Changing Ads: Envisaging Media Study in the Post-Digital Age: Reflecting on Her Experiences of Preparing Cutting Edge Resources for Teaching Advertising in Both 1991 and 2009, Jenny Grahame Explores the Huge Changes in Media Consumption in the Intervening Years Which Have Shaped New Approaches to Media Study

Article excerpt

A year or so ago, the English and Media Centre took a new look at a much-loved old topic with a new resource on Advertising. It was not our first attempt. Back in the early 90s, we published what felt like a step into the unknown with a compendium of classroom approaches to a subject at that time valued by teachers primarily for teaching about the language of persuasion, and by students for its store of pastichable TV mini-narratives, aspirational representations, and irritatingly singalongable jingles. It turned out to be a timely intervention; but revisiting the field fifteen years down the line, we feared there might be little new to say, let alone do. The common link was the fascination, now as then, with advertising in the curriculum: its guilty pleasures, potential for play, and the lens it offers for the critical investigation of broader issues of language, creativity, citizenship, economics, and ideologies of consumption. From this perspective, it felt, briefly, as if little had changed. And yet ...

And yet, everything has changed in the last fifteen years: the nature and form of advertising, the media landscape which it underpins, the technologies which deliver it, and the ways in which it is accessed and understood. And so too has the educational context: the concepts and curriculum locations through which it is studied, the expertise and subject knowledge of the teachers who deliver it, the examination structures which assess it, and the publishing industry which supports it. Most of all, there have been major shifts in assumptions about the role, value and location of media education, ranging from debates over what constitutes media literacy and its impact on public policies, to issues of pedagogy and practice. This article will attempt an anecdotal map of just a few of these changes--a 'where we've been' overview framed by our experiences with advertising at The English and Media Centre, but (perhaps) with broader implications for changes in media education practice.

Doing ads then and now

When the English and Media Centre embarked on a resource on advertising back in 1991, freshly constituted as an independent charity and still mourning the community and comfort zone of the ILEA, the task seemed clear. In an environment where specialist Media Studies was only newly emerging as a reputable A Level discipline, where the National Curriculum had not yet acquired the stranglehold, constraints or Frameworking of the later 90s, and where there was little public consensus on the value of media education, let alone its delivery, we wanted to develop a comprehensive resource which would integrate critical analysis of media texts with practical communication skills. The intention was to provide a coherent series of activities exemplifying what little we already knew about good media education practice, which could inform classroom study of media and provide a template of transferable concepts and skills for teachers to adapt more widely in English and beyond. Advertising as an area of study touched the cross-curricular parts other topics could not reach, and addressed many of the contested discourses of the day, both Right (dumbing down, Mickey Mouse-ness, the impoverishment of popular culture) and Left (Thatcherist ideologies of consumerism, media hegemony, representation). It also involved the (somewhat marginalised) question of pleasure; issues of engagement, creativity and fun were high on our agenda as ways of extending media study beyond the techniques of persuasion and argument which characterised much contemporary classroom work.

In 1991, despite a variety of influential teacher handbooks signposting the way forward for media teachers, relatively few classroom resources were dedicated specifically to media, other than optional print-focused sections in English coursebooks, and the obligatory resources on newspapers, often funded by the industry; educational publishers had not yet cottoned onto the growing interest in Media Studies. …