Underlying Themes—Media Literacy

From Learning Activities Using "The Yes Men Fix the World"

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1 Underlying Themes In The Film To Discuss As You Refine Your Project Plan—Media Literacy

We actually see [our work] as a form of journalism. Or perhaps more precisely, the form of collaboration with journalists. A lot of the issues that we address journalists want to cover. And sometimes it's the reason they've gone into journalism. But in many jobs, in many situations, editorial control won't let them unless there's a good little hook behind it. And so, we've found a way to create funny spectacles that give journalists the excuse to cover issues.
  — The Yes Men

The Yes Men’s media work raises many questions about how we know what we know, and what do we know that is real, and how can we tell, and how can we tell that reality to a larger audience?[endnotes 1] At many points in the film, they challenge the language used in the media to describe situations in terms of what is stated explicitly, and what is silenced. Their work is about using various media to break that silence in order to fix the broken world. Through their interventions, The Yes Men force those in power to pay attention.

One of the goals of this guide is to sustain that attention through involving more people in continued and varied media interventions to fix our world. In this chapter, I am thinking about the media in a broad sense as all ways in which people communicate descriptions and ideas about the world. In order to use the media, people need to be aware of ways in which the media shape our perceptions, and the ways in which we can get the media to present a more accurate picture of our world. The point of all the exercises and resource suggestions that follow—studying general ideas about media literacy, and looking at the variety of ways people describe the world in media using language, quantities, visual images, sound, and other sensory information—is for learners to begin to think about how the media describes the issue students want to fix, and how the learners will want to describe their issue, using the media as part of their plan to fix that issue.

1.1 General Media Literacy Issues

1.1.1 Questions discussed before the film

Return to the specific questions you discussed from Chapter Three before students watched the film. Now you can open the conversation to include why they did not know about these events, or why they knew different perspectives about these events, or why they did know about the events from the perspective The Yes Men present.

1.1.2 Media driven ‘taken-for-granted’ knowledge

A very effective way I have found to highlight the power of mainstream media on our perceptions of the world, is to start my Media Literacy class by asking students what comes to their mind when they hear the name Mother Teresa. Everyone says something along the lines of “saint,” or “helped the poor.” Then I give them some information to read from Christopher Hitchens’ The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice (1995) and ask, “After reading those excerpts, when you hear the name Mother Teresa, what comes to mind?” Now, they all say something like “If the information he has is true, then I think differently about her, she did not help the poor, she was really horrible to so many sick people, she was a friend to dictators who made so many people poor.” Then I ask them to think about why they did not initially say “If the information I read about or saw on TV about Mother Teresa is true, then she is a saint.”

Additional Resources/Notes

1.1.3 Corporate media disinformation

The Yes Men stress how their work draws attention to serious issues that the media distort and/or ignore. It is not just that mainstream media presents a picture of the world most take-for-granted, but corporate media actively disinforms. To deepen students’ experience in carefully reading websites to look for disinformation (and to distinguish distorted information from satire) you can have students compare the information about Bhopal on The Yes Men’s fake Dow Chemical website with the Bhopal information on the real Dow website and with the information on The Bhopal Medical Appeal website.

Additional Resources/Notes

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

For some other recent articles on the U.S. health care crisis: “An Incoherent Truth[5] and “New Rule: Not Everything in America has to Make a Profit[6].

There are also “grassroots” campaigns (called “Astroturf campaigns” by many progressive commentators) that are corporate financed. For example, Patients United Now (PUN), although claiming to be composed of “people just like you” who care about keeping insurance costs down, but are “SHOCKED” by what they found out about health care reform efforts in Washington, D.C.: “Radical solutions. Discussions behind closed doors. Patients like us NOT included, just big companies, lobbyists, unions and politicians.” Students could compare PUN’s website and the website of the organization that created and funds PUN, Americans for Prosperity Foundation with other reports that give a very different picture: an interview with Tim Phillips, President of Americans for Prosperity, from Rachel Maddow’s show “Just Your Average Health Care Opponent,” and a point-by-point critique of the PUN advertisement and “corporate-Sponsored Patients United Now,” by Igor Volsky, co-author of Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Health Care Reform with links to the videos of the people funding the PUN ads, and a “neutral” The New York Times article. You can have students dig into these websites to analyze their political/economic perspectives and how those perspectives influence their positions on the issue of health care in the United States.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Anyon also found an absence even of the concept of, or label for, "the working class," and a clear underlying theme that "the methods appropriate for solving economic and labor problems and the view of consensual and orderly social change inherent in them are actions that maintain the balance of power in society; confrontation between contending groups which could increase the likelihood of changes in the power structure are not implied"[7].

