Category Archives: Media Literacy

Bruce Sterling Loves Dissidents. Me, too – I want more of them.

The World’s Top Dissidents
by Bruce Sterling

*Some are born dissidents, while others have dissidence thrust upon them.

*That’s quite a motley crew. Maybe they should start a labor union, or a Facebook group, or something.

*Unlike my melancholy reaction to hackers, watching dissidents always cheers me the heck up. I can’t help but like ‘em. They really perk me up. They’re all over the place. Every nook and cranny. It’s like some kind of Hannah Arendt “banality of goodness.” It’s easy to romanticize dissidents. Until, you, uh, marry one.

*Gosh they are so cute, though. Wow. Especially when they’ve got blogs

(via Beyond The Beyond.)

Well, I can certainly relate to him pashing on Yoani Sánchez, the Cuban dissident and blogger behind Generación Y, which picture (above) appears in his entry. But, girl-watching aside, the article that caught Sterling’s eye raises some issues worth considering.

The Foreign Policy article that Sterling links to is on “The World’s Top Dissidents: Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, and more”:

Democracy. Women’s rights. Freedom of the press. The rule of law. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, China to Peru, dissidents are working tirelessly for the liberties so many take for granted. Their fight isn’t an easy one — dissidents often pay a price for their work in the form of surveillance, kidnappings, beatings, assassinations, arrests, and torture. FP’s May/June issue featured the story of one such dissident,the jailed Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But it is only the lucky few whose cases echo around the world — Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, for example, or Tibet’s Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, innumerable people are caught up in the same battle. Here are just a few.

(via Foreign Policy.)

It’s a useful article for providing a snapshot into activism and political freedoms around the world, and it might be hard to quibble with its list of “top dissidents,” but I still wonder at the selection criteria. There are no dissidents from any western, European, developed nation – other than Russia, which I’m not sure counts as western, European or developed at this point. Well, okay developed. And I suppose China also counts as developed now. But still it seems very much a case of “round up the usual suspects.”

Half of the countries from which the dissidents are drawn are Muslim.

Sub-Saharan Africa is represented by Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Eritrea, Somalia, Zimbabwe – for the most part countries with problematic relations with the United States. Are there no dissidents of note in Nigeria (the fifth-largest exporter of oil to the United States), Kenya or South Africa?

Human Rights Watch cites “large-scale violence, endemic corruption, a lack of accountability for abuses, and other pressing human rights problems in Nigeria.” But despite these problems, Nigeria apparently has no dissidents important enough to make Foreign Policy‘s list. Perhaps they’ve all been killed.

And for that matter, what about dissidents in England, France, Germany, Italy or the United States? I guess according to Foreign Policy, there couldn’t really be any dissidents, by definition, in these countries because “dissidents are working tirelessly for the liberties so many take for granted.” The implication being we can take these liberties for granted because we possess them.

Women’s rights? Apparently a settled issue – for us. Violence against women and unequal pay have nothing to do with rights after all. And we’re going to ban Muslim headscarves to make sure even Muslim women have their rights in our society, whether they like it or not. Surveillance? Again, not around here. Those warrantless, illegal wire-taps don’t really count – they were in a good cause. And despite what you may have read, the Guantanamo detentions were completely in accord with the rule of law – at least the laws we care about. Democracy – we’re fine thanks. (Just ignore that glitch in Florida a couple years back, or the reports of voters in the UK arrested for protesting their inability to vote in the recent election.)

Of course, Foreign Policy says upfront that they are only covering “the lucky few whose cases echo around the world” and not the others “caught up in the same battle” whose voices don’t get heard. But what kind of journalism is that? The voices of dissidents do not “echo around the world” through some natural acoustic property of the globe – they do so to a large extent because the media choose to pick up those voices and amplify them. So we should ask, why these voices instead of some others? Why not other voices as well?

Site of the Week: The Billboard Liberation Front

Billboard Liberation Front

The Billboard Liberation Front has teamed up the Wachovia Bank and the Treasury Department to bring you a new stimulus package for the long cold recession ahead, Money to Burn.

We offer a broad range of black-bag operations and cultural jam services, from project management and subversion consulting to media manipulation and thought placement. The key to our success is developing a true collaboration with our clients, and by caring as much about the working relationship as we do about the final execution. Our philosophy and track record has resulted in roster of long-term, satisfied clients in a diverse range of industries, from Fortune 1000 companies to local entrepreneurs.

(via The Billboard Liberation Front.)

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day

So read some daring news or check out a news site you wouldn’t normally visit…

And while you’re at it, take a look at these

World Press Freedom Day reminds us that information is democracy’s oxygen | Agnès Callamard: “Many journalists pay a high price for the public’s right to know

Today is World Press Freedom Day and there is much to celebrate in a world where affordable and fast technologies enable journalists to break news and report from all the corners of the world in real time.

