Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grammar in Advertising: Hanes Gets Their Gaffe

You can get away with saying just about anything if you say it with a smile.  Even bad grammar.

Hanes' recent advertising campaign for their "lay flat collar tee shirt" is so hilarious that I may have to forgive them for not calling it the "lie-flat collar."  I would call Hanes' attention to not only the verb tense but also the adjectival hyphen, except for the fact that they already know about their gaffe. In one of more than a dozen short commercial spots the grammar problem is brought up by a "bacon neck," and dismissed. So Hanes knows the grammar rules. As I tell my students, once you know the rules, you can break 'em if you can score.

And as a former ad exec, I understand lay-flat's appeal. Still, in the smaller copy text they could use the verb lie when referring to what the "lay flat collar" does. I'm afraid of their success, not of selling shirts (they've sold me) but of selling Americans on the use of lay as an intransitive verb in the present tense.

I'm on a loser I know.  I still blame Apple every time someone says "think different" or "any verb different." Recently the poster for the film Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with its comma-spliced tag line "It's not a diary, it's a movie" had me chaffing. Guess I need the comfort of Hanes.

Even as Hanes breaks the rules it scores big on the laugh meter with these spots.  Hanes has a comedy of manners in an airplane coach, starring basketball legend Michael Jordan, who plays himself and comedic actor Michael Torpey, who plays Rick, a carpet salesman that has read Me 2.0 a few too many times. (Believe me, reading it once is too many times, but I digress.)  When Rick finds himself seated next MJ and that they both are wearing Hanes, he figures it kismet.  The laughs come from both fellas playing their lines straight as Rick sidles up to Jordan in efforts to ingratiate himself to the basketball great. It's obvious this 15-hour flight just got longer for MJ. It's a sort of humor akin to The Office caused by awkward moments where strangers are forced to deal with each other.

Here's the "Grammar" spot.

You can catch all of Hanes Flight #23 series videos at Hanes "Comfort Air" site.  After a brief (no pun intended) introduction by a attendant that seems to be channeling a certain former Alaskan governor, you'll want to select "In-Flight Movies."

The "reality" of series is backed up by layers of simulacra. In the spots Rick mentions his blog, That's So Rick, which is actually up and running here. Read the blog  which boast Rick's adventures and insights as a carpet salesman, and the parody continues. On one post you'll find a link to sales of a items that the fictional character is hawking on, such as a coffee mug with a mobile phone photo of MJ and Rick and tee-shirts with Rick's sales tips.

But what about Rick's carpet samples? Or is that all a lay? Smile.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Let Common Sense Be Your Guide . . .to the Movies and More

The folks at Common Sense Media recently released their 2010 Summer Movie Guide to help parents judge what's appropriate for their kids at the cinema. The guide is handily divided into the three summer months--June, July, August--and release dates are given along with a brief synopsis. 

The best feature of the Summer Movie Guide is the easy to follow content guides, provided with the simple icons shown here.  Bear in mind all must be taken with a grain of salt.  You'll note they point out  Toy Story 3 "might contain consumerism."  What's more American than Disney! Yes, maybe consumerism, but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference here in the U.S.  Despite this warning, Common Sense Media calls Toy Story 3 a "perfect pick" for all ages.

Movies aren't the only things Common Sense Media monitors.  See ratings for games, mobile apps, websites, television, books, and music. So if your are a parent or a teacher considering any of these media, is a great starting point.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Magic of Saving PowerPoints as JPEGs for Collage

One of the greatest challenges with the incorporation of digital technology into the 21st century classroom is how much time it can take to do so. The exploratory, experimental, and collaborative nature or simply the learning curve students need to climb to use tech in an English language arts classroom can be a real threat to delivery and mastery of content. That's why I'm always looking for ways that tech can either save time, deepen learning, or at least come out even with traditional ways of teaching and learning.

One of my best successes in this regard is using PowerPoint for collage.  Especially the 2007 (2008 for Mac) version, PowerPoint can be "a poor man's PhotoShop." The application's editing ribbon boasts oodles of options to reformat text, shapes, and images.  With transparency, reflection, rotation, size, and color you can combine images in ways to create meaningful and poignant ways.  It takes students a class period to play once they find their images, which brings me to the time-saving aspect of PowerPoint for collage.

