Audience and Constraints
Genre: Magazine article for Parents Magazine Audience: Parents
Constraints: Based on articles found on the Parents Magazine Website, readers look for advice on caring for a child. Parents want their child to stay healthy. %85 are female readers, Median income of $57,844, and %54 own a home. Of the 100 Parents Magazine covers I observed %52 of the people on covers were female, %30 were male, %11 were people of color, and %7 were women of color.
What Television is Really Teaching Your Children
By: Taylor Santucci
How important would you say television is to your child? How often do they watch it? According to the University of Michigan Health Center “Kids ages 6-11 spend about 28 hours a week in front of the TV.”. Therefore, it is clear that television creates an important impact on children. The real question we need to ask, however, is what kind of an impact is it having on your children? Throughout children’s television history characters are represented as vicious stereotypes. Women are portrayed as helpless, minorities are rarely portrayed at all, and men are held to unreasonable standards.
Many parents believe that television teaches their children nothing. However, the previous data shows that television is such a large part of their child’s life that it is clearly creating an impact. Instead of fighting it, parents need to work to ensure that the shows they support are sending positive messages about accepting diversity. Your children are the future generation, it is imperative that we work on eliminating racism, sexism, and homophobia at a young age. With television watched so often by children, what better way to communicate with this generation than by starting there. This source of media is starting to improve, with shows like Legend of Korra, Steven Universe, and Adventure Time, promoting both acceptance and self-respect through television is becoming easier for parents. If we can continue to show support for programs like these, television can become a source of education about social justice and positive self-image. In order to prevent discrimination and promote acceptance among the future generation, Parents need to encourage their children to watch television shows that have a positive representation of all races, cultures, genders, and sexualities.
Although children’s television shows are not as representative as they should be, they show more depictions of different races and genders than television ever contained in the past. Children’s television has a history of portraying characters as gender stereotypes. A lab report published by Kelly Eick in 1998, focused on gender representation in older children’s cartoons. The shows Scooby Doo, Johnny Quest, and The Jetsons were analysed for physical traits as well as problem solving. In the analysis of the character portrayal, Eick stated that, “Daphne and Judy are both attractive but useless. Velma and the aforementioned judge do make contributions, but are drawn quite physically unattractive. The judge has what could be termed a "butch" haircut, and Velma is slightly overweight, with sloppy clothing and large black-rimmed eyeglasses.
Strangely enough, the exact opposite is true for the male characters studied. While there were no completely useless males, levels of masculinity directly paralleled amounts of valuable input in verbal discussions and nonverbal action. In fact, many of the unattractive and inadequate males were not responsible for their own contributions. Often they would "accidentally" capture villains by falling on top of them or dropping something that happens to land on their nemesis.” (Eick). This portrayal of genders in children’s television promotes the stereotype of beautiful women acting useless, smart women appearing ugly, ugly men represented as “inadequate”, and attractive men shown as smart and charismatic. Parents should feel concerned about this because when their child sees these kinds of shows, television teaches them to believe those stereotypes. When girls watch these shows, television teaches that intelligence leads to someone appearing “physically unattractive”. Boys watching unrepresentative shows, learn that if they don’t meet masculine standards, society will look down on them (Eick).
In the 1999 State of Children’s Television Report, written by Emory Woodard, discussed many different topics of diversity. Woodard studied gender discrimination as well as ethnic diversity. Percentages of characters with minority appearances were recorded and Woodard found that %40, nearly half of all shows, contained no representation at all (Woodard). These numbers have gotten better over time, but the fact that there existed such little representation in children's cartoons demonstrates the values that were taught to those children. Children come to accept the stereotypes and misrepresentations that they are taught , causing them to grow up with biases towards ethnic groups (Boyse). These immense misrepresentations of gender and race further perpetuate the system of gender and race stereotypes. Children who grew up watching these shows learn stereotypes that stay with them while they grew up, these same people then taught those beliefs and values to their generation of children, causing this cycle of discrimination to continue.
