[Media Smarts Lesson Plan] Finding the Truth in Deep Fake Video (Gr. 9-12)

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Teachers’ Note:

As global citizens entrenched in a digital and thus interconnected world, we are now officially in uncharted territory. Just as mobile video shared through social media applications promised to disrupt oppression with the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the onset of video deep fakes has the potential to threaten democracy and re-shape history. 

Although photo manipulation is known to be a common practice within mass communications culture, whether it be Vogue or Instagram, video altering was more nuanced and difficult. This is no longer the case. Now, without a Hollywood blockbuster budget, amateur mobile technology has now arisen that is alarming in its Deep Fake effectiveness.  

Whereas “Fake News” littered on Facebook and grass-roots websites impacted the 2016 United States election, imagine the potential of Deep Fake videos shaping the Canadian election. Nothing is impossible. As shared in the article titled “How Deep Fakes could impact the 2019 Canadian election” Nicole Bogart asserts that Deep Fake videos “tests the fundamental belief of “seeing is believing.” 

As such, we educators must teach their students to really see. Start with this. 

Lesson Plan:

Minds On:

Teachers Note:  The goal is to decipher students critical awareness of Fake News. As a form of “Assessment for Learning” this opening task will provide you with formational observation. What do students know? 

Using chart paper and in groups suitable for your classroom size and learners, have students address the following question:

  • Brainstorm the good and bad of social media. How do you think social media is positive? How do you think social media is negative?

Importantly, walk the classroom and engage in small group conversation with students. Support this structuring and sharing of critical reflections and ideas. 

Once the group brainstorming is completed, allow for whole-group sharing. 

From all of the ideas shared, present or build upon the idea of Fake News. 

Action:

Teachers Note: The goal is to build upon students’ critical awareness of social media. As a form of “Assessment as Learning,” the goal is for students to define Fake News. 

With access to the Internet and an internet connected device, have students in small groups define Fake News.

  • Where did this term come from? Why has it become disruptive?

Once Fake News is defined, have students research Video Deep Fakes. In researching Video Deep Fakes, have students address the following:

  • Why are video Deep Fakes a concern in today’s digital society?

As a whole group, have students share ideas with the class. Below is a video Deep Fake that went viral a few months ago. 

 

Consolidation:

Teachers Note: The goal is to have students show their critical understanding of Deep Fake videos within a cultural context. This activity will provide an “Assessment of Learning” opportunity. 

Individually or in groups suitable for your classroom size,  have students read the following article “Social Media Users Entranced, Concerned by Chinese Face-Swapping Deep Fake App” published by Time Magazine. 

After reading,  have the student or students create an infographic that summarizes the article, defines Deep Fake videos and presents critical concerns. 

Students can use such graphic design programs such as Canva, Adobe Photoshop or go non-tech and illustrate the infographic. 

Here is a working rubric that can be revised for classroom use or you may like to co-construct the rubric with your students.

Screen Shot 2019-10-06 at 3.52.17 PM

For more, read my article titled, Media Literacy in the Deep Fake Era, published in OECTA’s Catholic Teacher Magazine.

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

David Morrell on Rambo and the need for Hope

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Now in my 15th year of teaching, I can look back on many fond memories of truly unique teaching and learning experiences in and out of the classroom. However, I’m not sure that yesterday’s experience will be easily matched.

As an 80s kid and movie buff, I grew up on an assortment of action cinema. Stallone and Schwarzenegger were staples of my VHS collection of movies recorded from broadcast television. With a mix tape of 80s action heroics, I would run home to revisit the likes of The Terminator (1984) and Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985) with consistency. They were my homework.

In looking at character of John Rambo, specifically, it’s undeniable that he was a transformative American figure. As a kid growing up in Niagara Falls Canada and inundated with the Hollywood dream factory, the lure of such a national figure was all encompassing. From action figures to lunch boxes and Saturday morning cartoons, Rambo was entrenched with a global psyche as an American hero who will sacrifice his quest for redemption for the greater good. Rambo by all accounts was Reagan’s America.