Students can review their textbooks and other learning materials, especially connected to the issue they will try to fix, and analyze any biases, including omissions.

1.1.4 Media bias and concentration

Any general discussion about Media Literacy should include some analysis of media bias and media concentration. You could start by asking students where they get news from, and then ask them to analyze what is the perspective of that news (including information they get from friends—what is the source of the news they get? Where does the mainstream media get news?) Then, they can look at information about the concentration of the media (the progressive view from MoveOn and the conservative view from The Heritage Foundation. Also, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) issues yearly surveys of which think-tanks are cited most frequently. The most recent survey and surveys over the last years[endnotes 2] can explain why so many people’s beliefs are shaped by a conservative perspective or are uninformed (i.e., like the airline ticket agent who swore to me that Obama is Muslim, and 45 minutes later I could not move her from that position, but did uncover that her source was “she heard it on TV, and she knew in her heart it was true”). There is also the film Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media[8], focused on Chomsky’s critique of the media, and The Myth of the Liberal Media: The Propaganda Model of News[9], featuring Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky discussing “a comprehensive framework for understanding how the news is produced and in whose interest it works…. they argue that the news media are so subordinated to corporate and conservative interests that their function can only be described as that of ‘elite propaganda.’” And, Brave New Films’ Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism[10] is a specific look at the tendentiously right-wing “news” channel and “explores Murdoch’s burgeoning kingdom and the impact on society when a broad swath of media is controlled by one person.”

1.1.5 Non-corporate media

You can introduce learners to some alternative news sources like Democracy Now! and real reporters websites, like Greg Palast and Jim Hightower. Then, there are critical, progressive news magazines: The Nation; Colorlines; Z Magazine; the Progressive; In These Times. Many additional progressive media outlets are listed at The Media Reform and Information Center and a map of different kinds of media functions and which groups are doing what can be found on “The Emerging Progressive Media Network 2006”. There are sites that focus on video, like Brave New Films which, in addition to feature documentaries like “Outfoxed,” produces short clips for widespread dissemination. There are also progressive web-magazines that focus on specific issues, such as Black Commentator, “dedicated to the movement for economic justice, social justice and peace; providing commentary, analysis and investigations on issues affecting African Americans and the African world”. And, there are countless email lists you can subscribe to that send daily selections of progressive counter-information to the mainstream media, such as Portside: The Left Side of the Internet.

1.1.6 Student projects in the media

After students gain experiences and knowledge from exercises like those suggested above, they can work in small groups to investigate the issue they have chosen to fix. In what ways, and with what underlying perspectives, do most of the mainstream media (including school textbooks) portray their issue? What frameworks and credible information can they find about their issue that challenges the mainstream media’s views? (Of course, this will start learners thinking about how they would want to see their issue described and analyzed, and how they might make that happen.)

I would not recommend starting a general discussion of Media Literacy with student investigations, however, since, in most cases, students need the kinds of background learning experiences suggested in the exercises above before they can do any real research on the matter.

1.2 Linguistic descriptions of our world

1.2.1 Language is not neutral

The Yes Men Fix the World deals with media issues connected with how the language people use to describe situations and ideas are not neutral. You can start by asking students to identify some of situations in which The Yes Men challenge others’ linguistic descriptions of reality. Andy, for example, does not accept the mainstream media label of their Bhopal action as a “hoax.” Instead he argues that Dow is the one pulling off a hoax—the hoax that Dow has no responsibility, and no means, for cleaning up Bhopal. Further, he claims The Yes Men actions were not a “hoax,” but rather, “an honest representation of what Dow should be doing.” In the interventions in New Orleans, they again challenge the notion of what the “hoax” is, arguing that the government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development is the one pulling off a hoax by pretending that tearing down affordable housing will make things better for the people of New Orleans: “by saying it makes sense to not tear down the housing, we are not pulling off a hoax, we are telling the truth. This is truth telling where normally there would only be lies.”