There is also much to be concerned about, as journalists, photographers, bloggers and other writers face increasing risks to their personal safety in many parts of the globe where illegitimate regimes and criminal cartels push back against the brave efforts of media workers to report human rights abuses, corruption, environmental degradation and criminal activity.”

(via Comment is free |

Reporters Sans Frontières – Forty predators of press freedom: “There are 40 names on this year’s list of Predators of Press Freedom – 40 politicians, government officials, religious leaders, militias and criminal organisations that cannot stand the press, treat it as an enemy and directly attack journalists. They are powerful, dangerous, violent and above the law.”

Media Literacy: Teaching Kids to Read Advertising

The New York Times is reporting on a new government website designed to teach advertising literacy to kids in grades 5 and 6:

Teaching Youngsters How to Read Advertising: “A federal agency is undertaking an effort to school youngsters in the ways of Madison Avenue.

The Web site,, will include several such ads in an effort to teach children to think through what an advertiser is trying to get them to do. A poster … will be distributed in classrooms to encourage children to visit the site.

The initiative seeks to educate children in grades four through six — tweens, in the parlance of marketing — about how advertising works so they can make better, more informed choices when they shop or when they ask parents to shop on their behalf.


A quick look at the site – – shows that the main section consists of a Flash game – very much like other Flash games that my kid (and probably yours) plays. There are also separate sections, accessed through links in the top left, for parents and teachers.

Over the coming weeks, I hope to undertake a thorough exploration of this site to see just what the Federal Trade Commission and its partner in this project, Scholastic, think our kids need to know to be “ad literate.”

For starters, I’d like to know what they have to say about the above sample ad – used as an illustration in the New York Times article and apparently drawn from a set of sample ads provided by the site. Looking just at the text on this made-up ad, I would imagine that the ideas of a “Next Big Thing” and an “eco-flag” might be things they discuss. But what struck me most forcibly about this ad was its use of the sexualization that has become such a problem in ads aimed at children. We will see if this is an issue they address – if not, I will have some serious issues to raise with and the Federal Trade Commission.

I would love input from other people about the site – if you check it out, be sure to let me know what you think.

Critical Media Literacy: Advertising Makes Strange Bedfellows

What’s the most unlikely couple in the history of unlikely couples?

Every now and then you run across an ad that is so blatantly self-deconstructing, so unthinking in its presentation of a self-criticizing image, that all you really need to do is point and say, “Look”:

Or as the website puts it…

The critics said, “No way!” Foodies said it would take a miracle. Dieticians were sceptical but we didn’t take no for an answer. We teamed up with The Biggest Loser and created our healthiest range ever. And we called it the Good Choice Range.

To some of you out there, this might seem like an unusual combination but we begged the guys at The Biggest Loser to be tough on us… and they were. They gave us strict guidelines and after months of hard work, we got our calories right down. We surprised ourselves and blew them away! (Domino’s Pizza)

This is a current ad campaign by Domino’s Pizza, touting a new partnership with the reality TV show, The Biggest Loser. Each week on the show (caveat: no one I know has watched it so my knowledge is based on ads and teasers) – in which overweight individuals (and in one version couples) compete to see who can lose the most weight.

The gist of the Domino’s ad is that you would never have believed they would team up with The Biggest Loser, but they worked hard to come up with relatively low calorie food – and here it is, their “Good Choice Range.” The ads depend for their appeal on the mobilization of knowledge about the show as about losing weight and getting health along with a pre-existing sense of Domino’s normal range as less healthy, as fattening, as a “Bad Choice.” Of course, Domino’s doesn’t say this explicitly – that would be crazy – but it’s what drives the schtick of the team-up with The Biggest Loser.

At the end of the day, this ad campaign functions to a certain extent like the ad for a juice drink saying “now with 5% real fruit juice” – it serves, unintentionally, to draw attention to the deficiencies of the original product.

Nobody is fooled, least of all the audience and fans of The Biggest Loser. Over in the via Forums for The Biggest Loser Australia, a thread has harpooned this ridiculous campaign, comparing it to

walking into a methadone clinic and asking for a panadol
walking into Booth House and asking where they keep their gin.
…or walking into an adult book store and requesting the bible!

Domino’s, you are… The Biggest Loser!

(Nutritional information on Domino’s products can be found here here and for McDonald’s here.)

Kids and Kommercialism – The Boob Tube, pt 1

I wanted to return to the topic of “kids and kommercialism” that I discussed in a number of earlier posts (cf, hereherehere), and in particular to talk a bit more about some ways of addressing problems associated with the pervasive marketing aimed at kids.

