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Module 5: Studying Media Representations Objectives: After completing this module, you will be able to


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Kevin Lally 


There may be several ways to approach this thread. The most ready would be to have the students compile lists of associations to different target audiences (adult female, white upper class, etc). They would then study various (it could be any really) media to find their personal stereotypes played out in the shows and advertising. The students could also search for media figures that do not fall into their stereotypical categories and attempt to discover why. The conversation must then flow into the source of our stereotypes and how they can be manipulative and potentially damaging. The students must be able to consider this topic fully and maturely, which in my experience leaves grades 7, 8, 11, 12 and above. It would perhaps be best suited to a college pop culture class.

Adam Banse and Dan Gough: Media Awareness: Cartoons -- The British guy and the California kid

We would have our class look at the representation of race and gender in cartoons and comic strips. Dan and I remember racist images of Native Americans, Blacks and Asians in cartoons we saw as kids and while they are not as overt in today's animated media they are still present (for example, the misogyny in Beetle Bailey and Blondie, for example).
Then (we're getting ambitious here), we would have them look at cartoons and comic strips from other countries, such as Japan, France, Great Britain and Mexico, and look for ways in which these cultures show representations of race and gender.

Rebecca Robertson and Louise Covert

“Examining media representations involves identifying the specific ways in which media uses images, language, and techniques to construct a version of reality associated with a particular phenomena, group, world, institution, or profession? (CI 5472 course module 5).”

We decided to apply this to her 8th grade students’ exploration of Romeo and Juliet (both as a written and film text).


We chose to ask students to more deliberately look at the socio-economic background of each family (Montague and Capulet). The 8th grade students were asked to:

- Identify indicators of each family’s social status and wealth as such is evident in both the text and film.

- Speculate in what ways the social and economic status of these families bears on how the characters are portrayed, the plot unfolds, and the setting, for instance.
Here are some examples of the kinds of questions students were asked to think [and write] about, pair with one other student and talk about, and then come together as a larger group and discuss (the “Think, Pair, Share” process for metacognition).
After reading Act I of the play and seeing several scenes from the film, you now know a lot about both the Capulet and the Montague families.

Respond to the following questions:

1.  Based on the play, how do you know that the Capulets and the Montagues are wealthy? Give some examples from the text to support your answer.

2.  Based on the film, how do you know that the Capulets and the Montagues are wealthy? Give some examples to support your answer.

3. How would the story be different if they were not wealthy? How does family wealth change the outcome of a person?s life?

4. How do you think the wealth of these two families affects the ways that the parents and Romeo and Juliet interact and treat one another?

Here are some of the responses from student writing/discussion:

In response to evidence of wealth from the text, many students noticed these characteristics that they associate with socio/economic status:

- The two families had servants.

- Characters were called ?Lord and Lady.?

- The way the characters spoke,

- The description of the Capulet?s party.

- The two families had such hostility between them that it must be over money.
In response to evidence of wealth from the film, they had more specific examples:

- The limousines, the fancy weapons (?with their names engraved on them?), The clothing that the characters wear,

- The two tall buildings with the family names on top of them (in the new version of the film),

- The Capulet mansion at the party.


The third question had some interesting responses, too. When asked about how wealth changes the story, or changes a person’s life, they came up with the following responses:

- The story would not have happened if they weren’t wealthy, because parents wouldn’t be as concerned about who their children were marrying, they would just want their children to be happy.

- And finally, Prince Escalus probably let them go, giving them another warning after their street brawls, because they were wealthy.
From here, it is interesting to explore some of the assumptions about wealth and influence and how the film reinforces Western values and beliefs about money, power, and its connection to social status.
One can assess the kinds of observations and understanding that students have about the text’s context, characters, plot, and culture from their responses.

One can learn more about his/her students’ conceptualizations of socio/economic differences at this time in their lives.

One can learn more about his/her students’ values and beliefs surrounding these aspects of contemporary culture as well as students’ views of the text’s cultural perspective.