Another example is The Yes Men’s forcing their critics in the media to broaden the discussion. When the duped BBC commentator interviews Andy after Dow informs the media that “Jude” is not their spokesperson, he batters Andy on the cruelty of giving the people in Bhopal false hope. Andy counters that although The Yes Men may have given people 2 hours of false hope, compare that to Union Carbide/Dow giving those same people 20 years of suffering. Which actions should be labeled “cruel[endnotes 3]?”

Courtesy: Kirk Anderson

The movie also shows how the corporate world challenges social change groups’ language. One clip in the film shows the advertisement produced by The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank funded by Exxon-Mobil: “CO2: They call it Pollution; we call it Life.”

The notes below contain other examples of how the words we use to describe a situation or an idea influence how people think about that situation or idea. The examples are connected to economic issues and issues of racism. Students can analyze these examples and find others from the movie or other media sources, gaining learning experiences in recognizing the consequences of the language we use to describe our world, and in thinking about how they want to label the realities and ideas about their issue.

Additional Resources/Notes

Courtesy: Dan Wasserman

1.2.2 Ways language serves power

In “Word Tricks & Propaganda: Words are Transformed in the Service of Power,” Herman gives examples of various categories of descriptions used by those who want their ideas and actions to dominate. Purring (“words with positive overtones that create an aura of decency” like “national security” and “stability” and “efficiency”); Snarling (words “that induce negative reactions and feelings of anger and rejection” like “extremist” and “terrorist”); Putdowns (“less aggressive words of denigration” like when leftists are “noisy” and conservatives are “realistic” and “courageous”); Playing Down Violence (“client state leaders who kill and torture are not ruthless killers and torturers but ‘tough’ (Argentinian General Robert Viola[18]) or merely ‘forceful’ (Israeli General Ariel Sharon [19]); Obscuring Appeasement of Client State Terror (“Key phrases serving this function include ‘quiet diplomacy,’ ‘commercial diplomacy,’ and ‘constructive engagement’”); Facilitating Innuendo (“Words and phrases like ‘linked’ and ‘it is reported’ and ‘officials claim’ permit connections and actions to be presented without verifiable evidence. The headline ‘Link to Iran suspected in Saudi blast’[20] illustrates an important mode of disseminating propaganda; and the more the allegation fits existing biases the easier it is to pass it along without supporting evidence.”); Personification and Use of Collective Words (“to get over preferred positions not supported by evidence. The use of ‘Brazil’ in “Faith in reform buoys Brazil’[21] is based entirely on attitudes expressed by Brazilian bankers and securities market professionals, who constitute less than a quarter of 1 percent of the Brazilian people.”); Falsely Imputing Benevolent Motives (“The Philadelphia Inquirer asserts that ‘congress and Clinton are gambling that many poor Americans won’t need a safety net to land on their fee’[22]. Using the word ‘gambling’ implies that the politicians passing so-called welfare reform legislation “are really concerned about those poor folks being pushed out on the streets and no doubt weighed the costs and benefits in some kind of humanistic calculus.”); and, Removing Agency (“Where we or our allies have done terrible things watch for the resort to the passive voice”).[endnotes 4]

Another example is how “You Can’t just Say the President is Lying: The Limits of Honesty in the Mainstream Press,”[23]. This article records a fascinating excerpt from a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. sponsored by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism on November 4, 2004 about all the euphemisms that the corporate media required to be used, instead of saying “Bush is lying,” when he was lying.

1.2.3 Communism—a dangerous word

In addition to a powerful discussion of the power of words to shape our thought and actions, “A Murderous Word[24] quotes in the notes that follow it, also give students a chance to analyze satirical and serious writing.

