“The War of the Worlds” Broadcast and How Journalists Can Control Us All

Footage from Spielberg's 2005 "War of the Worlds" film starring Tom Cruise

So I got a head-start on my homework for my Media Effects class today by listening to “The War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, which was a one-hour special conducted by Orson Welles. His name shouldn’t be confused with H.G. Wells, who wrote the original novel in 1898.

On October 30, 1938, Welles adapted The War of the Worlds for “Mercury Theatre on the Air.” He changed the setting from London to New York/New Jersey, in order to create the ultimate Halloween trick on his listeners.

In case you don’t know the plot, it describes an attack from Martians, who arrive from the red planet in metal cylinders and raise their tentacled bodies on gigantic tripods in order to destroy civilizations with their heat-rays and poisonous black gas. What makes the broadcast unique is that other than three reminders that the story was fictional, it seems like it was actually happening. Welles inserted the ‘breaking news’ between musical performances, and because the public had never heard a fictional “We interrupt this program…” they believed the news to be true.

I haven’t read the novel, but after listening to the broadcast, I can see how people were duped. There were detailed descriptions of the Martians and the attacks, interspersed with people screaming and jets roaring. They had interviews with scientific ‘experts’ to offer their opinions, but the characters of course were actors. Even though there was a happy ending (since the Martians were killed off by earth’s bacteria), you spend the majority of the time terrified of the impending apocalypse.

Historians believe that over 6 million people heard the broadcast, and over a million panicked, calling their neighbors and the police. They must not have heard the end of the broadcast, in which Welles says it was just the station’s way of “dressing up in a sheet, jumping out of a bush, and saying “BOO!” Quite a Halloween prank indeed!

As for its media effects, this event has taught us how media can manipulate messages and deceive the public, even when they tell us exactly what they’re doing. Mob mentality is even stronger when our access to information is limited, so it’s hard for us to imagine something like this happening in the world of the internet, TV, cell phones, etc. But there are many examples of people believing someone, just because she’s a doctor or he has a talk show on FOX. And since many people still believe in aliens, Area 51, and UFOs, it’s still possible to fuel the conspiracies.

I guess what I learned is to remain skeptical of all media, and never accept someone’s word at face value. Always do your research, get other opinions, and–most importantly–listen carefully! You never know when you may be getting punk’d by some crafty journalists!

Boys: Reluctant Readers?

Image via CollegePlus.org

Robert Lipsyte of The New York Times wrote an essay on Aug. 19, called “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?”  He discussed how boys have become reluctant readers, significantly lagging behind girls for a multitude of reasons. The YA genre predominantly caters to girls, given the excess of mean girl and vampire bestsellers. Thus, boys might be under the impression that reading is not masculine, at least not compared to sports and video games. Not to mention, when boys do find an interest in reading, it’s either non-fiction or fiction with male protagonists, both of which might be hard to find for younger readers.

I can definitely relate to this essay. My 19-year-old brother hates reading, unless they’re existential novels like Fight Club or The Stranger. However, he much prefers to play guitar, video games, or Pokemon cards. And as a Literature major from UCSC, most of my classmates were women. Even the majority of people with book-related blogs are female, perhaps because the concept of a book club has been solidified as a feminine hobby, whereas men would rather join fantasy football leagues.

I also run into this problem at work. When I teach SAT prep classes, I always stress the importance of reading, and it’s usually the boys who are not so taken with the activity. I find this ironic, because while reading is depicted as feminine, writing has always been masculine. The literary canon is dominated by men, with powerhouses such as Shakespeare, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dickens, and Twain. It has taken centuries for women writers to even be considered worthy of reading, and I often feel that when men write best book lists, they throw in Austen and Wharton just to avoid claims of sexism.

Therefore, I tell my male students that there are so many books out there that they can enjoy. They can relate to Holden Caulfield’s angst in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and the tale of George and Lenny’s friendship in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I give my classes a list of all my favorite masterpieces, but I highlight the authors by gender and ethnicity, so they can easily find a story that interests them. Of course, there are boy protagonists in popular fiction too, and I recommend series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson to my elementary students.

I think it’s such a shame that not enough boys read, because it means that not enough men will read, and there’s nothing sexier than a guy with a good book in his hand. Men and women are all looking for someone with common interests, and the huge reading divide will leave many women disappointed–as I’m sure men are disappointed when women don’t take an interest in their hobbies.

Ultimately, though, society needs to stop classifying hobbies or fields of study exclusively by gender. Just like boys should be encouraged to read, girls should be encouraged to pursue careers in math and science. Boys can play with Barbies, and girls can skateboard and paintball. No one should be put down because they like something traditionally enjoyed by the opposite sex. If we continue to do so, we’re just widening the divide of understanding each other and perpetuating the ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ nonsense.

So do you see this disconnect between male and female readers? Are there any other reasons to explain this phenomenon? And you guys out there, let your voice be heard and stand up as a proud, not reluctant, reader!

Calling all bloggers! I need homework help!

