In the past five articles of this series we’ve looked in depth at each of the four questions of the Media Mindfulness strategy. Now it’s time to apply the strategy to a specific media text. Here are the links to the previous articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.
We are people of faith who live in a culture saturated with media messages that, more often than not, have nothing to do with our lived faith. How do we discern what media to consume? How do we bring our faith into conversation with the media we encounter? The answer is not to erase media from our lives. That’s pretty much impossible in our day and age. So what do we do? Become more mindful media users and engage the media we do choose to enjoy with our critical thinking skills by asking questions. This is especially important when teaching our children about media.
The Media Mindfulness strategy is based on four questions that build on one another. Here is the circle we’ve been using. Thanks to St. Mary’s Press for permission to reproduce it here.
Now it’s time to put the questions of the Media Mindfulness strategy into practice with a media text. This short video is an advertisement that was done by a Canadian company during the 2016 Olympics. Please take a moment to watch the video so you can walk through the Media Mindfulness questions. You may want to watch it more than once.
What is going on?
The first question of the strategy is “What is going on?” With this question, we discover the basics of the media text. In this video we have a commercial. Right away that tells us that we are going to be sold something. The “story” of the ad is a bunch of neighborhood kids playing basketball. One boy, in a wheelchair, is on the outside, excluded from the game by his situation. When another boy leaves the basketball on the porch, the kid in the wheelchair brings it to the group, only to discover they are all now playing while sitting on something with wheels. The boy in the wheelchair is invited to join the game and does so with a smile on his face.
In answering the question “What is going on?” we only mention the bare bones of the media text, being very literal. The temptation is to begin answering next question here. So, let’s do that now.
What’s really going on?
In the second question of the strategy, “What’s really going on?” we delve deeper into the meaning of the media message.
In our video, we are seeing an example of kindness and welcome extended by the blonde boy to the boy in the wheelchair. The other kids have all modified the way they are playing so that the boy in the wheelchair can be included in their game safely. One is on a wheeled office chair, another on a tricycle, another on a go-cart, etc. There are both boys and girls involved in the game as well as a variety of races represented, so those are other kinds of inclusiveness.
When the blonde boy says, “C’mon” to the kid in the wheelchair, it’s so natural. He doesn’t dwell on the other boy’s handicap or make him feel uncomfortable in any way. We don’t hear from any of the other kids but they seem to have implicitly agreed to the inclusion of the new boy in their group by playing on wheels.
The spoken words of the ad include both a statement and a challenge: “When the best of us steps up, our nation stands a little taller.” Together with the story being told by what’s happening in the ad, the words imply that what the blonde boy did by inviting the other boy into their group to play is a good thing. The blonde boy stepped up. The words can also be understood as a challenge to the viewer to be one who “steps up” and makes the world a better place through their kind actions.
Here are some questions you might ask if you’re doing this with kids. What do you think of what the blonde boy did? What would you have done in his place? How would you feel if you were the boy in the wheelchair? What if you were one of the other kids in the group, would you agree to playing on something wheeled so that the new kid could join in? Would that be easy?
In answering the question “What is really going on?” you get into the meaning behind the media message. What is this ad selling? What do the people who made it want you to think and feel? What did you understand about the media message? With the next two questions we bring the media message into conversation with our faith.
What difference does it make?
The third question of the strategy is where we try to discern the values presented in the media text. We all live by values that we cherish but we don’t often think about them since they pretty much come automatically to us. Children are still developing the values they want to live by and so when they can see values in media stories, they can be better equipped to decide whether a value is something they want to live by or not.
Media texts usually contain both positive and negative values. It’s important to be able to identify both so that we can encourage the integration of positive values and talk about why we choose not to integrate the negative ones.
In our video, there are a number of values present. Kindness, welcome, and inclusion are pretty obvious ones. A less obvious positive value is sacrifice. The kids all had to sacrifice their normal way of playing basketball in order to include the boy in the wheelchair. Maybe that wasn’t easy for some of them. The blonde boy also exhibited courage. He’s the one who stepped out of his comfort zone to invite the new boy. There’s not much that is negative in this particular media message but we do see a transformation, especially in the blonde boy. At the beginning of the ad when the he first encounters the boy in the wheelchair, he’s a bit shocked and not sure what to do so he says, “Hey!” and leaves. It’s only later, probably after consulting the rest of his friends that the invitation to the boy in the wheelchair gets extended.
Other general values in the ad are family (we see the boy’s Mom witness his inclusion in the group), friendship, play, patriotism, and encouragement to do good.
By naming the values in a media text we can bring our faith into play. Would Jesus want us to live by the values we see in this media message? Why or why not? How we can put the values into practice in our lives is for the last question.
What difference can I make?
This is the most important question of the strategy. As each question builds on the one before it, the final question asks us to respond to the media message. We’ve asked questions of the media message itself but now we ask ourselves: what seems to be an appropriate response in light of how we have answered the preceding questions. How do I put the positive values I see in the media message into practice in my life? Answering this question requires some thought and needs to be very practical, something you can actually do in your everyday life.
The answer to this question is very personal and will differ from person to person. I, myself, could answer this a number of ways in light of our video. First, I could offer to pray my rosary today for people who feel excluded by others. I’m sure that there are lots of people who feel on the “outside” for whatever reason who might be like the boy in the wheelchair at the beginning of the ad. I could also pray for those who fail to see the needs of those around them that they might open their eyes and be welcoming like the blonde boy was.
Another thing I could do is to be welcoming myself. I’m a naturally shy person and at events I tend to stay on the periphery, nervous about engaging strangers in conversation. There is an event coming up this week, which I am attending, where I can see that easily happening. As a result of watching this advertisement and seeing the courage of the blonde boy, I resolve to summon some courage and go up to at least one person I don’t know at this event and be welcoming to them.
When you come up with some action, try to make it specific. There’s nothing wrong with being general and saying, “I’m going to be more welcoming or more kind.” But take it one step further and find a specific situation in your life where you can do that. Then actually do it.
If you are doing this with kids, encourage them to find specific ways they can put the positive values into practice. Maybe they can invite a new student in their school to sit with them at lunch. Maybe when choosing people for the sports team in gym class, a child could choose first the one person that usually gets chosen last, even if that means choosing a less talented player.
Be media mindful
The Media Mindfulness strategy is meant to help all of us, both adults and kids, to be mindful when choosing what media we will watch, read, or listen to. Most media has a combination of both positive and negative values. When we can identify the positive values, the strategy can help us integrate those values into our everyday living in specific ways. Identifying the negative values can help us enter into conversation with others, but especially kids, as to why we don’t want to integrate the negative values into our lives. We can talk about how the negative values can sometimes look good or normal and be tempting. We can talk about ways to act out the positive values that are opposite to the negative ones.
By being mindful of the media we choose and bringing that media into conversation with our faith, we become more discerning disciples of Jesus Christ, always striving to discover what God is asking of us every moment of every day, including the time we spend with media, and then acting according to God’s will to the best of our ability.