Additional Resources/Notes

Courtesy: Dan Wasserman

1.2.4 Student projects descriptions

Students can think more about the language they will use to describe the issue they want to fix. At this point, you might want to have students draft a press release, and then after reviewing the next sections on quantitative and visual and other descriptions of the world, you can ask them how they would modify their descriptions. When the students move deeper into their plan (in Chapter Eight) and connect with an existing group, they can work in collaboration to further refine their descriptions.

1.3 Quantitative descriptions of our world

The Yes Men Fix the World also contains quantitative descriptions. For example, Andy gives figures for how much money Dow will get from liquidating Union Carbide ($12 billion) and they show a chart to illustrate the precipitous drop in the value of Dow stock after Jude’s announcement that the $12 billion would be used to clean up Bhopal. What other quantitative descriptions are used in the film? Do these strengthen or weaken the arguments The Yes Men are making—why? What other quantitative descriptions could they have used in their actions? Why didn’t they use more numbers to describe the ideas and situations in which they intervened?

1.3.1 Quantitative forms

The form in which we put numerical information can strengthen arguments by helping us make sense of quantities whose significance it is very hard to grasp.[endnotes 5] Without changing the form through basic calculations, can we really get a sense of the impact of those quantities on our world? If we want to understand what the $12 billion means, we can calculate that spending at the non-stop rate of $1000 per hour, it would take over 100 years to use up just $1 billion.[endnotes 6]

Additional Resources/Notes

Courtesy: Matt Weurker
Courtesy: Dan Wasserman

1.3.2 Numbers are not neutral

Quantitative descriptions of the world are also not neutral; the form in which you present the quantity can give misleading descriptions. I pointed this out in a letter to The Boston Globe (which amazingly they published on December 4, 2002, titled it “Secretary of Death[endnotes 7]” and included a drawing of Kissinger, which made the letter the central one on the editorial page):

I commend The Globe for writing an editorial questioning the appointment of Henry Kissinger to lead what is supposed to be an independent commission investigating intelligence failures in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

However, as a teacher of Quantitative Reasoning, I was dismayed to see your misleading presentation of numerical data. You mention Kissinger’s responsibility for “thousands” of civilian deaths in Indochina, Bangladesh and East Timor. In facts, very clearly documented by Christopher Hitchens’ review of USA government declassified documents detailing only Kissinger’s legal crimes''The Trial of Henry Kissinger'', London and New York: Verso, 2001, Pentagon figures for deaths in Vietnam during the period under which Kissinger’s deceits and policies prolonged that war, are: 31,205 of our citizens, 86,101 South Vietnamese, and 475,609 Vietnamese “enemy.” The US Senate Subcommittee on Refugees estimated that during that time more than 3 million civilians were killed, injured or made homeless.p.41 In Banglasdesh, “the eventual civilian death toll has never been placed at less than half a million and has been put as high as 3 million.p.46 In East Timor, 200,000 people, approximately one-third of the population, were slaughtered as a direct result of the “green light” then United States Secretary of State Kissinger gave to Indonesian dictator General Suharto.p.93

Although your statement that Kissinger’s policies resulted in “thousands” of civilian deaths is technically accurate, clearly it presents a misleading picture. In a conservative tallying from just these three areas of the world, Kissinger is responsible for ''more than one million deaths, hundreds of thousands'' of them civilian deaths.

1.3.3 Numbers that are missing

Quantitative descriptions can also be misleading when certain numbers are given, but more relevant ones are left out. A classic example is the unemployment rate which appears a neutral calculation, but leaves out many categories of workers who some of us would count as unemployed. For example, how should workers who want full-time work, but can only find part-time jobs, be counted? What about the millions of people who work full-time, year round, and get paid a salary below the official government poverty line?