So my first week of school has finished, and my professor loved the idea that my friend/colleague  and I had for our independent study. We want to create a print magazine about social media, but we’re still in the brainstorming stage. We need to narrow down the topic a bit, by having a certain theme for this debut issue.

I’d like to structure it like any other women’s magazine, possibly with an upside-down structure, one side covering the good aspects of social media, and the other side covering the evil. Social media includes social networking sites like Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn, as well as blogging/micro-blogging sites like WordPress, Blogger, and Twitter.

Here’s some possible ideas:

GOOD

  1. Connecting with friends and family
  2. Long distance relationships
  3. 24 hour news access
  4. Networking and job searching
  5. Expanding start-up businesses
  6. Sharing niche interests
EVIL
  1. Social networking narcissism
  2. Cyber-bullying
  3. Stress and depression over upkeeping profile and friends lists
  4. Lack of interpersonal communication
  5. Intruding advertisements
  6. Stalking and addiction

Throw out ideas if you have them, as well as topics you’d like to be covered in a social media magazine, because I’m sure I left a lot out! We’ll also be conducting interviews, so if you’d like to volunteer and get the word out about your blog or business, let me know!

Thanks!

Back to School! My Top 5 Fictional Teachers

I truly believe that teachers are some of the most under-appreciated people on the planet. My mom has taught third-grade for over 25 years, and her life is not all summer vacations and field trips. Teachers are essentially in charge of children’s lives for most of the day. School is more than just learning reading and math; it also includes lessons in imagination, critical thinking, passion, and goodwill. If you’re a decent human being, you should be thanking all your teachers.

Thus, in honor of my last “first day of school” tomorrow, I wanted to celebrate the fictional teachers that mentored me, as well as their own students:

Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus: Who could forget this favorite teacher from childhood? I loved her wacky sense of humor, her pet lizard, and-of course-her crazy costumes that always matched the lesson of the day. I practically watched every episode, but my favorite books included On the Ocean Floor and In the Time of Dinosaurs. They were chock-full of info that all ages could understand. Learning was never so much fun!

Megan Smith from How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls: In this book by Zoey Dean (2007), Megan gets paid big bucks to offer SAT prep to 17-year-old twin heiresses Rose and Sage Baker. But big bucks also means big problems, since the girls are more interested in boys and partying than hitting the books. Megan learns to connect on their level, and in return, Rose and Sage starting giving her more respect–and even advice of their own. The story was adapted into a CW show called “Privileged,” which lasted only one season because it wasn’t very good. Pick up this light-hearted read instead.

Anna Taggert from Schooled: Written by Anisha Lakhani (2008), it’s also about a teacher trying to reach kids of the uber-rich. At first, Anna is thirsty to be accepted by her students, to be seen as cool and fashionable. She gets obsessed with designer clothes with her new income, but when she realizes that nobody’s learning anything, she gets down to business. A great book that makes you realize that teachers aren’t perfect, but it also brings about pertinent questions about education.

The Hogwarts professors from Harry Potter: Some were boring, others were Voldemort’s cronies in disguise, but most were teachers every student deserves. From quirky Trelawney to hard-ass McGonagall to empathetic Lupin, witches and wizards at Hogwarts had the very best. Even Snape, despite making Harry and friends miserable in Potions class, was a kind-hearted person who fought to save the world from evil. However, I think everyone would agree that the “best professor” award goes to Dumbledore, the wisest of them all. Who couldn’t learn from his excellent quotes, such as, “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” You knew that he would be affecting people’s lives long after he left the earth.

Mr. Feeny from “Boy Meets World:” Ok, I cheated! I know this entry doesn’t come from a book, but I couldn’t resist. Who doesn’t love this mustached, sweater-vest-wearing, teacher/next-door-neighbor? I mean, he followed Cory and gang from middle school to high school to college! That’s one super-duper credential!

Any fictional teachers I forgot? Feel free to share your favorites, and happy back-to-school!!!

In Defense of Grad School

Fresno State Bulldogs

GO BULLDOGS!!! (Image via Wikipedia)

Usually around this time of year, media outlets are spouting off their pessimistic rants about university life: the cost of tuition and textbooks, the rising amount of student debt, the lack of actual learning, and the prevalence of young adult depression and suicide. All the buzz-kill stories make many people, and especially students like me, wonder–then why go to college at all???

Journalists, however, agree that pursuing a bachelor’s is worthwhile. I mean, they needed one to get their jobs. But those same journalists are often the ones dissing those who are working toward advanced degrees. You’ll have no trouble finding voices on the net telling you that you’re a “really smart sucker” if you go to grad school, including Slate, Geek O System, even a blog titled “100 Reasons Not to Go to Grad School.”

I have ten days left until I begin my last year of my Master’s program at Fresno State in the Mass Communication and Journalism department. And I’d just like to say that grad school is not the plague, and as long as you do your research and have realistic expectations, it’s not nearly as bad as everyone says it is.

