Truth in Advertising.

For the month of April, I am participating in the Blog A Day Challenge for educators. All prompts are provided by Meredith Towne (@BklynMeredith), an educator from New York.

The best unit I teach is the advertising unit in my Pop Culture Studies class.

Every year, I toy around with starting with film or television or maybe music. But so much of what I teach throughout the semester builds on the advertising unit.

My students learn about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, about gender binary, and how both of those are used to construct our world view through advertising. We talk about the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and the problematic nature of a company telling women they are beautiful…while also selling them beauty products (and we get into the mind-twisting reality that Unilever is Dove’s parent company…and Axe’s parent company…so looking at both product lines’ ads, it’s clear the right hand knows not what the left hand doeth).

We look at naming rights of stadiums and product placement and athletes’ endorsement deals, pulling back the curtain on the staggering amount of money that goes into getting students and parents and all of society to consume.

It’s a bit of a mashup between visual rhetoric and critical media studies.

We learn about male archetypes in advertising–because as much as women are objectified in advertisements, men are reminded that in the advertising world, masculinity has a narrow definition. Neither gender escapes advertising constructs unscathed.

It’s the unit of study that students tell me affects them the most. They watch ads differently, and eventually it spills into how they watch television and film.

A student asked me earlier this semester what the point of the class was. I told him the purpose was to critically analyze the media they all consume, to help them be smart and informed and see through media manipulations.

The advertising unit I teach is probably one of the most important units I teach, because literacy exists not in just knowing what words on a page are saying, but also in understanding how images and sound and words work together to create compelling messages. That kind of literacy, in the 21st century, is vital.

Every semester, I’m excited to teach the advertising unit. It’s one of the units I teach that I know makes a difference.

Nous sommes tous Parisiens.

I’m writing this at 8:05 pm. I’ve been reading tweets about the attacks in Paris for a couple of hours now, and even though I’ve never been to France, I’ve felt an affinity for that country since junior high.

My heart is breaking.

Prior to hearing the news of the attacks, I was thinking of all the things I was grateful for: a BYU basketball game, a really cool piece of journalism the video yearbook staff did today, the upcoming jeans week at school, leftover takeout for dinner.

Three hours later, all those things seem so trivial.

Next week, I will teach a lesson that sets up a screening of the film Casablanca. I love this film–I never get tired of it. There is a scene where the patrons of Rick’s Cafe, in defiance of Germans singing the anthem of the Third Reich, sing “La Marseillaise.” There is a closeup of a woman singing, with a tear rolling down her cheek, and nearly every semester, in every class, students laugh at her emotion. Some years, I pause the movie and use it as a teaching moment about what a national anthem can mean to displaced citizens.

On Tuesday, prior to starting the film, I will take some time to discuss what it means to come together as citizens, irrelevant of geography, and try to explain why the French woman cries as she sings her national anthem.

I wish I didn’t have a timely event as a catalyst for that discussion. I wish I could guarantee I won’t weep when we get to that scene. But I’m grateful for these kinds of teaching moments, for the chance to share with students that sometimes being a citizen of the world is just as important as pledging allegiance to a country.

Nous sommes tous Parisiens.