Just adding a few other groups (unemployed workers who have not looked for a job in the last 4 weeks, and forced part-time workers) to the official government unemployment rate (which only counts those without jobs who are available to work and have looked for a job in the last 4 weeks) changes the April 2009 unemployment rate from the official 9.4% to 16.4%. [29]. Still these figures omit the millions of full-time workers who earn below the federal poverty line (in 2007, 7.5 million who worked for at least 27 weeks; 5.8 million of those who worked for at least 50 weeks); and, they do not indicate the great disparities among different groups of workers. As of May 2009, official unemployment rates were already 14.9% for Blacks, 12.7% for Hispanics, and 22.7% for teenagers. And what about people who need to take more than one job in order to make ends meet—how are they counted in employment statistics?

Additional Resources/Notes

1.3.4 Numbers that answer the wrong question

Another way that quantities can give misleading descriptions of the world is when the wrong quantitative question is answered correctly. For example, in evaluating whether a particular tax structure is fair, you need to decide which measures of fairness make the most sense to investigate. Although, in 1997 in the USA, the top 1% income group paid 33.6% of all federal income taxes, the more salient ratios to examine are the before and after tax share of total income that group got (before taxes: 15.8%; after taxes: 13.7%). In other words, the system is very slightly progressive (the bottom 20% income group went from a before-tax share of 4.0% to an after-tax share of 4.8%). As Ellen Frank, in Dollars and Sense[33] states:

If one believes that Ken Lay deserved no less than the $100 million he collected from Enron last year, while the burger-flippers and office cleaners of America deserve no more than the $6.50 an hour they collect, then a progressive tax would seem immoral. But if one believes that incomes are determined by race, gender, connections, power, luck, and (occasionally) fraud, then redistribution through the tax system is a moral imperative.

Further, if one takes into account all the other taxes paid, the system is actually regressive. For example, clearly Social Security taxes (paid at the same rate by all, and only paid on the first $90,000 of income) take a much larger percent out of workers’ paychecks than out of wealthy people’s incomes. And, labor economists believe that even the employer’s share of Social Security taxes hurts workers “since employers reduce wages to compensate for the tax instead of paying for it out of profits.” For another example, state and local taxes are quite regressive, with the bottom 20% income group paying 12.4% of their income in those taxes, as opposed to the top 1% paying 5.8% of their income in state and local taxes[34].

Additional Resources/Notes

As a teacher of Quantitative Reasoning and Argument, I was dismayed to see the Sunday Globalist Quiz’s de-contextualized, and therefore, misleading, presentation of numbers. It uses data about relative population growth to contrast Europe’s much smaller growth with those of other areas of our world. (Northern Africa is not a country, as your text stated.) You calculate that India, for example, increases its population in one week as much as the entire annual increase in the 25 countries comprising the European Union.

This seemingly neutral data carries a seriously wrong “hidden message” that countries such as India and China are draining the world’s resources, and because of over-population, those countries still cannot provide adequate resources for their people.

In fact, the real picture is quite the opposite. A more appropriate measure comparing various countries’ impact on the environment is the “ecological footprint” devised by Wackernagel, Onisto, et.al. It measures the biologically productive areas necessary to continuously provide resource supplies and absorb wastes, using prevailing technology in particular communities. In 1997, India’s ecological footprint was 0.8 hectares per person (ha/cap) and China’s was 1.2 ha/cap, in contrast to Belgium’s footprint of 5.0 ha/cap, England’s of 5.2 ha/cap, and our country’s 10.3 ha/cap.

And, in spite of the drain that the technologically developed countries put on the world’s resources, there is enough food to feed us all. According to Food First, in 1998 the world produced enough to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day. The problem is not scarcity, but economic injustice. India, for example, is a net agricultural exporter. In 1995, there were approximately 200 million nutritionally hungry Indians, while India exported $625 million worth of wheat and flour, and $1.3 billion worth of rice.

1.3.5 Numbers for student projects

Are there numbers, implicitly or explicitly, involved with the issue students have chosen to fix? How do you want to describe those numbers? As someone who thinks numbers reveal the real deal, and well researched and well presented quantitative data strengthen arguments, I would suggest students look for what numbers help describe their issue. They can begin to think about the most powerful forms of presenting the data, and think about what counter arguments the people who don’t want to fix their issue would use to challenge the numbers they found.

