Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Urban Myths

On Sunday, I emailed the students the details for a short 24-hour design charrette assignment. I challenged them to come up with an engaging story using only 3 images and no words. The first image was to be an object, the second image was to be an action, and the third image was to be the effect/result, arranged in some way on an A3 sheet of paper. They could take their own images or find them on the Internet.

The results varied in complexity, readability, jumps in logic/comprehension, and one or two presented cultural discussion opportunities (one included a rotting brain, a protester holding a sign of Bush & Hitler and the words 'Kill People', and then a dead Arab child in his mother's arms).

However the one that struck me the most was an image of Starbucks, then people holding a Starbucks coffee cup, and then a bloodied, wounded crying child with a bandage around his head. I was thoroughly perplexed and asked another student to explain this image story to the class. Without hesitation, she explained that the image was an injured Palestinian child, pointing out a faded image of a Palestinian flag imposed on the corner of the image. The class explained to me that the Starbucks CEO is Jewish and Zionist, and a portion of Starbucks profits go to support the war against Palestine. (The British-based Marks & Spencers' support of Israel also came up.) So- did everyone see that story in this series of images? Of a class of 18, only 3 people (myself included) did not see that story in the images. Some students reported that they do not purchase Starbucks coffee (of which there is a location in our building) because of this story. 'Why do other Arab students purchase the coffee then?' Perhaps it doesn't bother them as much was the answer.

Instead of focusing on the legitimacy of the story (because I had never heard this before and could not comment on its validity), I focused on the jumps of logic the image story required of the viewer and what the images actually conveyed. Later, I mentioned this incident to Darbi who works in Carnegie Mellon Student Affairs. She sighed and said that story was the result of a hoaxed email forwarded by another student last semester. The email was a hoax but many students saw it out of context and had strong responses to it.

This morning I did a bit of my own research on the topic and sent the following email to my students:

"Because it intrigued me- I did an Internet search on the issue of Israel and Starbucks and found the following links suggesting that the story appears to be an urban legend of sorts:

Also- interesting enough- Starbucks does not have coffeehouses in Israel any more...

So the particular picture story using Starbucks and an injured Palestinian child could reflect a spoof of a story, rather than a story itself."

I'll be curious to see how this image story gets revised for tomorrow's class.

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