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All That Is Solid Melts Into Google

All That Is Solid Melts Into Google
At a time when the Googlesphere is encroaching on more and more of the web, this short film by Peter Woodbridge explores the latest form of imperialism: digital imperialism.
via Recent Videos | Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters.

**** Highly Recommended ****

A brilliant video that manages to conduct a trenchant critique of Google and its will to digital imperialism in the form of, essentially, a music video.

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Sorrow, Tears and Blood: Hundreds killed in Nigeria clashes

“Sorrow, Tears and Blood”

Violence erupted near the city of Jos in central Nigeria over the weekend as groups of machete-wielding men rampaged through villages killing 100s of mostly women and children. The attacks were apparently retaliation for similar violence less than two months ago that left about 300 dead.

The first reports on the violence putting the number of dead at 8 were quickly shown to be sadly optimistic. The government has reported that up to 500 were killed, while sources in the area have provided various figures, generally around 200 or 300 dead. All seem to agree, however, that the majority of the victims were women and children, including pregnant women and infants, many of them beheaded.

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Media Literacy: Chase’s Bad Karma

You’ve seen it if you watch primetime TV here in California: the ad for the bank Chase, to announce their “arrival” in the state via their takeover of WaMu, featuring a cover of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On).” Continue reading

Critical Media Literacy: Watching the Reporters II

Perhaps the biggest news story today – unless you are a huge David Carradine fan (in which case, my sympathies go out to you) – is President Obama’s “much-anticipated” speech in Cairo. Here are the headlines, subheads and leads for the story from a few key news sources: Continue reading

Critical Media Literacy: Watching the Reporters

(with apologies to Elvis Costello)

In a couple of recent posts, I’ve contrasted the coverage of a story in The New York Times with that of The Guardian (UK).

Comparing the different ways that the same story is presented in different newspapers is a good way to develop a critical media literacy approach to the news. (You can do it with news in any media, or across media – for instance comparing newspaper coverage with that of the TV news – but obviously it is easiest to do with online versions of newspapers. In the discussion that follows, I will stick to that for simplicity’s sake.) Continue reading

What is it about that Lowe’s ad?

Searches on some combination of terms referring to the Lowe’s “calming green” ad featuring Valspar paint continue to be a major source of visits to this blog (to the post on “Kids and Kommercialism IV” in which I discuss the ad), and I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is about this ad that has everyone so excited.

It’s an okay ad – though only because of that “calming green” moment, which makes it memorable and effective – but it isn’t close to being the best or most interesting ad on TV at the moment. Just off the top of my head, the competing Honda Insight and Prius ads seem much more appealing. So what is it about that Lowe’s ad?

I have this fantasy that all these searches for information on the ad are being conducted by harried parents around the country, one step away from infanticide, who are leaping at the promise of a paint that will get their kids to sit down, shut up and do their homework. They weren’t able to convince the doctor to put the kids on Ritalin, so this is their last hope. Continue reading

Kids and Kommercialism V

Debunking – or, Read the Small Print

What I am going to call “debunking” is related to “critical media literacy,” though more basic and fact-oriented, less analytical. It is also particularly useful for working with kids on the issue of junk food – an issue which was highlighted in earlier posts that looked into the connections of fast food to obesity

By “debunking,” I mean reading and making sense of the small print, most often perhaps the small print of ingredient lists on food items, so it might be termed “label literacy” as well.  Sometimes, it applies more literally to the small print – those quick disclaimers that appear in TV ads or the small print of advertisements in magazines or of packaging for non-food items.

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Kids and Kommercialism IV

lit•er•a•cy |ˈlitərəsē; ˈlitrə-| – noun – the ability to read and write; competence or knowledge in a specified area

Critical Media Literacy

In a previous incarnation, I taught for a course on “gender and popular culture.” The first assignment given to the students was to visit the Toys R Us store in the local mall and write a short analysis of what they saw in terms of gender issues. This was generally a real eye-opener for the students, who were shocked and dismayed by what they observed. While they were for the most part familiar with issues of gender discourse and sexism in TV and movies (this was a university course), they were often stunned at how extensive it was, all-pervasive even, in children’s lives – in everyday stuff like toy packages, the styling of kids’ bicycles and even the layout of the store.

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Kids and Kommercialism III

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

For more info on the topic of kids and kommercialism, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is an excellent starting place. They address topics like materialism and consumerism, sexualization, the commercializing of play, violence, obesity and body image. They also discuss some of the range of insidious marketing ploys – under the great title “ad creep” – that Schor addresses in her book. Continue reading