1.4 Visual and other descriptions of our world

The media present images of the world through more than just words and numbers. Visual images are common, but also sound and other senses can be used. I suggest starting this topic, by asking students to identify actions in the film where The Yes Men use visual and other sensory descriptions to present their message. How does the visual ridiculousness of the Survivaball contribute to the interventions of The Yes Men? What about the sound and smoke and Gilda? What visual statement do they add to the graph about the decline in Dow’s stock after Jude’s BBC announcement? What images do they use to show the progress of the private, “free” market in rebuilding New Orleans? Why did they spend so much time figuring out how to get the Reggie candles to smell like burning flesh?

After the film, The Yes Men have continued their work trying to draw attention to what is still going on in Bhopal. Their latest action was to hand out “B’eau Pal” bottled water, with the ingredients of the actual toxic Bhopal water written on the label. They also tried to deliver bottles of B’eau Pal, filled with actual toxic groundwater from Bhopal, and a report about the current toxic contaminations in Bhopal to Dow’s London headquarters. The Yes Men found the building shut down. There is a video of the London action and another video explaining the decisions made by the London design firm that created the logo for water: http://www.theyesmen.org/blog/dow-runs-scared-from-water. Students might find this of interest in thinking about various visual aspects of their project.

It is also important to think about issues in the film that are not explicitly stated, but referred to implicitly and visually. There are many images, for example, that The Yes Men used to provoke people to think about racism. The entire “Tribute to Reggie” video can be analyzed for what stereotypes it uses to challenge their audience to think about racism.

In other ways, The Yes Men provoke thinking about racism, from the all white male conservative think-tankers, to the fact that The (white) Yes Men might not have been able to get as far into their actions as they did, if they were black men. Would they have been watched more closely at those conferences if they were black? Would the ridiculous Survivaball have been applauded if presented by black men? Would an audience with many people of color have reacted so positively to the devaluing of Indian life?

1.4.1 Pictures imagined from words and numbers

Many times words and numbers paint a powerful visual picture to help us imagine a situation. For example, “if the real 555-foot Washington Monument reflects average 1998 CEO pay, then a scaled-down replica representing average worker pay would be just 16 inches tall—5 inches shorter than in 1997. Back in 1980, the Workers Monument was over 13 feet tall—reflecting a CEO-worker wage gap of 42 to one.” United for a Fair Economy Press Release For another example, to visualize what David Cay Johnston[36] calls the enormous chasm in incomes (“just 28,000 men, women and children had as much income in 2000 as the poorest 96 million Americans.”), he suggests we “imagine these two groups in geographic terms. The super rich would occupy just one-third of the seats at Yankee Stadium, while those at the bottom as the equivalent of every American who lives west of Iowa—plus everyone in Iowa[37].”

1.4.2 Words and numbers strengthening pictures

Other times, artists/activists use words and numbers, sometimes implicitly, to enhance the pictures they create to draw attention to what’s going on in our world that they think needs fixing. Some (possibly fake) ads like this were on the internet in May 2009. I have used a poster created by Mario Torero, “You are not a Minority,” which has Che pointing like “Uncle Sam,” to have students learn about percents while analyzing that political poster in the context of the politics of language where people who constitute the vast majority of the world’s population are referred to as “minorities.” Students also see that numbers are “behind” many economic, political, and/or social issues even if there are no numbers “visible” in the picture.

Mural by: Mario Torero, in collaboration with CACA artists from San Diego and East Los Angeles artists (CACA, Congresso de Artistas Chicanos de Aztlan), 1978, installed in Estrada Courts, East LA. Courtesy: Mario Torero

Additional Resources/Notes

1.4.3 Pictures are not neutral

Visual images, as any knowledge, are not neutral. There are many examples that can be used to illustrate this point. By now, many people are familiar with the cropped photo of the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein. The image seen on TV was closely cropped to omit that the square where it took place was surrounded and controlled by U.S. tanks and troops, and was mostly empty.

Additional Resources/Notes

As Wood[47] emphasizes:

The map is not an innocent witness...silently recording what would otherwise take place without it, but a committed participant, as often as not driving the very acts of identifying and naming, bounding and inventorying it pretends to no more than observe.