Thus, I wanted to relay some of the most popular arguments against grad school and offer my defense:

  1. Grad school takes a long time. Well, it depends whether you just want a Master’s or want to continue to get a PhD. Not every grad student plans on becoming a professor; some are using advanced degrees to reach a higher salary in their current field, others just need extra education in their industry. Yes, the average age of PhD recipients is 35, but I received my BA from UCSC in 3 years and will have my MA after 2 more years. I’ll be 22 when I’m done–beating out most undergrads! So I’m not wasting valuable time away from the workforce; in fact, I’m one degree ahead of my peers of the same age.
  2. Grad school is hard work. This argument is just stupid. Anything of value requires hard work. But if you start early and pick the right program, it’s manageable. I’m young enough to not have to worry about a house, husband, and kids. I have a part-time job as a tutor, but I don’t overwork myself. I can still go out and have fun. With my 30 unit program, I take 6-9 units a semester, which could include independent studies and undergrad electives–a lot less work than I had getting my bachelor’s.
  3. Grad school is slave labor. I’m not a work-horse to the education system, and although many programs make grad students work as teaching assistants, mine doesn’t. I don’t need teaching experience to graduate, which works out nicely since I’m not getting a PhD afterwards. In fact, only one of my colleagues wants to become a professor; the rest of us want to work as journalists or PR specialists. Even the graduation requirements in my department have become easier. The only two options before were a thesis or project (generally 50 pages of research over the course of two semesters), but now we can opt to take a comprehensive exam instead. It’ll probably be the hardest test I’ve ever taken (besides the GRE to get into grad school!), but it’ll be over in a few hours rather than in several months.
  4. Grad school is expensive. This, of course, depends on which university you attend and whether you apply for financial aid. My family was paying over $18,000 a year after financial aid at UCSC, but Fresno State only costs about $7,500 annually for full-time grad students. I spend a little extra for books and parking permits, but even with the CSU system raising tuition higher and higher every year, it’s still a walk in the park compared to what I was used to. Not to mention, I’m one of those “boomerang students,” who returned home after graduation, so instead of paying almost a grand every month to live with two other roommates, I live rent-free with my parents where I get my old room back. Oh! I forgot the best part! IT’S CALLED THE FAFSA. DO IT. Grad students don’t have to supply their parents’ income on the FAFSA like undergrads do, and since my earnings from my part-time job put me way below the poverty line, my tuition is FREE. Yes, there are grad students who are paying six figures at some Ivy League and who will graduate up to their eyeballs in debt. But I’m proof that it doesn’t have to be that way.
So if you’re scared about possibly going to grad school, don’t be. Just do your homework, and budget accordingly. I’ve had a fabulous time at Fresno State, and I can’t wait to see my professors and classmates again. I don’t regret one second of my educational journey, and I’m hopeful that it will all pay off into a career I love. Don’t let the grouches get you down!

Reasons Why You Need to Read

Read the Rainbow…

Now chances are, if you read my blog, you like to read. So I know I’m probably preaching to the choir, but I just finished teaching a summer SAT prep class today, and the #1 thing I tell my students is to READ. If you don’t read, start, and if you do read, do it more! Nothing makes me sadder than when I ask people, “What’s your favorite book?” and they say, “I don’t know.” Not in a “I don’t know, because there’s so many to choose from!” kind of way, but in a “I don’t know, because the last things I read were the headlines of TMZ and the nutritional facts on my Cheerios box” kind of way.

So if you’re not equally as depressed as I am by the lack of bookworms in our world, here’s some reasons why you should read the good stuff:

  1. You learn new words. Do you know what a coquette is? How about a misanthropist? Has anyone called you bonny, ignoble, lachrymose, or sanguine? If you think I’m just making words up right now, then your vocab could use some work. I learned all these terms while reading Wuthering Heights a few years ago–and yes, before you ask, I kept a running list of all the words I didn’t know and looked them up in the dictionary. The document is still on my computer, ready whenever I need a quick review. Nerdy? Yes, but you’re just jaundiced.
  2. You learn about history. I never remember historical events like I remember the authors who wrote about them. Ancient Greece? Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides. Victorian England? Dickins. 1920s? Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I wouldn’t understand the Renaissance or the World Wars nearly as much if it wasn’t for my connection to the stories representing them.
  3. You learn about true emotion. If you think “The Bachelor” is an accurate representation of true love, then you are a pitiful human being. The literary classics are classic precisely because their themes are just as important now as they were back then. I’m a big crybaby, and no star-crossed lovers can match Catherine and Heathcliff, or Newland and Countess Olenska. No pain is more heart-wrenching than in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. You can’t even say you know what a woman scorned looks like until you read Medea. So if you’re one of those people who gets their drama fix from Jerry Springer, this blog is not for you.

Naturally, there are dozens more reasons out there, but it’s getting late, and I’d rather just let you add to the list! What did I leave out?

Oh, and if you thought I’d give you the definitions of those words, sorry! That would take all the fun out of it! Now get off your butt, grab a book, and READ!!!