One aspect of learning to critically read the world entails asking questions about our "stuff": Where does it come from? Who makes it? Under what conditions and with what ecological consequences? What resources are consumed to get it from where it's made to here? The more students pursue these questions - and discover answers - the more they are able to recognize most advertising as disinformation, a seductive masking of social reality. I want my students to pry behind ads for what they say and don't say: "Think about this shiny, powerful car; forget the fact that if we continue to produce shiny, powerful cars like this, the planet won't survive."
I recently taught a short unit on advertising and globalization as part of my 11th-grade Global Studies class, with the unit culminating in two assignments: essays analyzing the world of advertising and a project designed to "advertise the truth."
A key resource for the unit was the extraordinary video, The Ad and the Ego (available from the Teaching for Change catalog, www.teachingforchange.org.) Although its narration is dense and at times academic, it is fast-moving, funny, and most importantly is about a topic with which students are intimately familiar. I stopped the video every few minutes to raise questions, ask for examples, or emphasize a point from the narration that may have been a bit obscure.
One of the video's strengths is its breadth of vision, covering the rise of advertising as an industry; its production of personal discontent and insecurity; its power to shape our sense of "the good life" and human happiness; the objectification of women; advertising's devastating environmental effects (the "making beautiful and desirable the using-up of resources" - "translating the process of consumption into an erotic spectacle"); and its monopolization of public space, squeezing out alternative social and ecological visions.