1.4.4 References on the politics of visual knowledge

Some references on various aspects of the politics of visual knowledge are: John Berger's Ways of Seeing[48]. Parts of the BBC television series on which the book is based are on YouTube, including one on advertising; John A. Walker's Art in the Age of Mass Media[49] which explores the tensions between “fine art” and popular culture, from “the socialist paintings of Courbet to the anti-Nazi photomontages of Heartfield, from community murals and Keith Haring's use of graffiti to the kitsch self-promotion associated with Jeff Koons; Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others [50] which raises questions about whether the overwhelming amount of images of atrocities distance us or inure us to the suffering of people who are far away; David Levi Strauss' Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics[51]; Catherine A. Lutz's and Jane L. Collins' Reading National Geographic which treats the way “other” people are represented in a “complex portrait of an institution and its role in promoting a kind of conservative humanism that acknowledges universal values and celebrates diversity while it allows readers to relegates non-Western peoples to an earlier stage of progress.”[52]; and, Colin Jacobson's (editor) Underexposed: “Pictures can Lie and Liars use Pictures[53].

1.4.5 Painting a picture with sound

Sound was used to disrupt business as usual and dramatize the toll of domestic violence as part of a traveling exhibit, Witness to Violence. A bell was rung in the Massachusetts State House’s Great Hall every 15 seconds on February 14, 1995. Each ring represented that somewhere in the USA during that time interval, another woman had been beaten. I ask my quantitative reasoning students to write a commentary that uses quantitative data to highlight the emotional and political impact of domestic violence. They are given hints about how to elaborate on the numerical data in such a way that it would make sense to as many people as possible and would capture the attention and imagination of most people. We also discuss media coverage of the issue. In “Not All Domestic Violence Studies are Created Equal,” Pozner argues that the results of the studies are what decides how they will be considered. “A small number of faulty studies showing women and men as ‘equal’ batterers get a lot of press coverage and respect. On the other hand, many more carefully researched studies, including those conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, showing most victims of domestic violence are women, and most perpetrators of this violence, against women and men, are men, are ignored and/or attributed to “feminists” promoting “half-truths based on ideological dogma.”

Additional Resources/Notes

Regardless of words, it seems the melodic contour of the song describes the nature of the land over which the song passes. So, if the Lizard Man were dragging his heels across the salt-pans of Lake Eyre, you could expect a succession of long flats, like Chopin’s ‘Funeral March.’ If he were skipping up and down the MacDonnell escarpments, you’d have a series of arpeggios and glissandos, like Liszt’s ‘Hungarian Rhapsodies.’

Certain phrases, certain combinations of musical notes, are thought to describe the action of the Ancestor’s feet. One phrase would say, ‘Salt-pan’; another ‘Creek-bed,’…‘Rock-face’ and so forth. An expert songman, by listening to their order of succession, would count how many times his hero crossed a river, or scaled a ridge—and be able to calculate where, and how far along, a Songline he was[56].

1.4.6 Images and other experiences for student projects

Students can think about the images and other sensory experiences that people visualize when they think about the problem students want to fix. They can start imagining what alternative images and sounds they will use, and how to combine them with language, to describe their issue and advance their project plan to change that situation.

