Fake, Fact, and Fantasy: Children's Interpretations of Television Reality

Fake, Fact, and Fantasy: Children's Interpretations of Television Reality

Fake, Fact, and Fantasy: Children's Interpretations of Television Reality

Fake, Fact, and Fantasy: Children's Interpretations of Television Reality


Based on a study examining the meaning of the term "media literacy" in children, this volume concentrates on audiovisual narratives of television and film and their effects. It closely examines children's concepts of real and unreal and how they learn to make distinctions between the two. It also explores the idea that children are protected from the harmful effects of violence on television by the knowledge that what they see is not real.

This volume is unique in its use of children's own words to explore their awareness of the submerged conventions of television genres, of their functions and effects, of their relationship to the real world, and of how this awareness varies with age and other factors. Based on detailed questionnaire data and conversations with 6 to 11-year-old children, carried out with the support of a fellowship at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, the book eloquently demonstrates how children use their knowledge of real life, of literature, and of art, in intelligently evaluating the relationship between television's formats, and the real world in which they live.


"Is that a real train?"

(Small boy, aged about three, to his mother, as they stood on a suburban station platform, watching the London train approach.)

What idea of a train was in this little boy's mind when he asked this question? The question implied that the little boy had some conception of "unreal" trains against which he was comparing this one. Would this conception of real/unreal be based on experience of pictures? Or stories? Or fantasy play? Or television, or film, or toys, all of which, as an urban child in the 1990s, he would have had experience of? Perhaps this little boy was comparing the oncoming train to a toy train; or he might have been thinking of a televised train like Thomas the Tank Engine. Both have elements of reality and unreality; for instance, you can play with one, but not with the other. On the other hand, Thomas the Tank Engine, although it only appears in the flat, pictorial world of television, moves by itself and has properly scaled human figures walking round it. The train in the distance obviously raised some of these questions in this toddler's mind.


Perhaps the oncoming London train presented a perceptual problem of perspective to the little boy. Perhaps, in the distance, it looked as small as a toy, or as flat as a picture to him. It did not to me, but then, I do not consciously notice things like perspective any more. I long ago internalized the habit of using depth and distance cues to assess the size and proximity of objects, probably when I was a baby. Recognizing the artificial techniques of representing distance in a picture is different . . .

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