Brains, feigns and technophiles - part II
Sirens call muffled at Elphinstone

by Michael Maser

"My child is not for sale"

This comment by a teacher-parent reflected a common sentiment among parents gathered last Monday night (March 8) at Elphinstone Secondary School (Gibsons, B.C.). On the table was an offer to sign up with Youth News Network (YNN), a Toronto-based company that is trying to foist off "free" high-tech equipment on high schools in return for which students are required to dummy up and sit through a 12-minute "newscast" beamed from the Toronto YNN bunker.

Included in the newscast are two minutes of ads especially created for a teenage audience.

Monday, the first order of business was a viewing of a slick 30-minute promo video from YNN. The video was rife with endorsements from Meadowvale High school (Etobicoke), the only Canadian school to have cut a deal with YNN last November when they bolted TVs to every classroom ceiling and started renting students brains.

The promo included a YNN newscast that appeared quite palatable at first viewing. It featured young news anchors and roving reporters and it seemed topical, dealing with Quebec politics and an economic issue.

Yet as two discerning parents pointed out, there were subtle messages purposefully engineered here. Referring to the Quebec segment, it was pointed out how Jean Charest had a forceful voice clip, extolling the virtues of federalist politics, while Lucien Bouchard was dubbed over. With respect to a discussion of the Canadian dollar, an Elphinstone parent asserted that the message was biased. "I sense big Brother here", another parent opined.

I contend that the newscast is largely irrelevant to the main event, the ads. You know they're coming because the volume gets pumped up, in case you'd nodded off through the news. On-screen, the ads are characterized by fast-action, fast cuts, all designed to entrain the viewer. Not so different than regular TV fare, but far more potent when this is required viewing.

There was an ad for Sugar Pops, a violent wrestling scenario pumping Nintendo, an act of gluttony selling Dentyne gum, and lastly a Health Canada ad encouraged kids to butt out.

Confusing? Good for business? Educative? You be the judge.

At nights end, a motion to reject the offer was voted upon. 29 booted it, 4 wanted it. Summing it up, one parent said, "I thought the project of school was to question popular culture, to encourage our children to go against the grain." Another thinks the discussion needs to be broadened to include the commercialization of community schools, including the pop machines (spiked with extra caffeine and sugar) and a number of business signs that have been recently posted in the Elphinstone gym.

Interestingly, the only student present said she favoured the YNN newscast, that she didn't think watching it over the duration of a year (adding up to several weeks worth of class time) would be detrimental. And she liked the ads.