Have I Got a Deal for You: The Infomercial as Satirical Genre

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SWBAT analyze the target, the satirical techniques, and the desired reform in Rick Riley's satirical essay "Weighed Down by Too Much Cash? Don't Worry, I'm Here to Help."

Big Idea

A parody of an infomercial works as an editorial commentary.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Time Frame and Context

Today is Day 3 and the final day of the mini-unit introduction to satire and The Canterbury Tales. Tomorrow students will meet Chaucer's pilgrims in the "General Prologue."

This lesson is a continuation of the lesson "Living in Our Satirical World" and of the Satirical Cartooning lesson, all of which utilize the handout Satire, Age of Satire and Anatomy of Satire. 

Today, students accomplished the following:

  • Analyzed Rick Riley's satirical essay "Weighed Down by Too Much Cash?: Have I Got a Deal for You" for the target, techniques, and reforms.
  • Finished revising and drafting their satirical cartoons,

The Teacher as Satirical Cartoonist

5 minutes

I begin the lesson by showing students my first draft of the cartoon I created.Sketch of My Cartoon. I explain that a recently learned that the University of Texas just signed a new contract with a new football coach and that he will be paid $25 million dollars in a five year period. 

I identify the parts of my sketch and ask the students to give me feedback: "What works? What do I need to change?"

One student suggested I add a caption that clarifies the UT contract and that I make the teacher bigger. 

Another student suggested I move the goal post to one end of the football field so it's more identifiable as a goal post. 

I tell students that I need their feedback to improve my cartoon, so I don't want them to hold back. 

Still another student said I need to make the teacher larger and give her the appearance of a homeless person. 

I asked if I should include information about the governor's proposal to slash $21 million from the portion of the education budget that goes to teacher salaries? Most liked that idea. 

I thanked students for their suggestions and promised to incorporate them into my final cartoon. 

Form and Function in "Weighed Down by Too Much Cash" by Rick Riley

25 minutes

I begin by inviting students to listen as I read the essay "Weighed Down by Too Much Cash?" to them. It's the last two pages of the handout. Satire, Age of Satire and Anatomy of Satire, and it's a satirical essay by Rick Riley, who pens the Life of Riley  column for ESPN Magazine. 

I instruct students to annotated and take notes on the document, and I show them the graphic organizer that follows the essay and explain that they will complete it after we read and discuss the essay. Annotating the Essay in Progress.

Additionally, I remind the students that when reading satire we are looking for the target, the techniques, and the reform. I also direct their attention to the list of techniques in the handout and remind them that this is not an exhaustive list. 

Next, I read the essay slowly so students have time to think and write as they listen. 

After reading, I ask: "What did you notice? What do you think? What is your initial reaction?"

A student who missed the first day of the unit and who missed half the second day commented: "That's dumb."

I asked, "Why do you say that? What's dumb about it?"

She responded, "It's stupid to give someone a list of things to do to lose their money."

Several students giggled, an indication that they understand that the student making the comments missed the point that the essay is satire. 

I asked, "That's the point of satire, isn't it?" 

A different student added, "It's a parody."

I said, "Yes. Remember, we can't take satire literally. We have to look for the meaning below the surface, so we have on the surface an essay that says what?"

Several students said, "Here's how to lose your money." 

I asked, "But the real point of the essay is what?"

Again, several students said, "Don't spend all your money" or a variation on that theme. 

I asked the student who identified the essay as a parody, "What does the essay parody?"

He responded, "It's like one of those infomercials of t.v."

"Excellent," I said, "The essay takes the form of an infomercial. Does it look like a typical essay?"

"No," students responded.

"So is it an essay?" I asked. They looked confused. I added, "Can a piece of writing be an essay without looking like a typical essay?" 

An aha moment! "Yes!" 

"Good. Keep that in mind. As long as the writing as a beginning, a middle, and an end that makes a point in a logical way, we can call it an essay."

Take Time to Talk

When the conversation reaches a lull, I give the students time to turn and talk w/ a partner and work on the graphic organizer. Typically 5-10 minutes is enough.

Then we reconvene as a class and continue discussing the essay based on the graphic organizer. I ask students to tell me a target, a line from the essay that supports that assessment of the target and the reform the speaker advocates. Graphic Organizer: Student Work and Graphic Organizer: Student Example (2)

Students typically mention the NBA as the target, but some also said certain objects Riley names in the essay are the target. I reminded them that an object cannot act on itself. This helped them return to people and organizations as the target.

Ultimately, students agreed that both the NBA and professional athletes among all sports are the target of the essay and that w/in the general target the speaker has individual sub-targets.  

Finally, students concurred that each individual athlete needs to take responsibility for his/her finances, and that this is the reform Riley proposes in his use of satire. 



Cartooned Commentary: Revising and Completing Satirical Cartoons

30 minutes

Students spend the last part of class working on the cartoons they began in the previous lesson. This gives me an opportunity to assist them and to reassure them as they work. For example, some students had questions about using color and about their artistic ability. "Making Weight" Cartoon and "Eye-Pad: Apples for Everybody" Cartoon are two of the cartoons students produced. This gave me a chance to tell students I'm most interested in ideas and to remind them that I'll assess the work based on their 

  • target
  • techniques
  • reform suggested 

Show and Tell

In this brief episode of "Show and Tell" I talk about some of my favorite cartoons. Satirical Cartoon Examples and Comments.