Who are you stereotyping? Why?

October 24, 2011

The goal with these online exercises is to explore our own attitudes and mindsets with regards to stereotypes, stereotyping, and ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups. A set of easy-to-take tests at Harvard, part of its Project Implicit, will help us do this. I’d like each of us to take at least two of these Project Implicit tests, and choose any two other than “Weapons” or “Presidents.” Each test takes approximately five minutes.

I also want each student to take two of the surveys at UnderstandingPrejudice.org. You are going to love these, I think. After you’ve taken the four tests (two at each website), comment to this post about what you learned, if anything. Did you learn or were you made aware of anything useful? Surprising? Did the surveys change your thinking in any way? Share your experiences with these surveys here, and do so before midnight Thursday, Oct. 27. I look forward to reading your responses.


The mythic truth of the Cymbalta ad

October 3, 2011

At the end of class today, we viewed a 75-second ad for Cymbalta, an anti-depressant drug. We are using the ad as a case study to consider Aristotle’s model for persuasion, a model that includes ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion) and logos (logic, or rational, linear argument). We are also using the case study to explore what kinds of intellectual freight images can carry (“Thou shalt make no graven image”) versus those language or words or logos can carry (“In the beginning was logos, and the logos was with God and the logos was God”).

Here’s what I’d like you to do: View the ad again (and maybe a third time). With the principle of Gestalt in mind, break down the ad’s component parts. How do they add up to what you see? But here’s the real exercise here. View it with Barthes’s notions of myth and mythic truth in mind. What is the “truth” of this ad? How is the ad attempting to persuade us of this truth?

This ad is not unlike the people throwing a basketball, with the gorilla we don’t see walking across the screen. What we attend to is interesting for what that attention obscures. What is it that we don’t see (or hear)? This ad is a study in human (in)attention. And it works. Sales spiked after this campaign broke, so even though we know that we’re being sold, even though we know that’s a really long list of horrible side effects, this ad works. It is effective.

Also of use to us here is Berger’s idea of a condensed code. Think of all the elements chucked into the visual funnel at the top that get condensed into a composite meaning of happiness, success and well-being. I want us to see this.

So, post your reaction to this ad answering one or more of these questions, and using one or more of these concepts as we’ve been discussing them in class. I would like many people to comment on the “mythic truth” of the ad, in your opinion. Post your response by 9 a.m. Wednesday, please.


What has school taught you?

October 2, 2011

schoolI recently re-read Seth Godin’s blog post, What you can learn from a lousy teacher, and it got me thinking about the kinds of learning experiences students can have. I’ve been thinking about how out-moded much of our educational practices are for a digital mediated age and generation.

In his March 2010 post, Godin lists the unintentional lessons bad teachers teach:

  1. Grades are an illusion
  2. Your passion and insight are reality
  3. Your work is worth more than mere congruence to an answer key
  4. Persistence in the face of a skeptical authority figure is a powerful ability
  5. Fitting in is a short-term strategy, standing out pays off in the long run
  6. If you care enough about the work to be criticized, you’ve learned enough for today

I agree with all of these, and my list, too, would begin with the negative effects of the violence of grading. Success (or failure) is not a useful predictor of success (or failure) in life, I’ve observed. Grades seem to be a necessary evil perpetrated by the twin evils of standardization and scholarship and financial aid criteria. I try really hard to move us (my students and me) away from this illusory game and toward real learning, which is often messy, unpredictable and a lot of fun.

But that’s not my emphasis here.

Here I want to leverage the benefits of the blog to ask my Visual Rhetoric students to share their most formative experience of their lives in school. I want them to share these experiences with me and with each other. Let’s look for common themes. Let’s look (or listen) also for what doesn’t appear — what’s missing from our narratives.

We’ve been discussing memory quite a bit, including how it works, how it shapes who we are (or who we think we are) and our reality. How we tell our stories can say quite a bit about us, as well, so I’m interested in reading between our lines, too. As we observed Friday, we see some things and in seeing those things we fail to see lots of other things. How this selectivity works is a taproot into how we make sense of the world.

So, please share your story: What was the most formative or influential or memorable experience of your life in school (K to 12 to college) up to this point? Let’s shoot to have your response in the form of a comment by noon Friday, Oct. 8. I genuinely look forward to learning more about the things you carry.


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