Jessica Dockter and Rachel Godlewski

We like the idea of having students first analyze their own stereotypes of certain groups, and then asking them to analyze where their own assumptions may have come from. For example, you could ask students to list adjectives to describe athletes. Strong, determined, competitive, etc. Then, you could have students place their words into gendered categories -- are some words used more often to describe men or women? An interesting discussion could follow about why adjectives to describe athletes are particularly male words. Then, you could have the students look at ads that feature male and female athletes. Ask: How do they differ? How are they similar? Do you find gendered words (again, list the adjectives)? How do these words help sell athletic products? What assumptions do the ads rely upon? What representations are left out (can you be feminine and an athlete)? Which ads go against stereotypes to sell their products -- like the Just Do It ads for women.
It might also be interesting to look at where the ads are coming from (which magazines have more stereotypical ads and which have more ads going against the gendered view of athletes). Students could discuss how the intended audience helps to perpetuate or change the stereotypes. (It's possible that sports magazines marketed for women would either try to encourage women to adopt adjectives that have generally been used for men, or would challenge the stereotypes.)
Finally, students could create their own athletic ads based on the ideas discussed. Their ads may include those representations that have been overlooked or may go against the stereotypes perpetuated in the ads shared in class.

Jennifer Larson

My idea relates to the film October Sky, which I show to my classes in the unit where we study archetypes. I’m interested in having students look at the “master narrative” for children in the film, who live in a coal mining town and the “master narrative” that other children follow—that of progress and working hard to get to college to be whatever they want to be.
Before watching the film I would like students to brainstorm their own master narratives: what life plans are generally laid out for them and how those plans will become real (that is, what resources are at their or their parents? disposal that allow those plans to be realized). We’ll also discuss the freedom they feel they may or may not have to work against those plans—in other words, can they reject the master narrative? Why would they want to? Why wouldn’t they? Why would they be able to? Why wouldn’t they?
Next we’ll watch the film. I’ll assign each student to try to define the master narrative for students in the town of Coalwood and assign different pairs to watch for how particular students follow or reject the master narrative, using the same questions we discussed for the students themselves. We will discuss the findings of each pair after the film.

My goal is not to show students how much harder these children of blue collar workers have it than my students do, who are generally middle class offspring of white collar workers. I want students to recognize how hard it is for anyone to reject the master narrative that society writes for them and to identify what allowed these children (who didn’t have financial resources) to do so.

Meghan Scott and Megan Dwyer-Gaffey

Teaching Media Representations of Sexual Orientation

We would do a unit on “The Other” in our society, which includes racial, religious, gender, and sexual preference minorities. During the portion on sexual preference, we will begin by discussing stereotypes of GLBT and straight people. We will talk about how language constructs the different stereotypes and how they inform our ideas about what sexual orientation is.
We will show different advertising and media examples of these stereotypes, then ask the students to bring in clips of TV shows or movies that portray the stereotypes or challenges to the stereotypes that we have been learning about, and we will discuss each clip.

Adrien Everest

My class would do a session on Media Representations of Gender, specifically the advertising that affects high school youth. I would show various video clips from Killing Us Softly (1,2,3) which mainly show modern female representations in comparison to male representations.

An activity that I would like my class to do is compare these differing gender representations for their ages. They could use clips from tv shows or movies to make an Imovie/slideshow; or they could cut out clips of advertisements in youth centered magazines: YM, Seventeen, Teen, Teen People. In a collage they could show the different aspects that men and women hold in advertising. They could make their own decision on the representation of gender in these advertisements. By combining only the media's representation of gender, students could see what the media is trying to make them feel and how they should react to that with their own thoughts.

Amy Gustafson and Kathy Connors

We think that in studying media representations of social worlds, focusing on the family could give way to many different activities. WE believe that it would be beneficial to bring in many different representations of "the family" in order to see how the family is represented across time. These texts could include episodes of television shows such as All in the Family, The Simpsons, Married with Children, Little House on the Prairie, The Donna Reed Show, The Dick Van Dyke sShow, The Munsters, etc. You could also bring in photographs of the family in order to see how each member is positioned in the photograph.


After viewing these different texts, it would be valuable to discuss the representations of family across time. Have the representations changed? If so, how? Are they truly different or has little progress been made?

One activity that could add onto this discussion is to have your students make a representation of their family. They could use cutouts of different television show characters to portray each family member. They could bring in actual photographs of their family and write descriptions of each of the family members. They could discuss how the roles of their family members change when they find themselves in different situations.

