Developing Sanity in Human Affairs

By Susan Presby Kodish; Robert P. Holston | Go to book overview
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I ended each interview with students by asking, "Is there anything else about commercials that we haven't talked about?""Yes!" they usually enthused, "We need new commercials" Showing people many commercials, every day for nine months, repeating certain ads endlessly, induces in them a need for new commercials--a desire for more. In 1995 simple operant conditioning is very much alive and well.

Lest you think otherwise, let me say that students clearly love and enjoy watching TV commercials in school. Nearly every small group became animated and excited by talking about commercials. It should be clear to general semanticists that Channel One commercials employ classic propaganda techniques, such as repetition (ad nauseam), testimonials (sports stars jump everywhere), transfers of one quality to another, and painstaking imagery. Such techniques, of course, work best in "closed" environments, where outside stimuli cannot interfere with the intended messages--exactly what advertisers have in classrooms. But advertisers do not call this propaganda. Instead, they cloak it in phrases like, "brand and product loyalties through classroom-centered, peer- powered lifestyle patterning."

Overall, how these students watch TV commercials tells me that the image supersedes both the word and the thing. In the past, if general semanticists have considered the Aristotelian view of language as a kind of invisible wall which prevents us from knowing first-order reality in concrete and sane ways, then images constitute additional barriers--additional symbolic layers or blankets imposed between people and their territory.

And these layers of imagery differ from the language barrier because they look so much like the reality we drive to reach. Therefore, our students must know that, just as the word is not the thing, nor is the image ( Fox 1994). Our students need to know that these layers of imagery are just other representations of reality--however authentic they may appear. And finally, what students must know more than anything else is that these representations are not of their own making.


Carmody Deirdre ( 1989). "News Shows with Ads Are Tested in 6 Schools." New York Times, February 1, p. B6.

Cramer Rebecca ( 1993). Channel One as a Current Events Madium for Secondary Students. Unpublished master's thesis. Department of Library Science and Informtion Service, Central Missouri State University, July.

Fox Roy F.. ed. ( 1994). Images in Language, Media, and Mind. Urbana, IL.: National Council of Teachers of English.

Goodman Ellen ( 1989). "Turn On 'Channel One,' Turn Off Values." Los Angeles Times, March 8, p. II-7.

"Homeroom Sweepstakes" ( 1992). U.S. News and World Report, November 9, pp. 86- 89.


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