teacher-selected (see selected recordings). Examples can be brought in and shared with class.
- Have the students graph the results of the week-long survey of viewing/listening habits. After the completion of the graph, have the students interpret the results. Were there any unusual circumstances that one particular week that could have contributed to high scores in any one area? Look for unique events such as NBA Finals, Super Bowl, “Sweeps Week” on TV, etc. Also, were there any other unusual events--school cancellation for bad weather or parent conferences, for instance? One of the goals in this area is to give the students a healthy skepticism regarding data from surveys.
- Students should complete at least one summary of an essay regarding the media (see the list in additional resources) or one summary of a current event that relates to criticism of television (examples would be discussion of the TV ratings system and the V-chip).
- Students should begin to write a rough draft of an essay that explains their relationship with media and its relative importance or lack thereof in their lives. The students should include the information from their self survey, the class profile, the song lyrics analysis, the essay or current event read, and any other information their feel would give them a broad based foundation for their conclusions.
- While still in the drafting stage, students should help each other polish their work with the process of peer editing.
- Students should complete the final draft of their essay on media and its influence on their lives.
There are several areas of assessments that are part of this assignment. Students would be evaluated on the completeness of their media log and the resulting graph. The culminating essay would of course be judged on the criteria of its structure and whether or not the students had integrated a number of elements into their final copy. The final essay would also be a place where students could include any original compositions (songs, poems, drawings) that related to their theme in their essay.
“I’m the Slime” recorded by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (Over-nite Sensation, Discreet/Warner Bros. 1973); lyrics and music by Frank Zappa; Munchkin Music Co.
“TV Age” recorded by Joe Jackson (Night and Day, A&M Records, Inc., 1982); lyrics and music by Joe Jackson and Stephen Tatler; A BMI Publisher, ARZO Publishers.
Other Songs Relating to Media Theme
“She Watch Channel Zero” by Public Enemy, 1988; lyrics and music by Boxley, Griffin, Ridenhor, Sadler; Deb American Songs Inc.
“More News at 11” by Public Enemy, 1991; Lyrics and music by Boxley, Drayton, Ridenhour, Rinaldo; Def American Songs Inc., Bring the Noize Inc., Subfunk Music.
“57 Channels (and nothin’ on)” recorded by Bruce Springsteen (Human Touch, Columbia Records, 1992); lyrics and music by Bruce Springsteen.
“Television” recorded by Bad Religion, 1994; lyrics and music by Gurewitz and Napolitano; EMI Blackwood Music Inc., International Velvet, Longitude Music Co., Sick Muse Songs.
“21st Century(Digital Boy)” recorded by Bad Religion, 1994; lyrics and music by Brett Gurewitz; Westbeach Music.
“Money for Nothing” recorded by Dire Straits, 1985; lyrics and music by Sting and Mark Knopfler; Amo Music Corp., EMI April Music Inc.
“Man in the Box” recorded by Alice in Chains, 1990; lyrics and music by Kinney, Staley, Cantrell, Starr; Jacklord Music, Buttnugget Publishing, Phlembot Music, Lungclam Music.
“Language Is a Virus” recorded by Laurie Anderson (Home of the Brave, 1986)
“The Sun Only Shines on TV” recorded by a-ha (Hunting High and Low, Warner Bros., 1985).
“Channel Z” recorded by the B-52s (Cosmic Thing, Reprise Records, 1989).
While the unite can stand on its own, it would also be an effective introduction to Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Not only do Bradbury’s characters exist in a futuristic world in which firemen set fires to burn books, but those same characters coexist with giant television screens than can never be turned off. The book has held up well through the decades, which cannot be said for the movie that was based on the book. Students would be too distracted by the clunky effects to be able to concentrate on the message.
Other directions that teachers might be willing to explore include the use of various media as propaganda machines. Examples stretch from the Spanish-American War, through the Worlds Wars, and Vietnam. As we gain perspective on the Persian Gulf War, the armed forces has come under some scathing criticism for the way they handled access to military information. This direction could be explored by some students looking for an independent project.
Bianculli, David. Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously. New York: Continuum, 1992.
Davis, Douglas. The Five Myths of Television Power or Why the Medium is Not the Message. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Kinder, Marsha. Playing with Power in Movies, Television, and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.
Tichi, Cecelia. Electronic Hearth: Creating an American Television Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Network Directed by Sidney Lumet and produced by Howard Gottfried. Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky. R-rated. 1976.
Broadcast News Directed, produced, and written by James L. Brooks. R-rated, 1987.