As a kid watching the character of Rambo on television in the mid 80s, I would never have thought that I would have the opportunity to engage is such a deep critical study of the character as I did yesterday. I’ve taught about genre and Reaganite cinema through First Blood (1982) , Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985) and Rambo 3 (1988) for sometime now, but yesterday was a true education for me and my students.

Connecting with David Morrell via his website and Twitter, my students and I had the humbled privilege to chat with the First Blood author via Skype. What transpired was not merely an examination of his Rambo as an American national figure but importantly ourselves within a larger social and faith-based framework.

Morrell, a Canadian and American dual citizen, who was born and raised in Kitchener- Waterloo area, attended Catholic elementary, secondary and post-secondary schooling before heading off to Penn State to pursue his dream of being an author. This early learning experience shaped his cultural sensibilities as he shared with the students.

From the onset of the Skype conversation, he shaped a compelling narrative about the importance of stories, understanding time and setting and definitive moments of one’s life. All of this was in establishing what First Blood, his first novel, meant to him and the importance of Rambo, as a character shaped by the psychological depression experienced by the United States during the mid 1960s to late 1970s.

Rambo, like all great heroes is on a journey. For Morrell, this journey of self-discovery and redemption was shaped by being a Canadian in the United States a critical time for the country and observing from a distance, the impact war has on the soul of the individual and nation. As he shared “being born and raised in Canada influenced the writing of FIRST BLOOD because I was an outsider, an observer. If I’d been involved—eligible for the draft for example—I might have had a different perspective. There aren’t any politics in the novel. I think that’s one reason why it hasn’t aged and why it’s never been out of print in 47 years.”

Within the context of the novel, Morrell shaped a rich study of genre for my students. As I’ve shared in my Communications Technology classes and within media literacy PD circles, its critical for student producers to have a sound understanding of genre. This allows for media literacy to become an enabler of culturally responsive teaching and learning. This is to say that through genre, personal stories can be shaped and resonant with an audience.

Within the audio excerpt below, Morrell provides a rich framework for the novel First Blood and one that reinforces that popular culture is a mirror onto ourselves – a great social experiment to determine what we value at any particular time. In regards to First Blood and Rambo, the idea of war and consequence seems to be themes that unfortunately pass the test of time.

 

With all of this, Morrell provides all of us with a provocation to produce popular culture in the spirit of doing good. As he shared in response to the new film, Rambo: Last Blood, which has created controversy for its level of violence, “at this time in the world, do we want to promote rage or hope?”

For us in a Catholic school setting, the answer is always “hope.”

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[Trailer Review] Rambo Returns in the Trump Era

Rambo

There’s something to be said about the durability of Sylvester Stallone’s action brand. Since the release of his career defining Rocky in 1976, Stallone’s creative body of film work has been continuously prolific. Regardless of critical acclaim, respective projects may have received, his catalogue is shaped like a cultural time capsule. From the transformation of Rocky from New Hollywood 70s drama to action serial in the 1980s to the characterization of John Rambo as a broken and isolated Vietnam veteran to unsung American hero of Reagan’s America, Stallone reminds us that genre studies is a cultural discourse and as such it evolves with time.

It’s with this, that the soon-to-be released actioner Rambo: Last Blood harkens back to the time of old school 80’s action epics that places anti-heroes into arenas of carnage all while reminding audiences of the power of the American male. In fact, it’s the Stallone starring First Blood (1982) directed by Ted Kotcheff that ushered in the era of 80s action set pieces. Like Star Wars (1977) and the birth of the space opera, First Blood was an onscreen spectacle not seen before with guns, grand stunts and explosions galore. Although Hollywood had a history of producing action adventure serials, the gun trotting and explosive antics of a Vietnam veteran pushed too far and suffering from PTSD, was new and riveting cinema. Furthermore, the material was brave in that it placed the violence of the war directly into the “heart” of America with the pulse and complexity of the Vietnam War living throughout the narrative.

