Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Scrutinizing the cybercell: teen-tageted Websites as text

Crovitz, D. (2007). Scrutinizing the cyber-sell: Teen targeted websites as texts. English Journal, 97(1), 49-55.

Sometimes I wonder about our society. We seem to be spending a lot of time passively absorbing material on screens—whether it be TV, or increasingly, Internet sites as described in the article. Much of that input in either form is infused with advertising. The world seems to be all about selling, and about defining oneself with products and brands. Remember the two yuppies in the Christopher Guest movie “Best in Show” who described themselves as “J. Crew people”? The author of this article attempts to face these phenomena by helping teachers in training develop lessons for high schoolers that treat corporate websites with products targeted toward teens as texts to be interrogated and critically examined. Several examples of such product sites are given.

I’m all for this sort of critical literacy instruction. Awareness may help counter some of the messages, but they’re still extremely powerful. I wonder if any of the teachers in Crovitz’s classes encountered teen resistance to such lessons. To some teens, their products are part of their identity. I wonder also if teens are really so gullible as advertisers and even educators think they are. The teens I know are pretty savvy about advertising and how it works. After all, they’ve been bombarded with these messages since they were babies.

Please react to the Crovitz article and/or my annotation above.
If you need help to start thinking, address one or more of the prompts below, but it’s not required if you don’t need them. As always, it’s better if you read the article first, but all discussion is helpful. Maybe our discussion might make you want to read the article if you didn’t before!

• Should teaching teens to look critically at the “cybersell” be a part of the secondary school curriculum? If so, where would it fit? Can we justify spending time on this in this age of standards and testing?
• What are some potential barriers to teaching as Crovitz recommends?
• Think of some examples when you recently have been “cybersold”. Some of this is blatant, as in pop-up ads, but some of it is more subtle, as in “product placement” in the media (e.g., a reporter wearing a shirt or windbreaker with an obvious logo or a character on a popular show wearing a certain kind of pricey shoes). How convincing was it? Did you find yourself convinced?
• Go to some product web sites and take a look at them (can probably find these easily by typing the name of your product into a search engine). Comment on the persuasive techniques used there. Would you have any concerns about young people visiting these sites?
• In the article (page 50), Crovitz lists some guiding questions to use with students. Evaluate those questions. If you have experience with teens currently or in the past, imagine yourself discussing advertising with teens using those questions.
• What do you think about the “sham sites” Crovitz writes about? Have you visited any of these kinds of sites?
• How does advertising on Internet sites differ from advertising on TV?
• React to these quotes:
“Does a corporation bear any responsibility for modeling correct language use and safe behavior in advertising its products?”
“How do we balance a company’s right to sell a product with the public’s right to make healthy decisions?”
• Transience seems to be an essential feature of web sites; they are constantly changing. What effect does this have on consumers?

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