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Uncle Sam Wants YOU to be Internet Literate!

Uncle Sam Wants YOU to be Internet Literate!

I write a fair amount about media literacy on this blog. It’s a topic I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about. I also have a professional background in SEO (search engine optimization), which means that I have a solid enough grasp of how the Internet works and how pieces of information make it to each person’s browser. That being said, after watching this nine minute TED talk, I realized I’ve had my head in the sand about some critical shifts in the ways information is delivered to each net denizen. This is disconcerting both as a consumer of Internet information and as a parent striving to teach media literacy to my young children. I’m grateful to now be aware of the ways in which people are getting dramatically different information on the Internet and how the algorithmic calculation of information distribution is totally invisible to the end user. As my children get older and begin to use the Internet as the incredible information gathering tool it is, I will be able to help them be more critical consumers of what they discover.

I feel like I’m gumming up the message and importance of understanding filters, personalization and Internet literacy. Fortunately, TED presenter Eli Pariser does a far better job, explaining it very simply and compellingly. Take nine minutes to watch this video. I promise you will be grateful you did. It will probably be the best thing you’ve ever experienced on the Internet. Well, except maybe the insanity test.

TED Talk on YouTube (posted by WikiLeaks… I’m still not sure how I feel about them)

Here’s the link to the video on the TED site:

http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

And here’s Eli’s website, where you can find loads more information about the Filter:

http://www.thefilterbubble.com/

Finally, if you are looking for resources to learn more about media literacy, check out the unbranding section here.

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Aaah yes, this is the message I want to send our daughters. Reminds me of the “Polite as a Princess” book… only so much worse.

JC Penney CEO Mike Ullman is too pretty to do homework

JC Penney CEO Mike Ullman is too pretty to do homework

JC Penney is selling a jersey shirt that reads “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.” The description reads “Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is.” I suspect that the item will be yanked from the site within hours***, as news of the offensive shirt is hopping across the internet – mostly thanks to a great catch by Pigtail PalsMelissa Wardy. The sweatshirt, which comes in sizes 7-16, is on sale for only $9.99, so if you act now, you too can own this fabulous piece of evidence of culturally condoned misogyny.

***as of 9:08 AM, 8/31/11, the shirt was no longer showing up for sale on the US version of the site. It was still available in the UK and Ireland and probably elsewhere.

Where JC Penney can shove that "I'm too pretty for homework" shirt.

JC Penney can shove it.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to let JC Penney know where it’s at and where they can shove this shirt (see example above), feel free to call 972-431-8200 to speak to a person at  JC Penney’s “Customer Concerns” line. When I called at 8:21 AM PST on 8/31/11, the woman I spoke to stated that the company was aware of the issue with the shirt and was preparing to pull it down off the site. If you’d like to go further up the food chain, I’m encourage you to drop a line on over to CEO and Chairman of the Board Myron E. (Mike) Ullman, III. I called the corporate headquarters and asked for Mike Ullman. I was put through to the customer concerns line again, but I know that the company has now gotten two calls at two different lines to voice my issue. Mike, who has four sons and two daughters and whose significant work with Mercy Ships should make him far more culturally aware than this serious misstep by his company indicates, can be found at:

Mike Ullman, III
Chief Executive Officer
J.C. Penney, Inc.
6501 Legacy Drive
Plano, TX 54024

(972) 431-1000

I'm too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me

I'm too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me

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The Corporate Babysitter blog has a great round up of recent news stories about unethical marketing to children. If you’d like to get familiar with the problem of childhood branding, this is a great place to start: http://www.parentsforethicalmarketing.org/blog/2011/06/06/concerns-over-unethical-marketing-to-kids-grow/

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If you’d like more information about why Disney is evil, check out the documentary, Mickey Mouse Monopoly.

For more information on media awareness, look at the resources in the Unbranding section of this blog.

This is for all y’all who might think I’m a potential tinfoil hat society member for my thoughts on protecting my children from marketing ploys. According to this New York Times article, representatives of Disney’s new “DisneyBaby” line have been making the rounds at maternity wards. Here are some choice quotes and snippets:

“This is taking advantage of families at an extremely vulnerable time,” said Jeff McIntyre, director of national policy for the advocacy group Children Now.

“If ever there was an opportunity for a trusted brand to enter a market and provide a better product and experience, it’s this,” said Robert A. Iger, chief executive of Disney. “I’m extremely excited about it.”

How do you spell evil? I say I-G-E-R.

…the company gains access to the maternity hospitals through a company called Our365, a business that sells bedside baby pictures. Our365 pays hospitals for exclusive access, and companies like Disney pay Our365 to promote their own products. Our365 also has Fisher-Price and Procter & Gamble as clients. It is unclear whether mothers know of Our365’s financial ties to these companies.

No – they don’t – I know this for a fact because both times while I’ve been in hospital having babies, this junk has been passed off to me under the premise that it’s related to healthy baby raising.