From there, as early American thinking evolved from a distaste of Vietnam (and the memory of its failure) to a pro- American military philosophy and foreign policy about re-victory during the height of the Reagan era, the tale of Rambo evolved from physiologically broken outcast to hard-bodied American hero who saves POWs from Vietnam (Rambo: First Blood Part 2, 1985) and halting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (Rambo 3, 1988).  Its with the original trilogy that a summary of 1980s American political thinking can be traced. With the release of Rambo in 2008, filmgoers where treated to a hyper-violent franchise entry that continued with Rambo: First Blood Part 2‘s saviour narrative. Now, living in Thailand, Rambo enters the communist country of Burma to save a group of Christian missionaries. Like in the past, Rambo with his military know-how must become a reluctant saviour.

Now, with the forthcoming release of Rambo: Last Stand, the story of John Rambo embraces the action genre’s cultural sensibilities as a Trump-Era exploration of domestic policy. Now back home on his Texas ranch, Rambo goes to war against a Mexican Drug-Cartel (Trump’s unilateral threat) who has kidnapped the grandchild on his family friend and caretaker (aligned with Trump’s assertion that Mexico is dangerous and thus a wall is needed).

Recognizing that genre artifacts rise from a shared political consciousness, the film seems to align itself with conservative thinking and the notion that Mexico (stereotypically defined by its crime) is a domestic threat. Needless to say, Rambo as he has done before, will fight to protect the American way.

It’s through a cultural exploration of the Rambo films that we’re reminded that genre provides for an exploration of the individual and the collective. It’s interesting to see how audiences respond to this Taken-like entry into the Rambo series.

As I look forward to taking my students to see the film, I’m confident that this Rambo entry for the Trump Era will provide for some very rich conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[Trailer Review] Top Gun: Maverick & the 80s Renaissance

Maverick

As Tom Cruise revealed the dynamic trailer for Top Gun: Maverick, yesterday at San Diego Comic Con, the Twitter-verse is a buzz with applause and wonder. For Generation Xers like me, all things Top Gun are a welcome return. For younger folks, it seems that the Top Gun property is a bit of an enigma as they question and ponder all of the excitement.

It’s important for these youngsters to understand that within the zeitgeist of pop culture there wasn’t quite anything like the 1980s. As I’ve written before and most recently about the 30th anniversary of Tim Burton’s Batman, the 80s was full of defining cultural moments that have left a penetrating impact on a generation. Just take a look at Stranger Things for example.

So, as the 80s are new again, Generation Xers like me, experienced nostalgia paralysis as  the official trailer for Top Gun: Maverick trailer hit the web.  Needless to say, the return of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is more than welcomed at at time in an era where the “everyday hero” has been replaced by multiverse characters and team-ups.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion, Only The Brave) and the brainchild of Cruise and mega producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, The Pirates of the Caribbean series), Top Gun: Maverick brings lovers (like me) of the original back to the world of US flying aces. The quintessential 80s movie, Top Gun is by no means a masterful film like other classics of the era including Back to the Future and Ghostbusters, but is equally definitive of a time in film history.

The original’s combination of MTV aesthetic (from it’s soundtrack to visuals and editing tempo) to the coolness of Cruise in his early Hollywood glory, epitomizes the 80s pulse where ego, machismo and vulnerability co-existed. Cruise’s Maverick was a canvas for a combination of wants and desires, coupled by his ability to command the skies above with technology that didn’t seem of this planet. In an era when anything seemed possible, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, was definitive.

Although the trailer for Top Gun: Maverick brings us a mosaic of visual cues acting as a  love letter to the original, the promise of Maverick’s “extinction” is what makes the new film both compelling and topical.

Like all genre films that rise from a particular time and place, Top Gun: Maverick,  places Tom Cruise’s Pete Mitchell in a new era of aviation where Cold War dog fighting is a thing of the past and drone warfare is the new reality. As the trailer highlights director Joseph Kosinski’s eye for incredible visuals (Oblivion‘s visual landscape a mouth dropping amazing) it will be interesting to see how an old school pilot from the 80s era plays in the skies of the digital age.

Only time will tell. Regardless, Summer 2020 can’t come soon enough.

I just have to write this: “I feel the need… the need for speed.”