However, today, television boasts a much wider variety of characters. There are television shows that are leaders in their industry with representation, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Legend of Korra, and others are role models for other stations. Legend of Korra is a sequel series to the famous show The Last Airbender, it’s main character breaks the system of misrepresentation in children’s television. Korra is a girl who is born as an avatar, arguably the most influential person in her world, she wields incredible power and has a strong stubborn personality. Though this show does not take place in our world “It has an undeniable eastern influence… [and] whatever Korra is, she’s not lily white. And, despite the fact that children’s television is becoming increasingly diverse, a brave, strong heroine who is not Caucasian is still an important factor.” (Robinson). The Avatar series has been going on for 9 years and many people grew up on this show, it continues to teach children the value of acceptance. This show show portrays everyone as strong, especially women. For girls watching this show, they are taught that they can love themselves for who they are, appearances don’t change how strong you can be. This should be an easy solution for parents who want their children to watch shows that teach positive lessons that many children don’t learn for a long time, especially not from a television show. Legend of Korra promotes self-respect, self-discovery, and self-acceptance. The main character struggles to accept parts of her that she may not like (robinson).
Legend of Korra’s main character demonstrates representation among children’s media, however, one of the most important parts that separates Legend of Korra from other children’s shows is Asami. Asami is portrayed as a two dimensional, rich, and pretty girl that Korra first meets as a romantic rival over a boy named Mako. A two dimensional character is when a character has no depth, the writer doesn’t work to develop them and it often causes the character to be dull. This is usually seen in female characters causing the term “Mary Sue” to be created. A “Mary Sue” is a female who fits into all the gender stereotypes such as being concerned about beauty and only talking about the male lead. Their relationship begins to turn to friendship as the two get to know each other for who they really are. Asami gets recognition for the genius she is; she becomes the CEO of the biggest company in her city and invents the most innovative technology of her time. (Spoilers for Legend of Korra ahead) Her other vital role among other characters in the television world is her relationship with Korra. Though it is hinted at throughout the final season, Korra surprised everyone at the end of the show when, “Korra and Asami, two women who had been friends for years, headed off to the spirit world together. And so came the final shot... the show's co-creators Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko posted a pair of separate blog posts that confirm: Yes, Korra and Asami are in love. Yes, it was on purpose. And in Konietzko’s words, ‘You can celebrate it, embrace it, accept it, get over it, or whatever you feel the need to do, but there is no denying it.’” (Hamilton). This was a really powerful shot for many people, people who grew up watching Avatar and are part of the LGBTQA community, seeing this kind of representation was really important. For children watching this show, it displayed two characters who were powerful, strong, important, beautiful, good people who liked both boys and girls. Television and parents alike, both have difficulty accepting this topic with children. According to Latino Post, the UK censored a dance scene from the show Steven Universe because it “suggest[ed] that there was an attraction between them” . It is the common idea that “same-sex romantic relationships featured on the show may be unsuitable for children”(Staff Writer) that causes many parents to want to avoid this topic. The fact is that homosexual relationships are just as “unsuitable” as any romance shown on television. In Steven universe there are many scenes of people who dance together. Steven’s parents dance together and even kiss. Treating these relationships differently on children’s television promotes the belief that they are somehow different, teaching that homosexual relationships are something that should be discriminated. Acting like same sex couples are something “inappropriate” continues the cycle of discrimination, when in reality, parents should treat them the same. This is a lesson that not many children are taught, and it is an important one. Parents may or may not realize it, but television connects with children in a way not many other things do, it is an incredibly powerful part of their life. Many parents don’t know how to talk to their children about homosexual relationships. Shows like Legend of Korra are able to send millions of positive messages about acceptance of different races, genders, sexualities. Additionally, it tells children to be accepting of themselves, even if there are parts they are uncomfortable with. Nevertheless, this perpetuation of teaching discrimination through children’s television still continues today. Yet now shows set an example by including diverse characters who demonstrate acceptance. It grows easier and easier for parents to show their child programs that include positive messages, include people from different cultures and races, and characters in healthy relationships. If parents encourage their children to watch programs like these, they can help to create a better future. Children will grow up learning that girls can be strong and powerful, it is not necessary for boys to be masculine to make friends, and that just because someone’s skin is a different color doesn't mean people should treat them differently. A common belief among parents is that they don’t have influence over what kind of television shows are produced, but Marissa Lee, when discussing a Communication Research study, states that “if there were more television shows like Korra to even out representations and dilute stereotypical representation, television would stop lowering the self esteem of girls and children of color. If television can increase the self esteem of white boys, maybe an increase in equal and diverse representations can also help increase the self esteem of girls and children of color. This study is definitely a sign that the television industry–and advocates who care about diversity in media–need to continue stepping up our game!”, If parents continue to show interest in programs that are diverse and inclusive, they can create a future where television shows will “stop lowering the self esteem of girls and children of color”(Lee).
