Communication majors ‘culture jam’ for service-learning project

December 05, 2011

The 22 Communication students in professor Deborah Vance’s “Critical Theory and Popular Culture” course went into the Westminster community to teach culture jamming, a practice of talking back to the media.

The service-learning project involved five groups of students going to West Middle School, two groups visiting the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster, and one group leading a workshop at the Carroll County Public Library. Two students in the class also created videos for possible broadcast by Carroll County’s Community Media Center.

Senior Ivon Martinez of Rockville, Md., and junior Fatmata Timbo of Columbia, Md., led seventh graders through an exercise on how to “culture jam.” On the McDaniel students first day in Marian Davis’ seventh-grade class at West Middle School in Westminster, Md., they asked questions, such as “what’s culture?” “how do we share meaning?” and “how do advertisers attach shared meanings to products?”

Students Fatmata Timbo (left) and Ivon Martinez lead seventh graders in culture jam.

Then, they gave a homework assignment for the students to dissect and alter an advertisement found in a magazine that made them feel happy, angry or some other emotion.

The next week, Martinez and Timbo visited the class to see what the students discovered.

One student, Flannery Bendel-Simso, showed an ad for Dove shampoo that proclaimed, “None of these women are hair models. After all, neither are you.”  She changed the ad copy to read, “All of these women are, by definition, hair models. Too bad you’re not.”

Another student, Dawson Okutman, commented on how he viewed the message of an ad about a hair removal laser product:  “If you remove your hair, you can do whatever you want.”

About the experience, Timbo said, “I was definitely surprised that the students were able to interpret the meaning of the ads. They were able to really look past the product and explain what the ads were really trying to sell.”

She added, “Teaching to these students really helped me personally understand the concept of culture... It was also very rewarding to teach something that I’m sure they have never thought about before. I was happy to see how engaged they were in the discussions. It was nice to hear the point of view of a seventh grader. I can say I learned a lot from them!”