 

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“Where does he get those wonderful toys?” Tim Burton’s Batman turns 30 today!

1989

It seems like yesterday that I was sitting in front of my parents 4:3 Sony tube television, salivating over the image of 5’ Batman toys from the yet to be June release of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). It wouldn’t be until Santa visited at Christmas that I would be able to create stories with my very own Batman, Joker, Batmobile and Batcave. The feverish excitement for the Dark Knight’s premiere was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Born in 1980, Batman was my Star Wars (1977). From Topps trading cards to cereal boxes, socks and more, Batman was everywhere and was the pinnacle of the summer movie season of 1989. Hell, even in IT (2017), Batman is playing in the town’s downtown theatre (along with Lethal Weapon 2 ). I often say that I wish I had my autonomous purchasing power of today in the 80s. Simply, the 80s were definitive.

The movies of the 80s are entrenched in my long term memory. Perhaps, more so than any other decade I’ve experienced directly, the 80s seems to be unmeasurable. Yes, in the 90s we had cinematic game-changers such Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) but that is a product of 1984’s The Terminator.  Even Jurassic Park (1993) would not be possible without the advances made in CGI with The Abyss (1989) and all other ILM productions before it. In terms of the 80s, everything seemed so new and in may ways it was.  This was the era in which industry innovators such as ILM grew and flourished and filmmakers like Steven Spielberg left their mark on a shared cultural consciousness. Perhaps, more than any other era, the 80s still feels new today. With a boom of 80s nostalgia, the decade of pop seems to be a shared response to our current time that often feels cynical and divisive. This is not to say that the political space of the 80s was ideal (far from it), but the sense of pop culture was so unique that we seem to be yearning for that experience again. To escape.

Specifically, looking back on movies and the summer of 1989, I was an 8 year old boy who would have been thrilled to visit my city’s three-screen theatre any day of the week. This was a standalone theatre – not a mall. This was well before the multiplex boom and still a time when the average screen size was good enough. Well before Netflix or smartphones, to be a cinephile was to be at the theatre with popcorn in hand. It was to beg, borrow and trade in Coca Cola bottles at the convenience store for .15 cents each to get a movie ticket. I mean, you were invested.

So, as the Twitterverse often reflects on the best movie summers, I’m making my stand for the the summer of 1989. As a kid, it was definitive and as a dad to movie loving kids, it’s a year worth visiting over and over again.

Here are my top 5 films from the Summer of 1989.

  1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

A return to form for Indy after Spielberg’s violent and heartless Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), the Last Crusade  is the 2nd best film of the series after Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Like Raiders, the spirit of adventure and discovery is reimagined with a storyline that provides fans with both a sequel and prequel. As the film begins with a masterful short film of its own with a young Indy (perfectly played by River Phoenix), finding his sense of adventure, Spielberg quickly reminds us of why Indiana become so iconic. From inspired set pieces (the catacombs of Venice still plays so well today) to the stellar father-son banter between Connery and Ford, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a a master class of a sequel done well!

  1. Lethal Weapon 2

A rare sequel that truly improves upon it’s predecessor, Lethal Weapon 2 is a reminder of what action movies could be and were. Well before the promise of shared universes and superhero team ups, director Richard Donner brings to life a smart action film about family, friendship and dominant culture itself. With the South-African apartheid as background plot point, Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) begins to live his experience of race in America.  In this moves his character evolves beyond his “white man” suburban existence and reminds audience that he is a character burdened by difference and inequality. Equally, we learn more about the human side of “lethal weapon” Martin Riggs and are introduced to the comedic antics of Joe Pesci as Leo Getts.

  1. Ghostbusters 2

I still remember the playground banter with school friends when this sequel was released. Like then, I still don’t get the poor audience or critical response. Perhaps, by the time 1989 came around, we were all looking for some  more edge. Regardless, this sequel is quite unique as it places the Ghostbusters (unsung heroes in the first blockbuster move) within the fallout of the first movie. Marginalized by city governance and held responsible for the infrastructure damage of the first film, the Ghostbusters must find their way through tainted celebrity and bureaucracy to save New York City from Satan himself. With inspired set pieces and comedy to spare, I’m happy to watch this movie any day of the week.