A representative visits a new mother and offers a free Disney Cuddly Bodysuit, a variation of the classic Onesie. In bedside demonstrations, the bilingual representatives extol the product’s bells and whistles — extra soft! durable! better sizing! — and ask mothers to sign up for e-mail alerts from DisneyBaby (link removed ~ Mamá Leche).

Apparel is only a beachhead,” said Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products. Also planned are bath items, strollers, baby food and an abundance of other products — all pushed with so much marketing muscle that Disney Baby may actually dent operating margins in Mr. Mooney’s division in the near term. But this is a long-term play, and it could have its greatest value far beyond the crib.

To get that mom thinking about her family’s first park experience before her baby is even born is a home run,” Mr. Mooney said, adding that a surprisingly large number of families do not become consumers of Disney products until their children reach preschool age, when they start to watch Disney Channel programs like “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.”

Really? A surprisingly large number? We are well into preschool age with our children and have seen hide nor hair of Disney in our house. Sadly, even Winnie the Pooh has been compromised. I really like that f-ing bear.

How do you spell evil? I also spell it M-O-O-N-E-Y.

Rachel Bernstein, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who is pregnant herself, said she was concerned about marketers using hospitals as customer hunting grounds. “But Disney is a nice company,” she said, “and I think my patients would actually be thrilled to get free Disney stuff.”

Can you say “Stockholm Syndrome?” Hello Patty Hearst! You are completely inculcated into the cult of Disney. The mass media assault works.

Elizabeth Carter gave birth to her daughter Olivia on Jan. 19 in Piedmont, Calif., and was given a Disney Cuddly Bodysuit as part of an Our365 photo package. “It surprised me that Disney was in there promoting something right as the baby was born, but we figured as new parents we weren’t in a position to turn free things down,” she said.

Mrs. Carter put the garment on her hours-old baby immediately. “And I have to say Olivia looked fabulous, much better than the rough, bulky thing the hospital had her wearing,” she said.

Piedmont, for those of you not in the know, is an extremely affluent area. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I equate affluence with education and education with awareness. Shame on the parent with no excuse to be so blind to this blight.

As for me, I’m happy to wear a tin foil hat, if that means keeping my family away from this stuff.

For more info, check out the section on Unbranding.

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When I was in my twenties, I spent a stint of time as a dog walker. I loved the job, since it gave me a reasonable excuse to be outside in every type of weather and I really like the company of dogs. One day, it was storming like crazy in San Francisco, where I worked. I was concerned about the wind whipping branches out of trees and killing me or the dogs, so we went to the beach for our outing. We were at Chrissy Field, just inside the bay from the Golden Gate bridge. Almost as soon as we hit the beach, I heard this incredible rumbling out on the bay. The storm was so thick that you couldn’t see more than 30 feet out into the water – it was just a whitewash of gusting rain. At first I thought the rumbling was a distressed tanker in the bay and suddenly I realized it was a gale force wind — literally a wall of wind flying from the ocean, under the Golden Gate Bridge and slamming across the surface of the water towards us. The dogs were all standing a bit in front of me and I knew I had to protect them. I squatted down and screamed out to them over the storm while unzipping my raincoat, my back to the bridge where the wind was coming from. I opened my jacket just in time to create a pocket of still space in front of me. The dogs, lowering their heads facing the wind, inched into the pocket just as the gale rushed over us. One of the smaller dogs got picked up in the wind and tossed a few times along the sand. We, meaning the other dogs and I, moved like a phalanx in the wind, keeping the cover of the jacket spread wide like wings, until we could catch up with Charlie. We stayed like that for a good fifteen minutes until the gusts stopped and everything got quiet again. The sun broke out over a still, grey air and we looked at each other, stunned and thrilled at the same time that we’d managed through that experience together.

I recount that story because it makes me think of the way in which I want to spread my wings over my children, creating a sheltering pocket for them from all the speed and racing, media and technology that waits with bated breath just outside the door. I don’t think all technology and media are evil, but that there’s a time and place for them. In the same way that it takes an adult to appreciate a wine, so too does it take a fully mature mind to be able to handle the speed of common life today. I’d rather under-expose my children to technology and media than over-expose them. They way I see it, I have always figured that if they want to be media savvy and live a fast-paced life, they can always catch up as young adults. It’s not like you can’t pick up technology and adaptively use it in your life — that’s the very nature of technology — it’s meant to make your life faster and easier.

Parenting for a Slow Childhood

I recently read a fantastic guest post by Esa Helttula at the “Moms with Apps” blog. It’s entitled “Let the Children Play.” It’s ironic that a techno-focused blog would post something this profound in justification of unplugging your life and your children.

