Some people watch the Super Bowl to see football, and many watch it as a social event. But some of you out there are probably like me: I watch the Super Bowl as a sort of “state of the world” experience. The first game I remember was certainly because of the Chicago Bears and their “Super Bowl Shuffle” song from the 1980s.
The commercials are indicative of the times we are living in, like a microcosm of popular culture. Who knew that “wardrobe malfunction” could actually be a thing? Then, there was this year when GoDaddy had the most brilliant advertising I think I’ve seen: Pre-release a commercial that sparks outrage and then decide to remove it. Is everyone talking about GoDaddy? They sure are.
One of the most valuable conversations we can have with our students and our own children is about the media, particularly since kids today are bombarded with so much content via newsfeeds and the gorilla advertising of the Internet that that most can’t decipher news from advertising. The Common Core Standards address the need to be responsible and responsive consumers of information as early as the first grade’s RI.1.3: “Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.” Teaching our students to be better consumers of all information will boost their understanding of written texts as well.
Knowing full well the power the media and advertising have in influencing our children, I am as vigilant as possible to shield my kids from questionable material. I am realistic, however, and tend to take a proactive approach. When watching a commercial, I’ll frequently play dumb. “What is this commercial for anyway? What am I supposed to be buying?” When they tell me what it’s for, I’ll follow up with, “Huh, I wonder why that girl and boy were walking on the beach to sell that?” I am hoping to ignite a curiosity I can follow up on later, when it is more age-appropriate (my daughter is 9; my son is 6).
When the time comes, I hope my daughter’s teacher uses materials like this Challenge the Media lesson plan by Share My Lesson’s resource partner, Discover Human Rights, whose website explains how this program began: “According to Kathy Seipp, the idea for this workshop evolved from personal experience. While raising three young children in today’s society, she noticed that more frequently than ever mainstream media such as TV commercials, movies, music lyrics, and even Halloween costumes, sexually exploit girls and young women perpetuating unhealthy and unrealistic stereotypical portrayals of both young women and young men. The idea came about to challenge the media, and it proved to be an overwhelming success.” The lesson includes an eye-opening activity, many resources (both books and online), and, perhaps most important, a “take action” tip sheet to empower students who recognize they can resist the typical stereotypes.
For the elementary grades, Media Smart’s Digital Adwise Lesson 1 is a terrific and necessary introduction to how the Internet uses advertising. It is crucial that today’s young digital natives understand exactly what they are viewing and why. Being media savvy is a 21st-century skill that relies on students’ ability to differentiate between advertising, information and opinion; kids also need to recognize that they are the targets of these media vehicles. For example, consumer-generated advertising occurs when an app or website literally analyses the user’s activity and spawns the appropriate type of advertising. Don’t believe me? Just post on social media that you are checking into the maternity ward. Watch your advertisements adjust to offer diapers and baby formula. Studying media and advertising around popular cultural events like the Super Bowl is an excellent “in” to show students the complexities of analysis while also demonstrating that advertisers consider it a win if the brand gains their purchasing power.