I’ve always been passionate about the idea that English is NOW. It’s in the articles we read, the ads we watch, the stories we tell.
But without critical thought, these things can wash over us like a sea of velvet and nails, at turns soothing and upsetting. One moment they’re there, but then, in an instant, they’re gone, as we move on to the next soundbite pop culture moment that appears in our feed.
Take, for example, the recent Sainsbury’s Christmas ad.
The sheer beauty of the story seduces and the message it communicates about the human desire to make love not war creates a warm fuzzy glow. As we witness the bravery and triumph of ordinary men who lay aside hatred and politics and difference to celebrate their shared humanity we are swept up on a poignant feel good wave of love for our fellow man.
And then the Sainsbury’s logo pops up and we’re like WTF?
For me, the combination – or clash – of history, film-making and advertising left me simultaneously seduced and unsettled but, like most of us, I watched and then kind of just moved on with my day.
That was until this morning when I read this thought provoking critique of the ad in The Guardian:
It made me long to be back in the classroom.
Not to promote a Guardian view of the universe – I wouldn’t for a second simplify all of this down to the message ‘the ad is bad; the article is good’. But rather to provoke the kind of discussions that are not planned or pre-determined; that do not come with a pre-prepared worksheet but that emerge from rich texts speaking to each other in a way that fires the brain off on all cylinders.
By sheer co-incidence, as I wandered into our bedroom this morning, having just read the guardian article, I overheard my husband listening to this harrowing story of a soldier in Iraq whose entire squadron were killed when their vehicle exploded.
It really hit home for me why the Sainsbury’s ad made me uncomfortable. It’s not only that the ad sanitises the brutal reality of war; it’s also my awareness that war is NOW, not just a fact of history that we remember. Perhaps in our determination to remember those who sacrificed their lives in the past we forget those who sacrifice their lives in the present. We forgot too, perhaps, that the never-ending cycle of conflict and war is proof of how little we have learnt from the mistakes of the past.
My brain didn’t stop there. It jumped to a tome by Robert Fisk that sits on our bookshelf “The Great War for Civilisation” and the cultural and geographical bias we’re barely aware of most of the time which offers us one view of conflicts; one side of every war.
It is in these rich texts talking to each other that we find opportunities for depth that do not exist when we only skim the surface.
From the ad, to the article, to the viral video and back to the bookshelf!
What a rich rabbit hole to fall down.
But now that I am Alice Through the Looking Glass, I can only gaze back in envy as I imagine in my minds eye the wonderful teaching moments these texts are generating in classrooms everywhere…