Esa illuminates some of the outcomes that result from a deficiency in play, especially unstructured, outdoor play, in our children. Apparently it’s a global phenomenon. I instinctively strive to give my children what I call a “Slow Childhood.” This means minimizing obligations to a hyper-scheduled life and providing lots of unstructured play time, focusing on toys that require imagination and interaction to make them function (ie, generally not things that light up and go “whiz-bang!”). One of Esa’s points that struck home with me was the need for children to create games that are based on their rules. This isn’t about being in power, but in play-acting the structures that they encounter every day which are rarely explicitly declared, but upon which we base most of our society. It must be very confusing for children to comprehend the norms of introduction between adults, or the art of navigating the rules of traffic! By being able to play-act and create games that fluidly shift rules and dynamics, children can experiment with the social structures they encounter and come to master them through play.

Another aspect that jumped out was that which relates to elaboration:

The most striking decline was in Elaboration (ability to develop and elaborate upon ideas and detailed and reflective thinking and motivation to be creative). Scores in Elaboration decreased by over 36 % from 1984 to 2008.

I started wondering who else is thinking about the idea of a Slow Childhood and came across this beautiful post on “A Wild and Precious Life.” This homeschooling mom commends Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. I think I’ll add it to the list and start looking for more ways to build on this idea of spreading my wings to create the space, protecting my children from the gale force winds of technology and the pace of modern life so I may give them the gift of a Slow Childhood.

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Check out the resource guide on princesses and fairy tales.

It gives some options for directing “princess passion” away from Disney misogyny and includes great information about media awareness for girls.

Image used under Creative Commons Licensing, attributed to iboy_daniel

There’s an interesting post that made the WordPress.com home page today about some young girls in Beirut. The post is about the “whitening effect” related to race and how some cultures are pretty upfront about preferring lighter skin – so much so that they openly advertise skin lightening products. At one point, the blogger conveys how much “white” is preferred and how it’s exemplified by her young pupils who have taken to playing a Disney Princess game where they can create their own version of a princess. Though they hem and haw over details like clothes and hair, they reflexively choose the “white” skin color on the princesses.

Since I already have an axe to grind about Disney Princesses, this post practically leapt off the screen for me. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that media influences self-image and that there’s considerable cause for alarm, especially as it relates to children. Boys and girls are limited by media influence, but I’m more concerned about my daughter than my son because the majority of roles portrayed for girls and women in media are that of supporters and objects, not leaders and protagonists. Some day, when I have more time I’ll get into the boy part, but the girl part has me for now. Part of it is that, when it comes to girl physiques, all types come with their risks — stereotypically attractive girls will be objectified and sexualized as they mature, more physically challenged girls will hold themselves in comparison.

As a mom, I’m driven to creating a sense of inner character and beauty in both of my children, male and female. In order to do this, I think it’s important to keep them from the dominant media culture as much as possible, as long as possible (they’re both <4 yrs old right now).This especially applies to the cabalesque influence of the Disney Princess regime and the Barbie empire. Both of the aforementioned perpetuate unrealistic physiques for girls and shuttle them into cattle shoots the feed the girls into cookie cutter versions of who they should become. This may sound extreme, but if you doubt my mentality, take a few days to breeze through Packaging Girlhood. It makes a pretty good case for the fact that there genuine intent in the crafting of marketing schemes to produce ultimate consumers. Or read this wonderful letter petitioning Pixar to create an un-Disney movie with a female protagonist to get a sense of the need for more.

When I try to discuss this subject with other adults, I’m surprised at how often my concerns are met with an attitude of “what’s the big deal? You’re taking things way to seriously.” or “You’re overthinking things.” Really? Am I? Take a moment to look at these short videos produced by Dove. Sure, it’s just another take on a media campaign, a fresh spin, but at least they’re pointing out something that’s deadly serious.

Watch the videos and then ask yourself if you still think the influence of media on girls’ body images is benign. Tell me there’s not something to be worked up about.

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For information and resources check out the resource guide on princesses and fairy tales. It gives some options for directing “princess passion” away from Disney misogyny.

Shoot me now. Who thinks this junk up?

Polite as a Princess

Here’s a quote from the back of the book:

The Disney Princesses know that it’s important to have good manners. Now you can learn to be as polite as a princess, too. All you have to do is say “pretty please,” and read this book!

Here’s my review from Amazon, a 1 star, of course:

“I have swallowed a secret burning thread. It cuts me inside and often I’ve bled.”

That’s a quote from a Suzanne Vega song, “The Queen and the Soldier.”

Teaching manners to children is all well and good, but courtliness isn’t about being a Disney prince or princess – it’s about being considerate and appreciative of others as a basic human value. Sure, this book has a seemingly well intentioned purpose: to teach your little girl good manners, but it comes at a cost – “be a little princess, learn to keep your mouth shut, be polite, passive and considerate of all others and maybe, some day your prince will come for you too!” Here’s a thought, skip the prince, skip the princess, learn about values of caring from others from true heroes and role models, like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King.

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