Monday, August 06, 2012

Channel One Is Not the Enemy

I remember Channel One as a middle school student. One of the anchors was Anderson Cooper, well before his hair turned prematurely grey. Channel One provided television sets to every classroom, assuming that the school air its daily broadcasts. My school subscribed, manipulating its daily rotating schedule to make sure we students could see it. Each day's broadcast was aired in a brief home room period in the early morning.

With the push of a button, television sets turned on automatically. A particular kind of magic was produced by making the whole school light up. Students often competed with each other to activate the large video recorder which recorded and played the broadcast. It took two minutes for screens to fully warm up, after which a slickly produced program began. Seeking to be hip, in much the same fashion as MTV, the studio where each broadcast originated was referred to as the “Hacienda”. The reporters were usually unknowns. Each was in his or her twenties or early thirties.

Channel One has always been controversial. From the start, many educators and outside groups have questioned its educational value. Yet, especially for schools without sufficient revenue, Channel One has provided technology they otherwise would have lacked. The affluent suburban public school district of my upbringing may have been seeking to save money. Channel One, to my knowledge, hasn’t been broadcast in its schools for fifteen years.
[One such group] Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, asserts that the Channel One television news program has limited educational value, its commercials are nothing more than plugs for the latest movie or movie star, and the Channel One website promotes other websites with inappropriate and even sexual content.

Channel One is a television news program -- along with commercials -- targeted toward teenagers. It is offered to schools, along with the hardware and television equipment to receive it, if they agree to show a daily 12-minute program that includes news, feature stories and two minutes of commercials.
For me, homeroom was a time to either frantically catch up on neglected homework, or to watch the broadcast. Other students ignored it outright, believing that getting caught up on the latest gossip was was more to their liking. I was a serious student and intelligent without apology, never understanding why my peers could be so dismissive. I always managed to get something out of every airing.

Seeking to educate the resistant and rebellious, especially at that age, is a challenge. The intractable attitudes of my classmates may well have been part of their development as somewhere between children and adults.

At the peak of puberty, the fashion was to avoid seeming too studious. Teachers tried to break through the impasse but these attempts rarely succeeded. We were the latest edition of the television generation. It was thought that if anything could reach young teenagers, Channel One could. As is often the case in a variety of areas, the actual broadcast was appreciated by the A students and usually ignored by everyone else. Television alone is no panacea as a teaching aid, especially when not backed up by effective pedagogy.

To speak to the arguments of concerned parents and non-profit groups, on occasion, we were transformed into marketing guinea pigs. To wit, we always got a sneak peak at a handful of the Super Bowl commercials a few days before Sunday evening. Much as is the case today in the rest of my life, the ads that were entertaining I remembered. Commercials that bored me or left no impact whatsoever I almost immediately forgot.

I happen to recall a series of several movie trailers preceding the 1994 release of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. This, if you'll recall, was the film that made Jim Carrey a superstar. Did this advertising barrage contribute to its massive box office success? I'm sure it must have, even a little. At that age, I found the film's silly humor absolutely hysterical. A report prepared by the same Anti-Channel One group states,
"The educational content is minimal. One analysis found that only 20 percent of Channel One's coverage was about recent political, social or cultural events; the other 80 percent was devoted to sports, weather, natural disasters, features and profiles and self-promotion of Channel One."
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood might consider changing its name. No childhood will ever be completely free from marketing and advertising. Our consumer society is at fault. Well-meaning parents often try to shield their kids from television’s poison, even removing sets completely from dens and bedrooms. These efforts have limited effectiveness. Capitalism’s direct effects are everywhere.

People sometimes think that if they can’t make a large splash, they’ll latch onto a smaller, more manageable issue. Regulating what children watch and observe in media is an example. Aggressively attacking the cultural currents and trends driving advertising towards children and adolescents might be a better goal. But impressing upon people the seriousness of a cause can create the same willful dismissiveness as is true for the average thirteen-year-old. When learning is a priority to all, there won’t be any need for Channel One.

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