Marketers and filmmakers may not be trained psychologists but they definitely use psychological techniques to connect with their target audience, that is their purpose. In a strange way they mirror the pedagogy of a contemporary educator. They engage their audience, as we do our students. They foster a deeper connection with their content to encourage people to question and commit to their desired outcome. We as teachers encourage students to question in order to achieve our learning outcomes more effectively. The main difference is that as educators we engage in these activities for the betterment of the individual (and vicariously society as a whole) where an advertiser does it to maximise the sale of a given product.
Using Psychology in the media is by no means a new phenomena. The ancient Roman military had an advanced propaganda machine. All generals, (in ancient times and today), are aware that it is better to defeat your enemy before the battle is fought. Sun Tzu even wrote about this in the Sixth Century BC in ancient China in his text, ‘The Art Of War. More recently, propaganda films have been produced with the objective of persuading people into following a cause or ideology. They encourage the disobedience of one sector and loyalty to another.
Nazi propaganda films were sleek productions in their day and achieved a number of ‘firsts’ in cinematography. They achieved many goals, one of which was shaping the beliefs of the wider German public to match those of the Nazi movement. Often this was accomplished through subtle techniques. An example of this is the Hitler Youth films. Not only do they incorporate the element of ‘ritual’ into the film they also convey the message of developing a ‘peace loving’ organisation, which history clearly shows was not the case. A contemporary equivalent of this may be the high-tech, ISIS propaganda films that are distributed over the Internet. These aim to show a progressive, well armed, highly sophisticated organisation that can supposedly bring structure and order to disenfranchised youth.
The term ‘documentary’ carries with it far more credibility than the term propaganda. The root word of the term, to ‘document’ produces an understanding that the information displayed is unbiased. It contains evidence to support the assertions that are put forward and the audience is led to believe that the finished product is the unbiased, historical truth. As educators we need to support pedagogical practice that encourages students to question what is seen, because just as propaganda films aim to persuade viewers to form a certain opinion so too do documentary makers create films that either consciously or unconsciously are biased towards the prevailing mindset of society of the time.
The initial documentaries of the Battle of Little Big Horn display General Custer making his last stand against the wild uncivilized Indians. Here Custer is painted as a hero and very little reference is given to Chief Sitting Bull beyond the battle itself or the violations against the Lakota people that culminated in the event itself. In fact, it wasn’t until many generations later that the full story could be told and more factually accurate documentaries made. Here we see that the films are tailored to the prevailing psychology of the day and as educators we should promote ‘critical pedagogy’ in our students as the default setting when being confronted with media claiming to represent ‘the truth’.
Feature films and modern video games are now more accessible than ever. All forms of entertainment media can be streamed live into any of our personal devices. This has intensified the moral and spiritual influence that this form of media can have as the embedded moral or political message is often not immediately apparent and in some cases the target audience is too young to have developed a critical awareness of media messages. As a result; film, television and video games all wield the powerful ability to influence social morality of this and future generations.
This influence on our social morality is intensified by the phenomena of social media. In fact, Social media revolutionised society and created a tsunami of change for students and intensified the need for critical pedagogy now more than ever before. Today’s youth are confronted by stimulus that not only challenges them morally and psychologically but behaviourally too. The #neknominate or the ‘planking’ craze both demonstrate that youth can all too easily be caught up in an emotional rush and make poor behavioural choices that can easily endanger themselves. It is not all doom and gloom, the same stimuli also spawned the ‘ice bucket challenge’ with a charitable gaol as the end result.
The overriding lesson here is that historically media has been used in ways that has had a direct psychological impact on individuals and this has helped shape the collective morality of given societies. Today, not only are these forces still at play but they can appear overwhelming. The best protection that we as educators can offer our students is to equip them with the ability to question what they are exposed too. In short, Critical Pedagogy is now more critical than ever!