On average, kids between the ages of two and seventeen spend nearly four and a half hours a day in front of electronic screens, such as televisions, computers and video games. This is more time than they spend with their parents. Today "media," that is to say methods of communication, reach a massive audience. With television, radio, video games, magazines and newspapers it is possible to be freaked out by all of these media. That is why the first thing that writer Dominic Ali tells illustrator Michael Cho at the start of "Media Madness: An Insider's Guide to Media," is to just ask yourself the Big Six questions: (1) Who created this message and why are they sending it? (2) Who is the target audience and how is the message tailored to them? (3) How does this message get your attention? (4) What values and lifestyles are shown? (5) How might other people read this message differently? (6) What's missing from this message that might be important to know? In other words, "question everything."
The rest of this colorful volume is devoted to the six main types of mass media, explained to young readers by Max McLoon, the book's talking head. The first section on Television begins by showing all of the people involved in making a television show, then admonishes readers not to believe the stereotypes on television, how shows "jolt" viewers through things like theme music and laugh tracks, a field guide to TV genres, the "Fight for Eyeballs," and how to "talk" TV. There is also a nice little test for seeing if you watch too much TV and another than provides the scoop on TV news. The next section is devoted to Making' Music, looks at all the people who are needed to make an album, who gets how much when you buy a CD, how album covers sell music, how radio stations come up with playlists, and how musicians promote their CDs.
Those are the main two sections of the book, which then covers four other examples of mass media. For Magazines we again see who is working behind the scenes, how magazine ads try to sell you the ideal life, the formula of photos plus stories equaling magazine success, and what magazines do to keep you reading each month. The Comic Book section also shows everybody who works on creating comic books, the "comic conundrum" (most superheroes are white males), and how comic book superheroes get licensed for all sorts of products. After showing who works in a Newspaper, we see how newspapers select their news, the key words of "news-speak," and how cropping a photograph can make a difference in a picture's meaning. Finally, we look at Video Games & the Net, starting with everybody who works on making a video game, then moving on to key concerns about video game stereotypes and violence, things to know while web surfing, and the problem of mouse click marketing.
"Media Madness" is not a definitive look at any of these mass media by any means. But Ali and Cho do bring up some critical points about each type. More importantly, they encourage their young readers to consider how they are being manipulated by each of these forms of mass media so that can survive in the world of media madness. Yes, Max McLoon is a bit much to take at times, but then I am not his target audience and the second of the Big Six questions tells me I am supposed to take that into account. Teachers of younger students can find "Media Madness" to be useful as well because touching on what is covered in just one of these mass media establishes some basic principles that apply to all of them, especially if students are introduced to those Big Six questions.