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Critical Thinking: Ethics in Writing (SAMPLE LESSON) “Bloody Popcorn Wars” Goals - Identify perspectives and bias. - Avoid emotionally loaded language. - Add supporting evidence. - Evaluate quotes and explain their significance. When DreamWorks’ Shrek first hit the big screen, not everyone was applauding. In fact, in his preview of the film, “Shrek: Happily Ever Ogre: An Anti-Fairy Tale Run Amuck,” Eric Metaxas referred to the movie as the “latest round in the bloody popcorn wars it wages with Disney,” calling the animation “a twisted fairy tale” and “disturbingly inappropriate for children.” But the heart of Metaxas’ complaint lies in his question, “Does Shrek really mean to say that fairy tale virtues don’t exist, or are relative, and meaningless?” i Obviously, the tale of the green ogre and his side-kick donkey struck a nerve. DreamWorks has not been the only target for critics, though. Disney has also faced its share of criticism over religious ideas of pantheism (in Pocahontas) and polytheism (in Hercules), sorcery and black magic, historical inaccuracies in several movies, immodesty, innuendos, stereotyping, racism, and impossible standards of beauty (along with an overly idealized Prince Charming). In addition, the Disney Corporation has been sued many times for unfair treatment of employees and injuries at theme parks. Even VeggieTales, which re-creates many Old Testament stories for children through vegetable characters, was edited of its religious content and references to God by NBC after the network cut a deal in 2006 to air the cartoon on Saturday mornings. NBC’s spokeswoman, Rebecca Marks, claimed that, "Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view.”ii (Apparently, editing such references to God was not viewed as a double-standard for the network to express its values.) In each of these cases, what is the real argument? Is there really an issue with cartoons and animations designed for children, or are critics just hyper-sensitive? In any debate, there will be at least two sides to the issue, although there may be others who either don’t know enough about the topic and still others who remain undecided. One’s perspective or point-of-view can easily give way to bias, though, which is an unfair representation or distortion of the facts. To help us determine bias, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has created a checklist of questions: iii - Is the author subjective (biased) or objective (impartial)? - What, if any, are the author’s affiliations (connections to other groups or organizations)? - Do historical reasons affect the objectivity of the author or his sources? - What other points of view may exist but have not been discussed? - What, if any, emotionally loaded language does the author use? Why? Give specific examples. - Do the author’s ideas and conclusions relate to your own experiences? - Does the author’s conclusion mesh with any previous reading, listening, or viewing which you have done on this topic? As an example of bias, let’s take a second look at Eric Metaxas’ opening preview. While he raises some interesting points, it’s important for us to know the critic’s affiliations. At the time of his preview, Metaxas worked for Big Idea Productions, creator of VeggieTales. Could his affiliation with Big Idea Productions have influenced his preview of Shrek? Some students are still confused about bias, though, so read carefully. In any debate, there will and should be strong arguments made on either side of the issue, and it’s crucial to clearly communicate one’s viewpoint. However, as I wrote in Inspire, in order to make a valid claim or to hold a meaningful argument after the introduction, you must provide true, reliable supporting evidence. Persuasive writing is much different than an essay of opinion. While an opinion lacks documented evidence, ideas are still expressed. In contrast, a persuasive essay supports ideas with direct evidence from reliable sources. Think of it like a bridge. You’ve read about the subject and gathered tons of supporting evidence, but your readers are separated from your perspective by a wide river. You can’t just cite a bunch of sources or give a summary or book report on what you’ve read. That would be more like an expository essay, interesting and informative, but not persuasive. Instead, your challenge is to create a bridge by evaluating those ideas and to either propose a new way of looking at the subject or to develop an existing topic further. You’ll use direct evidence to add credibility and boost your points. Let me say it another way: Supporting evidence strengthens one’s own ideas. Although the facts educate you first (that’s the whole idea of research), you have the advantage of reading a variety of sources to see the bigger picture and come to a new conclusion. While a persuasive essay needs references to outside sources, points that are fresh, original, and creative catch the reader’s attention.iv If you were to read Metaxas’ preview in full, it would be apparent that the essay is loaded with direct evidence and examples from Shrek. Yes, Metaxas did interpret the movie through his perspective because that is his job, but he could also support his position with evidence. Bias becomes a problem when the writer’s tone appears condescending, sarcastic, or rude to the opposition. In contrast, a strong persuasive writer avoids emotionally loaded language and shows respect to any challenger. (Note that emotionally loaded language uses words which are designed to trigger some kind of emotional response. Consider the following words for example: sweatshop, draft-dodger, sale, cult, socialist, and elitist.) If a persuasive writer cannot defend his or her position without being rude, chances are that the writer lacks enough supporting evidence or tact in communicating the argument. For your assignment this week, write an essay on one of the following topics: - How do cartoons impact children? Are cartoons and other animated movies just simple stories, or do they carry deeper, long-lasting messages and values? - Should there be limitations or regulations on cartoons and other animated movies? If so, what should they be? - Since movies are a form of art, and therefore, fall under Freedom of Speech as written in the First Amendment, should our government place regulations on film productions, as is common in other countries? Why or why not? Feel free to quote outside sources which either support or contradict your own perspective, but then explain how you agree or disagree with that source. Like last week, just remember to give credit to any sources identifying the speaker or author and text within the sentence before the quote or paraphrase. Enjoy your week! - Mrs. Lee P.S. For more information on this topic before your essay, you might want to check out The American Family Association at www.afa.net whose mission is “to motivate and equip individuals to restore American culture to its moral foundations.”v They have taken active steps to make a difference in movie production and today’s media. i Metaxas, Eric. “Shrek: Happily Ever Ogre: An Anti-Fairy Tale Run Amuck.” Books & Culture. 1 July 2001. http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2001.julaug/1.5.htm. ii Cohen, Sandy. “Talking Veggies Stir Controversy at NBC.” Associated Press, 22 Sept. 2006. www.Foxnews.com/story/0,2933,215266,00.htm. 29 Dec. 2010. iii This information was used with permission from Sandi McNamer, the Publications Director of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction; P.O. Box 7841; Madison, WI 53707-7841. Phone: (608)266-2188. Toll free, U.S. only: (800)243-8782. Fax: (608)267-9110. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. iv Lee, Danielle. Inspire: Motivating Lessons for Teen Writers. Woodbury, MN: Olive Press, 2010. www.jumpstartfuture.com. P. 67 v American Family Association. “Who is AFA?” <htto://www.afa.net/asp.htm.
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