1.5 Notes

  1. Of course, the media literacy in The Yes Men Fix the World can be studied both from the perspective of film analysis (camera angles, musical score, and so on), and from the perspective of the media used in each of The Yes Men’s actions around particular issues. In this guide, the focus is on the media used in their political interventions.
  2. When you click on the link, you'll need to search for "think tank"
  3. The Yes Men play with language in other ways too. For example, the name “Jude Finisterra” was created because Jude is the patron saint of impossible causes, and Finisterra (finis terra) translates as “end of the earth.” (Democracy Now! Interview posted in CounterCurrents, an alternative news site from Kerala, India). For another example, in a post-film action, they go to Dow headquarters in London to deliver a bottle of actual contaminated Bhopal water, in an elite designer-water bottle labeled “B’eau Pal Water”
  4. I remember being shocked by the video at the entrance to the Peace Museum in Hiroshima. I watched it twice to make sure I had heard correctly: “On August 6, 1945 the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima,” as if it fell out of the sky on its own!
  5. I develop this idea with many examples in “Quantitative Form in Arguments,” (Frankenstein, 2007).
  6. One visual approach to understanding giant numbers is “What does one TRILLION dollars look like?” Does this help us understand the enormity of the toxic waste dump Union Carbide/Dow created and left for Bhopal?
  7. And, speaking of language, shouldn’t Kissinger be described as a “terrorist?”
  8. This kind of omission happens a lot in discussing Social Security, especially in predictions that it is going broke.
  9. Grossman (1994) argues that "Europe has always been a political and cultural definition. Geographically, Europe does not exist, since it is only a peninsula on the vast Eurasian continent." He goes on to discuss the history and various contradictions of geographers' attempts to "draw the eastern limits of 'western civilization' and the white race" (p. 39).
  10. Not only is the relative size of Africa misrepresented in commonly used maps, but the geographic/cultural details of the continent have also been distorted. Temin (1996) reviews an exhibit of historical maps of Africa that “demonstrates how an entire continent was ‘erased’ from European maps.” By the nineteenth century, the detailed sixteenth century maps of Africa were viewed as “mere myth…treating Africa like a blank made it easier to colonize because the justification went, nothing in the way of major cities or cultures existed there.”

1.6 References

  1. 1995, pp.64-71
  2. January 27, 1936
  3. quotes from Fager, 1982, pp. 16, 14
  4. July 10, 2009
  5. Krugman, 2009
  6. Maher, 2009
  7. p. 383
  8. Mark Achbar & Peter Wintonick, Zeitgeist Video, 1992, 167 minutes
  9. The Media Education Foundation, 2002, 60 minutes
  10. Robert Greenwald, 2004, 77 minutes
  11. April 2009, p.3
  12. “’Death Tax Deception,” Rosie Hunter and Chuck Collins, Dollars & Sense, January/February 2003
  13. Dollars & Sense, 1983, pp. 12-14
  14. 2009, pp.13-18
  15. p.14
  16. Jackson, 2006
  17. The Progressive, 2007, p.11
  18. New York Times, Oct. 6, 1980
  19. NYT, Feb. 11, 1983
  20. Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 3, 1996
  21. Financial Times, Feb. 24, 1997
  22. Aug. 4, 1996
  23. Extra!, January/February 2005
  24. Zinn, 1989
  25. March 19, 1995, p.9
  26. The Guardian, February 16, 2006
  27. from a book review, written by Ruth Shalit for Deidre McCloskey’s Lingua Franca of Crossing: A Memoir
  28. Jackson, 2001, p. A27
  29. The Real Unemployment rate Hits a 68-Year High,” John Miller, 2009
  30. Wal-Mart Welfare: How Taxpayers Subsidize the World’s largest Retailer,” , Jenna Wright, Dollars & Sense, January/February 2005, p. 7-8
  31. Brave New Films, 97 minutes, 2005
  32. Navarro, 1991, p.436
  33. 2002
  34. p.44
  35. Up-to-date information can be found at the website of the Global Footprint Network
  36. 2003
  37. p.41
  38. Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, IL,
  39. Also, see a profile of Chris Jordan on Bill Moyers, September 21, 2007. fckLR
  40. The Nation, Letters, August 16, 2004
  41. Lembcke, 1998
  42. pp. 9-10
  43. (italics added)
  44. October 1990; a magazine that was published between 1990 and 1994
  45. September 18, 1990
  46. 2000, p.9
  47. 1992
  48. London, England: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972
  49. London, England: Pluto, 2001
  50. New York: Picador, 200
  51. New York: Aperture, 2003
  52. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1993
  53. London, England: Vision on Publishing, 2002
  54. 1987
  55. p.108
  56. pg. 108
Table of Contents

Part One: Learning Activities Before Seeing The Film

Part Two: Learning Activities After Seeing The Film