Media Literacy Online Project - Serving Educators Around The World
Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Wearing The Ads

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

Those of us who are "over the hill" can remember a time when thepurpose of clothes was to clothe, not to communicate a media message. Tee shirts were universally white, and any writing was on the tag INSIDE the shirt. That was certainly a long time ago, it seems.

Media in its broadest terms means anything which communicates a message, and these days a lot of clothing qualifies as a form of media.

The message can be as simple as the name of the manufacturer, like those patches on the belt loops of jeans or a design embroidered into the rear pocket. Or the message can be as clear and large as words and pictures on a shirt.

Sometimes the media message is non-commercial -- shirts which not so much advertise as make a statement. Although these were more popular in the 60's, they're still around. "Peace." "I've fallen and I can't get up!" "Have a nice day." "Ignore alien orders." (one of my personal favorites). Sometimes the messages are suggestive or sexual. "Coed Naked Volleyball Team." Others we can't print here in a weekly newspaper.

But increasingly, the messages we voluntarily put on our bodies and parade around in all day are commercial messages -- advertising one thing or another. We have become walking billboards advertising this or that, from Cape Cod to the Boston Red Sox to rock groups to actual products. The Red Sox, for example, are a for-profit corporation. They have a corporate logo. Mickey Mouse is a character licensed by Walt Disney Studios. Garfield, the Bruins, AC/DC, Barney, Benetton -- these are all commercial messages, all copyrighted or licensed images, all a form of advertising.

A recent informal unscientific sample (which means I looked around)of the clothing high school students wear revealed that about half of the kids are parading around with some type of media message on their bodies. Hats, of course, usually contain a logo or symbol. Tee shirts or sweatshirts advertise everything from colleges (college shirts are very big at Billerica High School) to rock groups (Metallica, Ozzy, Def Leppard). There are some with the name of the clothing company: Benetton, Vaurnet,Guess. There are some licensed characters: Mickey Mouse, the Tasmanian Devil, Tweety Bird -- even the Three Stooges.

With the cost of making these things so reasonable, you'll also see many local names. The Billerica Fire Department has their logo on a sweatshirt; BATV has green golf shirts with their name and symbol. The Billerica School Department Ad Lab printed up a couple hundred tee shirts with a no smoking message and gave them away at last weekend's Health Fair. There's our town's Yankee Doodle Weekend and Town of Billerica shirts, hats, and jackets.

You can do your own survey of the way we clothe ourselves with corporate or commercial images. It would be an interesting exercise.

The point is not that this is bad or evil; just that it's an interesting phenomenon, wearing commercials around on our bodies. What'seven more interesting is that so often we pay for them. I think that that corporations ought to pay US for wearing their stuff around all day (or atleast give the stuff away for free), but that's just my opinion.

Just another slice of life in a media-saturated society.

Hey! That would be a great saying to put on the back of the MEDIAWATCH sweatshirts we're having made! $12.95.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.