  1. Honey I Shrunk the Kids

Simply a classic, Honey I Shrunk the Kids is quintessential 80s cinema and a true highlight of the summer of 1989. With groundbreaking special effects and a sense of awe that is missing from Disney’s recent preoccupation with live-action adaptations, Honey I Shrunk the Kids was old school Disney family fare. Fun and full of heart, this is the perfect summer movie for any day and a reminder of why Rick Moranis was so adored.

  1. Batman

Undoubtedly, the summer movie of 1989 was Batman. Dark, brooding, violent, innovative and ultimately brave, Tim Burton successfully reimagined Batman for an era yearning for a grounded and relevant re-telling. A far cry from the 1960s TV show and the pulp sensibilities of Richard Donner’s Superman (1978), Burton’s Gotham City was a character all of its own, while being inhabited by unforgettable characters led by Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Well before it’s release and after, this film was like nothing seen in the 80s as a whole. It changed the face of comic book adaptations and introduced mainstream audiences to the wonderful talent of Tim Burton.

To get an appreciation of the film’s popularity, watch this news broadcast from 1989, in celebration of the films November VHS release.

So, as Batman turns 30 today, take the time to revisit your favourite 80s classics and the gems from the summer of 89.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Genre: A Doorway to Cultural Studies

GENRE

As a Communications Technology teacher, its of pressing importance to ensure that students are not only tech savvy but culturally literate. This is at the essence of a program that encourages students to be effective communicators who can decode media all while producing artifacts for and with meaning. All of this presents a unique opportunity for students to explore themselves and the world in which they live and at the same time, experience the deep satisfaction of creative output.

As a Communications Technology teacher for nearly 15 years, I would argue that there seems to be less focus on the Communications.  As a product of the program way back when I was in high school, the traditional classroom landscape tends to focus on the technology and less the “critical literacy” aspect of learning. Personally, I’m a firm believer that a students technical know-how in today’s digital accessible age is less impressive or pressing than their ability to be cultural astute. This is not to say that technology is not important. With many students readily exploring with creative ways to exploit technology, its important to recognize the need enriched opportunities to explore context and meaning.

Take for example, an encounter I had a few days ago with a supply teacher. Stopping by my classroom at the sight of Ghost-face from Scream 2 ( I love to teach /screen with the door open),the teacher asked what course I was teaching. When I said Comm-Tech, the teacher stood puzzled (literally in silence) for a moment. I then went on to explain that at the core of my program is a critical understanding of media artifacts through the lens of genre. He asked me why genre was so important in a Comm-Tech course. I went on to explain that genre, whether it be film, television or comic books, is a mirror to ourselves at any cultural time.

Genre is our shared experience. Genre is a cultural time capsule. To listen to the West Coast Rap of the 1980s is to be acutely aware of the black experience in ghettoized communities in California. To watch Hollywood action films of the 1980s is to be sold a strictly pro-American, hyper masculine narrative, in which colonial figures like Arnold Schwarzenegger were supreme. With this, I’m of the mindset that genre studies as cultural studies is a social science that serves the critical needs of students as global citizens. If anything, recent films such as Black Panther and Get Out prove this. 

So, as he remained curious about our exam screenings of Scream, Scream 2 and Scream 3, I was reminded of the perception that Comm-Tech has in many schools. Frankly, it can and should be more than logo design and video production for the sake of production. It needs to be all that and more – logo design as it speaks to semiotics and video production as it speaks to genre and meaning. Such a framework will challenge students to produce with meaning and thus find themselves in their critical and practical studies.

Speaking about all of this, recently on May 29, I hosted the 5th Annual Ignite Digital Media Showcase. A celebration of all student work from Chaminade’s Communications Technology program, the highlight of Ignite is the screening of student short films on the big screen. From an understanding of Andrew Sarris’ Auteur Theory to exploring genre, the films are a testament to both student creative digital skills and deep critical thinking.

The screening can be found below – enjoy!

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