I was teaching Graphic Design to high school students for 5 years and in
the process we had to produce the school yearbook. The kids needed to
engage in critical thinking when they were about to produce a book for
several thousand people to see. We talked about advertising art and how the
content of advertising art changed over the twentieth century to become
less and less about the facts of the products than about creating a sense
of lifestyle. How am I going to feel if this product becomes part of my
life? Anything from secure... (insurance companies, investment firms),
close, comfy, cozy (food ads, furniture ads), sexy, maybe predatorial...
(cars, cosmetics, clothing), strong, secure and patriotic... (political
ads). Of course these feelings, and nuances of feeling, and implied feeling
and implied status and WHATEVER the aesthetic is for the particular
demographic is devised by artists. Artists who are educated in the
psychological and social sciences manage to hypnotize millions of us for
many hours on a daily basis but we don't call it "art" in the sense that we
think of or practice art in our art rooms.
It seems to me that for a democracy to function as a true democracy the
people have to be media literate, they need to be able to break down what
they see in advertising. They need to know that the parts of themselves to
which ads appeal are not always the most conscious part of themselves.
Security, strength, belonging, .... these are the basic needs to which our
dear politicians address so many of their sound bites.
The pure white canvas of possibility that stares our politicians in the
face as they decide who to say they are must be daunting. Except ... that
going for the lowest common denominators of fear and mindless sloganeering
reaffirm what so many already believe : that they shouldn't have to think
about the issues, and that it's better if someone else (like them, but more powerful and "in
the loop") gets up and does that for them.
Democracy requires participation or it's not democracy. That principal who
doesn't allow "politics" must not mean that the teachers aren't allowed to
work on providing students with the techniques they need to use to
deconstruct the advertising products of our candidates. Or does he?
mary maloney johnson
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