Archive for June, 2012

Political satire with Amy Poehler on SNL

In an earlier post, I highlighted an interview of Neal Gabler by Bill Moyers about politics and movies.  As the American presidential elections heat up, it is a good time to return to this topic with a few interesting links and ideas.

One of the most interesting sites concerning politics and the media available for students and educators is on the Museum of the Moving Image site: the Living Room Candidate.  These pages that contain presidential ads from their first appearance on television are a treasure trove for Media Literacy and Social Studies teachers and can serve as an invaluable resource for curriculum development.  A good place to start is to have students work in collaborative teams – which can combine media and history classes – to develop analyses of media messages seen through historical and communicative contexts and to create their own politically-oriented media messages.

How do young people get their news? How do they interpret media messages?

One of the most prevalent manners in which media addresses young people is through satire (often, it’s the only way that youth have any connection to current events).  Here is an example of a Learning Blog lesson plan from the nytimes.com website.   For this series of lessons, students can develop analyses of satire in which they compare and contrast news pieces from mainstream text media and parallel satiric pieces from motion picture media.  Chris Kennedy, a journalism teacher and colleague at my high school, shared with me the following two examples he has used: (1) the debate on Paul Revere’s ride initiated by the comments of Sarah Palin, as viewed on The Colbert Report and through interviews with Palin; and (2) satiric commentary on the role of the vice presidency and contemporary issues such as gay rights.  The Saturday Night Live piece on Vice-President Biden works very well, and can be used with a number of other historic SNL pieces, such as the infamous Amy Poehler rap delivered during the news segment with then-candidate Sarah Palin.

It is also very interesting to note that, in my experience, unless required to produce a piece that deals with political issues, students tend to avoid “serious topics” completely in their media creations.  I can also add that it has been noted that students in our school tend to use a satiric approach in virtually all of the commercials they produce for school events.  At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, a report was produced by students for this unit in which they demonstrated that 100% of the short commercials and PSAs produced by students and shown during the morning announcements at school that year were of a mocking or satiric nature in regards to the event or topic.

Thanks also to my Social Studies department colleagues Katie McGurn and Tim Shea for sharing ideas and working together on lessons.

For some final thoughts about politics and media, check out this interview with media literacy guru Frank W. Baker, who is the author of Political Campaigns and Political Advertising: A Media Literacy Guide, among other titles.

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Ticket window at Studio Cinémas in Tours, France

This past April, I led a student exchange trip to France in which students from my school stayed with correspondents and their families from Tours, France.  While there, I visited Studio Cinémas, a local cinema that houses an extensive cinematic archive and provides an example of a lively cultural presence in its small city.

This cinema is an example of one of the many independently-run theaters in France.  In France, there exists a system of support for independently-run local venues, such as through the Association of Arts Cinemas (Cinémas d’art et d’essai).  In terms of youth initiatives, throughout Europe there has been a great deal of enterprise with media literacy education (and particularly in Britain) and France is no exception.

Courtyard at the back of Studio Cinémas

In fact, there are many initiatives in France to encourage understanding of media and to expose young people to diverse media messages.  In some countries, funding of cultural initiatives and events is viewed as important to the health of society.  It is compelling to look at examples of this on a small scale, and in the case of this theater, there is a courtyard in the back and café at the front of the cinema, as well as a library and setting for cultural events.

Foyer with distinctive staircase and information desk.

This raises key questions of economics and of the viability of independent cinemas: what is their business model?  Conversely, how do chain theaters operate?  How have distribution networks evolved over the history of cinema and television?  To take the example of Paris, France, it is no random event that there are still dozens of individually-run cinemas in that city: they have been highly organized in developing support networks and they have been supported by societal attitudes in which culture is seen as a vital part of public life.

Think about how you experience movies and how they reach you: is there a diversity of choice in the movies you have access to?  Is going to the movies part of any other social interactions you have?  For many Americans, this would include the mall in which the chain theater is located.

Thanks for waiting: the last showing is not finished.

For most young people today, they do not experience the majority of the movies they see in a theater.  Often, they are seen streaming on the Internet or through sources such as Netflix.  One aspect of media communications that is rarely discussed in any extensive or profound way is how we are affected by viewing experiences: what are the different manners in which we see and hear media?  How do these differences affect us in contrasting ways?  How do these experiences affect behavior, everyday life, and personal development?

As mentioned in an earlier post, an excellent investigative project can be undertaken by students in which they look at local examples of media sources, including cinemas, and work to answer questions about how they function, how they are designed, and how they are experienced.  In the case of Studio Cinémas in Tours, here is an interesting article that appeared  in The Guardian about this independent cinema.

Around the corner from the cinema with library sign at right.

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In a blog post from two months ago, I featured a google doodle that highlighted cinema pioneer Eadweard Muybridge, and today they have another excellent animated doodle (yes, it’s a real winner, check out the entire animation!).  This time it is for the anniversary of the opening of the first drive-in theater in the United States 79 years ago, when Richard Hollingshead Jr. opened the first drive-in theater on Crescent Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey.

Many questions can be raised when thinking and talking about drive-ins: why did drive-ins begin, when and why did they flourish, and why did they dwindle away?  Why are drive-ins a particularly American phenomenon?  How have people experienced moving images over the years?  How do you experience them today?  How have the economics of movie distribution and of independent theaters (such as drive-in cinemas) evolved over the past century?  What percentage of a movie theater’s profits derive from its concession stand (which in turn brings up one of the most iconic aspects of drive-ins: the history of advertising linked to concession stands)?

Northfield Drive-In in Massachusetts and New Hampshire

Fascinating investigations can be made on how motion picture marketing, distribution, and screening occur, particularly from the vantage point of a local perspective.  What are the theaters in close proximity to one’s community?  Are they only chain theaters?  Are there other public venues for watching motion pictures?  What options exist for television and cable viewing?  What is the percentage of viewing that you do through streaming sources?  How often are you paying any motion picture creators when you watch moving images?

In the projection booth

In my own region, a favorite theater of my family has been the Northfield Drive-In in Northfield, Massachusetts.  Like many of the drive-ins still in operation, it has a rich history of entrepeneurship and family ownerships.  It is also entertaining to consider the full social, aesthetic, and gastronomic aspects of moviegoing, of which drive-ins offer many provocative angles!

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