Deconstructing Media Messages

There was a child went forth every day
And the first object he looked upon and received
with wonder or pity or love or dread
that object he became…

And these become of him or her that peruses them now
(Walt Whitman, 1855)

Popular media plays a persuasive role in our everyday lives as we make sense of our identities and the media constructed worlds in and around us. Consider how much of your view of reality is based upon pre-constructed media messages that have attitudes, interpretations, and conclusions already built in. How does mainstream media affect the ways you see yourself and others? How do media advertisements convey (explicitly or implicitly) ideological messages about the nature of the “good life”, family values, friendship, citizenship, gender roles, sexual attitudes, body image, sustainability, and consumption?

All media are constructions. Media do not simply reflect external reality, rather, they present carefully crafted constructions from which we negotiate meaning and build our picture of reality. It is no secret that we are highly manipulated, gendered, socialized, and commercialized by the media. We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. Understanding persuasive and ubiquitous media is vital for participating in our shared worlds, however we spend precious little time analyzing the influencing media messages that we are bombarded with each and every media saturated day.

As we are exposed to more mediated messages in one day than our great grandparents were exposed to in a year, how do we educate global citizens and future leaders to be confidently prepared for the opportunities, responsibilities, and experiences of life (e.g., beyond mere conformists and consumers)?

True death equals a generation living by unquestioned rules and attitudes, an unthinking generation who produce more and more people who do the same.

Here are some troubling product advertisements to deconstruct. Note how they reflect the zeitgeist of the early 1900s and were not designed with irony or humor.

Douche with Lysol or you will be so utterly repulsive down there that your husband will lose all sexual interest in you and your marriage will fall apart and it will all be your smelly disgusting fault!

Cocaine was sold over the counter and commonly found in products like toothache drops, dandruff remedies, and medicinal substances. See how happy your children will play together if you treat them to cocaine candies!

And if your dear ones have a cough, cold, or any other disease of the throat and lungs, do not worry as a good dose of heroin will save the day! From 1898 through to 1910, heroin was marketed as a cough suppressant by trusted companies like Bayer, alongside the company’s other new product, Aspirin.

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup contained 65 mg of morphine per fluid ounce for teething children.

“More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarettes,” so of course you should too!

Dr. Batty’s Asthma Cigarettes claimed to provide temporary relief of everything from asthma to colds, canker sores and bad breath, although not recommended for children under six.