Katrina Thomson and Jennie Viland

Magazine ads provide a great opportunity for students to critically analyze media representations. In our activity, we would provide students with a range of magazine ads, some specifically targeted at males, and some at female audiences. As much as possible, we would choose ads that are for similar products, and have students look at how products are represented for their different audiences. For example, how are cars sold differently to women vs. men? What assumptions do these ads make about their audiences and how do they position the reader to respond to the message? How do these ads contribute to the construction of the target audience's beliefs and attitudes towards their "need" or desire for these products? As a final exercise, have students individually, or in pairs, manipulate the language or approach in their ad to "sell" the same product to an audience of the opposite sex from that intended in the original.

Kari Gladen and Katie Schultz

We would divide the class into groups of 3-4 and have them look at how they (teenagers) are represented in the different types of media: TV, movies, music, magazines, etc. Each group would then choose one media type to focus on and work to produce a critical media analysis "station" presenting their findings. These stations would be viewed by their classmates in a poster session. After viewing all of the stations, we could, as a class or in small groups, discuss what these representations mean to them and to the formation of their identity.

Kimberly Sy and Tammy McCartney

After studying different representations of different groups of people or phenomena (women, men, adolescents), students might further their inquiry by finding out where certain representations are most prevalent. In other words, students can examine which audiences tend to see which representations.

1. Pick a group (ex-women) and list some common representations portrayed in the media (ex-homemaker, sexual object).

2. Choose several magazines intended for different audiences (Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, The Atlantic Monthly).

3. Have students leaf through the magazine and keep a running tally of how many times the group is represented in each of the ways.

4. Discuss why certain audiences are targeted through showing them in terms of predominantly one image of a group.

5. Choose another group and go through the same magazines. What is the effect of a combination of certain representations for a variety of groups? (For example, women portrayed provocatively while men are portrayed dominantly)

Jodi Laframboise and Lindsay Kroog

Teaching critical analysis as a unit, I am thinking of breaking it down into different mini-lessons. One lesson might feature on-line advertisements. The culminating activity, once having exposed the students to the purpose and reason of being critical thinkers of media, would have students create PowerPoint/Keynote presentations featuring 5 ad's they have selected having strong messages. The students would identify what type of discourse/message is present, adding their personal opinion regarding the ad's effectiveness. This could extend to magazine, television, and newspaper advertisements, not to mention television shows and movies.

Dixie Boschee and Anne Holmgren

Students work in teams. Each team selects a media representation they want to investigate (e.g., race, teens, class, gender, occupations, families, mothers, fathers, etc.). Each group will need to determine how this type is portrayed in the following formats: (2) films, (2) television shows, (2) television or radio commercials, (3 total) magazines, newspapers, web sites or books, and (1) song/music video. The teams then need to determine how accurate the representations are and who/what are un-represented in them. They can convey this information in a formal essay or through a PowerPoint presentation.

Mary Hagen and Beth O’Hara

An idea for incorporating film study into the language arts classroom would be to extend the concept of characterization through the use of film or television. Students already are able to identify five basic elements to characterization such as what the character looks like, what they say and how they say it, what others think of them, how they act, and what they like and dislike. Characterization could be extended by the use of film clips to study how characters are portrayed using such elements as sound, color, light, and positioning. After careful class examination students could bring in short 3-5 min. clips to share with the class. Also an option would be to pass out stereo type characters on index cards to small groups and have them find characters from different TV shows and movies that portray these types of characters and identify how the lighting, color, positioning, and sound adds to our impressions of their character and the differences between them.

Scott Devens



Here's a teaching activity that I still remember from my freshman English composition class at Winona State University. I'm sharing as I find it an interesting example of integrating media studies with language arts/writing studies.
As I recall, the assignment was pretty straightforward: pick any advertisement out of a magazine and then write a five-page paper analyzing the ad. Now, the instructor's main objective was to assess and teach writing, but I still remember some of the comments she wrote regarding the thoughts I had expressed in my analysis. (I had chosen an add from an airline company romanticizing travel and the notion of "going back home" to get in touch with your roots.) Also easy for instructor to get a sense of which students had developed "voice" in their writing as assignment involved expressing opinions about media messages.
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