Thursday, November 24, 2005

Making Literacy Real

As it happens that is the title of an excellent book as well as the focus of this post.


My husband received these sweets as a free gift through the post from Sky tv ... don't know why. But the sweets are an interesting textual artifact..

From the wrapper with the brand name, the name of the company and the registered trademark sign, down to the text on the sweets, they are a very multi-layered item, conveyng a whole range of messages in different ways. Often children recognise the pattern and the colours before they decode the actual letters in brand names like this. The colours and images are as important as the letters. I imagine this is why places like McDonald's do not change their branding often. This packet has remained about the same ever since I was a kid and have a certain nostalgic feel to them.


The small print on the back details (in more than one language) the ingredients and the sell-by-date. Most people who read the ingredients will not know what they are; but maybe they will be looking for a single ingredient they, or their kid, cannot eat. (Or perhaps they just like to exclaim in horror at the e numbers ... I have often seen people read the long words aloud and then cry out with angst.)


I have had to learn to take my glasses shopping with me so that I can read labels carefully in order to avoid poisoning my son with nuts - or he will have an anaphyalctic attack. (This could ptentially cause an end to an otherwise happy day.) So the ingredients can be very important to some people.

There is also the barcode, which is only of interest to supermarket assistants who have to scan the packets with a special laser thingy. (Or maybe like me, you have a serve-yourself section in your supermarket. Then you can scan each barcode even as the customer. I LOVE doing this as it is like playing shops and I always liked that game.)
This is a very different type of text which is read by a machine and not a person. But when the laser thingy goes wrong, the assistants have to huff and puff and type in the numbers. This causes a Lo-o-o-o-ng supermarket queue. (This is known as 'literacy as an unsocial practice'.)

In this packet of sweets, as with many products, we have to learn which of the texts to read, what we need when, and how to locate what bits are important to us.

Finally I want to show you this:


In order to understand the significance of this, one needs to know the broader political picture. Otherwise it looks as if someone just wanted to draw a camera. The debate about the intrusiveness of surveillance cameras is carried on many walls like this in Bologna, sometimes with captions, (written in English), deploring the 'Big Brother' style of caretaking. This image seemed particularly pertinent in Bologna, where the amount of stencilled images on this theme, suggested to me that this was a key issue there. Maybe because the cameras are hammered into fourteenth century walls.

I love the way in which street artists make political points through images and find it clever and intriguing. Although, for the record, I am in favour of surveillance cameras and have been grateful at times that they have been there.


Mary Plain said...

It seems very approriate that this camera protest is in Via Malcontenti..
love this post Dr Joolz. I find it fascinating the way the Lovehearts pack has stayed the same even though the actual messages now include things like 'email me'. And how interesting that Sky should see these as a desirable marketing gift!

Kate said...

Making Literacy Real is a wonderful book and this is a wonderufl post.

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Sheffield, South Yorks, United Kingdom
I am an academic interested in New Literacies, Digital Lifestyles, Informal Online Learning.