Ted's teaching tips

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
Here is an interesting question for children: would you love to be famous? There is often an uneasy relationship between people who seek publicity and those who can give or deny it to them, and this tense photograph reveals both sides of the story.

Mass media What are the "mass media" (forms of communication with large numbers of the public, like television, film, radio, newspapers, magazines, and nowadays the internet)? Which are the most powerful (television uses moving images, so people on it regularly become well known, but radio and newspapers can be influential on politicians, and they are the decision and law makers)? Which of the mass media are the strongest influences on you, and why? Look at the photograph: who do you think are under most stress: the photographers, trying to make a living, or the film stars?


What do some people do to create a favourable image (pose for pictures showing themselves in a good light, being humorous, charitable, strong, virtuous, "clean")? What is a "photo opportunity" (an event staged especially for the cameras, such as candidates kissing babies at election time)? Who makes use of them (politicians, advertisers, television, pop and sports stars)? Can you spot any recent examples? How could someone create a negative image of a person or thing ("knocking copy" in advertising - "unlike Brand X"; stressing the bad features - taking an unposed photo where the person is blinking and looks drunk, or a politician asleep at a conference - showing the dustbins round the back rather than the nice garden at the fron)?


Should there be a law guaranteeing complete privacy (for example, stopping photographers taking your picture if you don't agree; banning "scandal" stories about the private lives of public figures), or should there be a voluntary code of practice? What is the case for and against (privacy a human right; but mass media have a role in exposing scandal)? Should there have been so much publicity about Princess Diana, and should royal children, such as Prince William, be protected from photographers and reporters?


Write two accounts of a scene like this. First, imagine you are a famous person and have to pose in front of all these photographers. Describe what you do and what goes on in your mind. Then tell the story of one of the photographers trying to get a picture so that he can earn a living. Where do your sympathies lie?


People are curious about the famous, but should they be left in peace?


Just because you are well known does not give the press the right to pursue you. Life is hell for those in the public eye. We are all to blame, because stories and pictures that invade privacy sell newspapers and push up viewing figures.


Many famous people are hypocrites, happy to court publicity or notoriety, but then whingeing at those people they have used on the way up. Loss of privacy is the price you pay for the perks of fame. Thousands of unknown actors and others would love to be hassled by photographers.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University

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