For such project I ask the students for one slide to be saved not as a PowerPoint, but as a JPEG. (Yes, you can do that!--just click the format option when you Save As, and the application will let you make every slide a separate image.)  To garner copyright-friendly images, they visit Creative Commons Search or Compfight and mark "non-commercial use."  Since both sites offer search engines, they find what they are looking for with method rather than madness.  Instead of searching blindly through magazines for an image that might do, they consider how what they are looking for might be tagged. My 12th graders found the one, two, or three images they needed in the first class period.  A few students did some further searching as homework to find just what they needed.

The particular project for which I used PowerPoint collage last month asked students to identify an instance of magical realism in Laura Esquivel's novel Like Water for Chocolate.  The fantastical, archetypal, and mythical aspects of magical realism called for images that were more likely "created" by collage and combination of images, rather than a singular one simply "found." Students were assigned to quote the line, and represent the instance with image (collage encouraged but not required), and of course, credit the source(s) of images.  Students spent three class periods in total on the project before submitting their JPEGs to me via our class wiki. (A color printer would work for a classroom display, or you could collect them on a flashdrive, but that might take another period.)

Once I had each JPEG file, I spent an evening casting them into one single PowerPoint and then posting to Slideshare. The next day students could view their individual work amid that of their peers to see the combined effect of the many instances of magical realism in the novel. You can see the results here.

Glad that the project showed students a new way to use a familiar technology, I accomplished both some digital as well as traditional literacy lessons in a timely manner. That's real magic!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sleep Starved

When I was an elementary school student, my bedtime was 7:30 p.m., into my PJs and after a bedtime story, and off to the land of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. (Sunday was an exception, when I would have a bath and be ready for bed in time to stay up for The Wonderful World of Disney. But as soon as Tinkerbell blinked into the credits, off I would go.) Over time, my bedtime became later and later. By high school, though I was usually hitting the hay by 10 or 10:30 p.m. Staying up later than 11 p.m. on a school night, maybe to finish up a school project, was a rare occasion.

Nowadays that's when some of my students are just getting off work. They left school at 2:30 p.m. and punched the time clock until this late hour. How much homework can they get done, returning home at eleven o'clock? Worse yet, they drag themselves through the next day, and the next, till they take a day off school to catch up. More interested in making a buck to support fashion, cars, and college funds, school becomes a drag, an interruptive burden in their busy lives. Afterall, when do they have time to catch up on Facebook and Twitter?

A few parents have bemoaned to me that social networking sites are the ruination of their kids' study habits. Students tell me they are up till 2 or 3 a.m. on these sites.

On June 7, 2010, NPR reported on some of the latest sleep research that (again) suggests that we all, but especially children, preschool to college, need more sleep. These reports say that ten hours a night would be beneficial to cognitive development. It likely would make us smarter as well as healthier. I wish I could get that much during the school year myself.

Last night, after my last day of school for the term, I eked out a luxurious eight. I have to admit, I like the recommended ten. Still, most school nights I am lucky to get five or six, but I do try to sneak in a one-to-two-hour nap in the late afternoon, before a few more hours of grading and prep for the next day. I clock at least thirty hours per week of school work in addition to the regular duty, so weekend sleep is key to an exhausting routine for ten months out of the year.

I'm glad that my parents set a strict bedtime when I was young. Getting me off to bed at 7:30 p.m. no doubt gave them some much needed time for their lives as well as providing my brain and body needed rest. As I grew older my parents stressed my trying to get my homework done before dinner. This gave me time to relax, watch television, or play in the neighborhood before a reasonable 9 or 10 o'clock bedtime. Or, on busy homework nights, time to finish up before the parental curfew.

Ah, those halcyon days.  As I teach seniors Macbeth, Shakespeare describes slumber so well:

     Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
     The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
     Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
     Chief nourisher in life's feast--

"Life feast"--of which most of my students are showing signs of starvation.
Image credit: "Asleep at the Wheel." By Aaron Jacobs. 17 Nov. 2005. Flickr.
Used by permission via Creative Commons: BY-SA.