Media Manipulation
At Its Worst - The 1998
Schmio Awards
By Curtis Ellis, MSNBC
NEW YORK - Three decades ago, Marshall McLuhan put forth the maxim 'the medium is the message.' His message was that media, independent of their content, have an effect on society. Today, media critics are telling us to look at the effect advertising-driven mass media is having on our culture.
"I can't believe my parents were so misguided that they told me my personality was more important than what I wear."
THE SAME WEEK the advertising industry came together to honor its finest with the Clio Awards, a group of scholars, media critics and activists singled out their choice sales pitches to dishonor with the Schmio Awards.
The Schmio Awards sponsors include New York University's Culture and Communication Department, the New Mexico Media Literacy Project, the Hunter College Film and Media Studies Department, the Center for Analysis of Commercialism and Education, and California Newsreel, a non-profit distributor of educational videos.
This year's award ceremony skewered advertisers targeting children. Among those who earned this dubious distinction: Sears, Roebuck & Co., the National Rifle Association and billboard companies.
Christina Dilisio, a senior at the Chicopee Massachusetts High School, gave Sears and Roebuck the 'Possessions are Everything Award' for their ads in Seventeen magazine. The multipage campaign featured headlines such as "You gotta stand up for yourself" and "You gotta believe in your dreams" and concluded with: "Gotta have the clothes." And "I can't believe my parents were so misguided that they told me my personality was more important than what I wear," Dilisio said.
Bianca Jagger, longtime activist for women and children, gave the National Rifle Association 'The Jonesboro Award' for ads aimed at children promoting a culture of violence. She built her case with gun ads: one with the tag line "Those sure were the good times...just you, Dad and his Smith & Wesson"; another, "Short Butts from Fleming Firearms" featuring a 4-year-old girl in a bathing suit in front of a wall of machine guns. Those led up to the NRA's ads with a photo of a smiling kid and rifle, asking the question "Why do you tell your kids to keep quiet about Daddy's guns?"
Dick Gregory presented his 'There Goes the Neighborhood Award' to outdoor advertising companies fighting local ordinances outlawing beer alcohol and cigarette billboards. These ads appear most frequently in what used to be called the ghetto, now known euphemistically as inner-city neighborhoods. He recounted an exchange between a neighborhood activist from the Compton neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles, and a billboard company executive asking for an end to the ban-the-billboard campaign.
"The activist says, 'We'll end our campaign if you put the same ads in Compton that you put on billboards in Beverly Hills.' And the advertising man says, 'We don't have any billboards in Beverly Hills.' 'Aha! That's the point.'"
The point of the Schmio Awards, organizers say, is to promote critical examination of the media that surrounds us, a movement known as media literacy. Neil Postman, head of the NYU's Communications Department and author of the trenchant analysis of media's effect on culture, 'Amusing Ourselves to Death,' was host for the evening. He reports a growing interest in media education among educators. New Mexico schools, for instance, require a course in media education in order to graduate high school.
Postman believes media education can begin in first grade. He says younger students can "monitor what they watch, and talk about what they watch, see if they can make distinctions between fantasy and reality." Media education can continue through the university level, he says, and it's not confined to advertising. Postman says a critical viewing of television news leads to questions like "What was the basis for the selection of the news stories: was it because they had good tape footage? What stories were downplayed and why was it? Because they didn't have tape footage?"

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