Television creates a lasting impact on children’s lives, gender stereotypes, for example, “perpetuate social inequality; the assumptions made about gender roles can be difficult to distinguish reality and fiction particularly for children. Children are taught gender roles from very early stages in life, parents unconsciously make stereotypical decisions from when they paint the child’s first room (pink for girls and blue for boys) or to the purchase of toys (guns for boys and dolls for girls)”(ccit205). Media holds a huge influence over children, and many children learn biases and stereotypes for races, cultures, and genders from the shows they watch. These biases can even work against them, if a young girl never sees women portrayed as independent, she may think that she can never be independent. This thinking can affect children as they grow up and even when they are in adulthood, “These techniques used convey stereotypic messages that result in limitations among children and adolescence. A classic example of this would be when women struggle to break free from the ‘glass ceiling’ that has invisibly held them down in positions with lower ranking and pay”(ccit205). According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, the full definition of a “glass Ceiling” is “an intangible barrier within a hierarchy that prevents women or minorities from obtaining upper-level positions”. When this “glass ceiling” is shown even in children’s television, with women always as sidekicks or romantic interests, (Lee) it is a message that girls carry with them into their future. Parents should find this concerning and strive to keep their children away from this belief and instead promote the idea that their child can become as successful as the want when they grow up. If these beliefs are carried with the child into adulthood, they can go against the system of discrimination and teach their future children the same important values.
The parents of today carry the responsibility to positively impact their children’s future, to help them become more aware and accepting of everyone. In the past, television shows were stereotypically similar and with the huge increase in time children spend watching television, clearly, television is an obvious way to communicate with the younger generation. This is a great opportunity to fight racism, sexism, homophobia, and all sorts of other types of discrimination. Parent’s hold the real power in this situation, they can control how their child’s views shape. Racism, sexism, and homophobia definitely still exist today. Given our current situation, we desperately need a way to make the world a more caring and accepting place and this is the best way to do it. You, the parents, have the power to write to television companies, your children are the company’s consumers. You have the ability to put your child in an accepting environment where they will learn to be loving of everyone and also themselves.
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Eick, Kelly. Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Television Cartoons. N.p.: n.p., 1998.
Hamilton, Kirk. “Legend of Korra Creators: Ending Was What You Thought, Deal With It.” Kotaku. N.p., 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.
Happy Girls with Popcorn Watching TV. N.d. Dreamstime. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
“Impact of Media on Stereotypes and Generalizations.” CCIT205. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.
Lee, Marissa. “Study examines television, diversity, and self-esteem.” Race Bending. N.p., 6 June 2012. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.
Nickelodeon. Final Scene from Legend of Korra. 19 Dec. 2014. The Mary Sue. Web. 7 Apr.
Robinson, Joanna. “How a Nickelodeon Cartoon Became One of the Most Powerful, Subversive Shows of 2014.” Vanity Fair. N.p., 19 Dec. 2014. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.
<http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2014/12/korra-series-finale-recap-gay-asami>. Staff Writer. “’Steven Universe’ Being Censored in the UK: Why?” Latino Post. N.p., 8 Jan.
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