February 19th, 2013

Spotlight: Alan Berry, LAMP Quartermaster and Facilitator

Alan Berry at The LAMP's offices in midtown Manhattan.

Alan Berry at The LAMP’s offices in midtown Manhattan.

Alan Berry is a megawatt LAMP star. Not only does he teach workshops, but as the Quartermaster responsible for transporting workshop equipment all over the city every day, he’s also a big reason why we’re able to reach over eight hundred youth, parents and educators each year. This month, we sat down with the brains and braun of The LAMP’s mobile operation to talk more about how he pulls off such a huge job and what makes it all worthwhile.

How did you first get interested in education and media?

I’ve always been interested in media, especially cinema. When I was fifteen I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker after watching Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. So I went to film school to learn my trade and make a lot of really bad student films. After school, however, I felt empty in terms of experience so I joined the Peace Corps and got shipped off to Mali in West Africa for nearly two years. It was in Africa where I fell in love with the possibilities of education and using media as a tool for education and activism. Then I worked some soul crushing jobs in the industry before deciding to get a Master’s degree and seriously pursue media education.

You came to us through one of our alum facilitators, Hugh Kesson, when he was making plans to return to England. What were your first impressions of The LAMP – its staff, students and work?

I met Hugh at grad school, and that quiet, thoughtful Scottish accent made me believe that anything he was into surely must be worthwhile. I also had Katherine as a professor, so that was a plus as well. I first visited a LAMP workshop in Queens, where mothers and their children were exploring family images in television and creating their own family videos. I was hooked when I saw one woman’s eyes light up when Burgess Bub, the facilitator, asked her why the homes, jobs, and familial problems of the families on TV didn’t resemble her family’s. Why does this family live in such a big house even though the father is a garbage man and the mother doesn’t work? Clearly the woman had never thought about it and now she had the opportunity to make a video that showed what a real family looks like.

This past Super Bowl was your first time participating in our hackfest of Super Bowl commercials during the big game. Can you talk a little bit about the commercials you broke, and how you picked them?

To be honest, it was hard for me to concentrate on the commercials with the debacle of the power outage – which proves our country’s grid system is inefficient and out-of-date – as well as trying to figure out why Americans get so excited about four hours of commercials, penalties, and bad music. That rant aside, I broke the Kia “Space Babies” commercial and the Go Daddy “Perfect Match” commercial. I thought the “Space Babies” ad was absolutely ridiculous especially since it obviously cost millions of dollars to produce. We shouldn’t promote the use of technology as a substitute for parenting and honest conversation. The Go Daddy ad was as sensational as it was intended to be – every talk show was talking about it the next day! However, the old tropes of women as only objects of desire and men as the smart half of a relationship are tiresome and certainly not sensational.

Not only are you an expert yourself at breaking commercials, but you’ve also taught a wide range of LAMP students how to break commercials, like in the Intergenerational Media Literacy program this past fall. What do you think students find the most challenging aspect of breaking commercials, and how do you help them move past their difficulties?

I think the most challenging aspect for everyone is watching a commercial with a critical eye. Most of us think of ads as just a necessary annoyance and pay them very little attention, or students will say, “It’s just a commercial. It’s supposed to be funny.” Getting past the superficiality of a commercial and analyzing the actual message that is being consumed is very difficult for a student who hasn’t given it much thought before. With the Intergenerational Media Literacy program, we definitely came across that to some degree, but the biggest challenge there was getting the seasoned citizens – their term – to not be intimidated by the editing software, as many of them were very happy to let the teens do most of the editing. I feel for both challenges that taking the mystique out of media-making is very important. Look past the celebrities and explosions and you’ll see that they’re just trying to sell you a crappy pair of shoes, or showing them that making a video is just a simple set of procedures that anyone can do and it doesn’t take millions of dollars either.

What are you most looking forward to in 2013?

Besides Manchester United winning the treble and the release of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, I’ve been really excited (and nervous) about the Digital Career Path training we are doing in partnership with OBT. Five weeks, four nights a week is a lot of time to fill, and I really want to make it an exciting and challenging opportunity for the participants involved.

Click here for more hacked Super Bowl 2013 commercials!

1 Comment

  1. Congratulations Alan! although I think we can learn even more from media images which don’t reflect what we identify as “the real” world, or which depict us without resembling how we see ourselves – This after learning that every media image is a “representation”, often aimed at a given target etc., of course. (That’s why I train my critical eye also by watching how Italians and Latinos are depicted in the SuperBowl ads!)

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