With Election Day just around the corner, about 100 middle and high school students came to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria on Friday night to learn about political ads and kick off the museum’s new after- school program, Ad Lab.
The students, many of whom came from Long Island City and Jamaica, were part of the YMCA of Greater New York’s program Teens Take the City. In this program kids learn to look at local policies and think about what they want to see change, said the director of the YMCA’s citywide teen programs, Dana Mantella.
“They learn how to use their voices,” Mantella said.
In the hands-on portion of Friday’s event, the budding politicians could make advertisements for their own campaigns. The group elects mayors and borough presidents of Teens Take the City.
But before they started on their own campaigns, they first got a quick tour through the museum.
A guide demonstrated for a group of students how a sound engineer for the blockbuster hit “Titanic” used a backwards lion’s roar to imitate a surging ocean. She then asked, “how do different sounds and images manipulate you into feeling different things?”
Without seeing the image, the teens said the roar made them feel nervous and a little scared. Then the participants were asked how this would apply to political advertisements.
“With ominous music you might think that candidate is really bad,” the tour guide said.
After the tour, the museum’s deputy director of education, Christopher Wisniewski, went over aspects of different political campaigns including former President Bill Clinton’s endorsement of President Obama. The teens spoke about the music and the camera angles and how that made them want to trust the speaker. Many said they had never thought about ads in that way.
“I really liked it,” ninth-grader Moesha Clark of Bedford Academy High School said. “We usually talk about the ads we watch, but we don’t understand it like when he’s explaining it.”
“By critically viewing historic ads and creating commercials about issues that are important to them, the teens participating in Ad Lab will become more informed viewers of political ads and more capable of expressing themselves through media,” Wisniewski said. “Because so much of our political culture plays out on television and online, the skills these teens will develop are essential to 21st century citizenship.”
Next, participating teens and educators used the museum’s website The Living Room Candidate, an online archive of more than 500 presidential campaign commercials from every election year since 1952, as the main resource and tool to view, discuss, and remix historic ads. The themes they saw in those ads were used in the teens’ own creations later on.
In subsequent Ad Lab workshops, students will write, shoot, and edit their own 30-second ads related to issues they are learning about in YMCA programs. A group of 15 participants will also serve on a committee to advise on new interactive learning activities to be added to The Living Room Candidate.