Marketing Tragedy Course Examines Media Messages

Posted: August 12, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Michelle Nery

When the provost issued a call for seminars and courses on the many issues raised by the events of Sept. 11, Mick Beltz and Tracy McLoone, doctoral candidates in Cultural Studies and part-time faculty in New Century College, found an outlet for an idea they had been discussing for some time. The course, Marketing Tragedy, examines media representations of the events of Sept. 11 using tools from various disciplines, including sociology, critical theory, and communications.

Beltz, with an M.A. in philosophy, has an interest in “survivor narratives and the larger logic of tragedy and how they are portrayed or mediated,” while McLoone, with an M.A. in communication, culture, and technology, has an interest in how people read images, especially in television and advertisements. “It is something that we had wanted to collaborate on for a while, whether as a book or article. We have found the course to be very productive,” says Beltz.

In the course, students examined television shows, films, newscasts, news magazines, advertising campaigns, and public service campaigns to see how media refigured the events of Sept. 11 for different purposes. In addition to observing the proliferation of American flags on products and clothes, they found corporate ads thanking rescue workers for their bravery and mourning the lives of those lost, as well as more patriotic television shows and newspaper articles.

“A TV show like JAG that has been in the 30’s in the Neilson ratings for some time suddenly jumped up in to the teens,” says Beltz. There was also a shift in journalists’ writing and reporting as well. “It would have been inconceivable in early September for Rudy Guiliani to be Times Man of the Year. Reporters were very careful with language and how they framed the issue.”

Most students enrolled in the course are from the School of Management, followed by New Century College, History, and English. “I think the students thought it would be interesting to see marketing from a different angle,” says Beltz. “They have been very involved and are noticing what the advertising messages say about our culture.”

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