Skip to content

Posts from the ‘In the News’ Category

Right On Target

 

A recent article by Leanne Italie reveals how children (mostly girls) across the nation, after seeing The Hunger Games, have enthusiastically taken up archery.  There has been an obvious sales increase in archery-related products as girls, inspired by Katniss’ deadly skills with a bow, continue to flock to archery stores to purchase bows that resemble the one in the movie.  The article gives various accounts of girls’ experiences with the unique sport, the majority of which seem positive.  One girl likes “the fact you can ignore the world around you and just focus on where the arrow is going to go.”  Parents seem to be on board with their children’s fascination with archery, claiming “they’re a little more dedicated” than with sports that primarily consist of chasing a ball.

Katniss in action. This image, among others, has inspired thousands of children to take up archery.

Compared to the article we discussed in class that asserts underlying immoralities in The Hunger Games, reading this article was refreshing.  I say this because its information is based on a large number of actual reactions rather than Timothy Noah’s sole opinion of the movie (instead of the book).  In class we established that The Hunger Games novel contains a good deal of information that was cut from the movie.  Contrary to Noah, Italie presents numerous positive outcomes of children (girls in particular) seeing The Hunger Games.  Because of Katniss, thousands of girls have taken up a hobby that exercises focus, dedication, and confidence.  Archery offers an alternative to team sports.  As someone who played high school football and hated it, I can understand why some kids would rather take up a sport that focuses on individual skills.  After reading this article, my standpoint is that most children do not search for underlying themes concerning morality in movies like The Hunger Games.  They search for identity in a virtual space that will never be available to them in reality.  As this article clearly demonstrates, thousands of young girls have found identity through Katniss’ heroic archery skills.  In conclusion, I think its okay for children to see The Hunger Games with parents since they are evidently more likely to imitate impressive qualities in the characters than to contemplate the human potential to do evil deeds.

“A Friend of Barbie”

On March 29, 2012, Mattel announced that it will release a bald doll for children who have lost hair due to cancer or other illnesses. However, discussions of this doll are not as recent. Over a year ago, a Facebook movement began, urging Mattel to produce a bald version of their famous blonde Barbie. Since then, the page has received more than 150,000 “likes,” the amount necessary to gain Mattel’s direct attention. The movement began with Jane Bingman, whose daughter has lost hair after undergoing chemotherapy, and Beckie Sypin, who has lost her own hair while going through non-Hodgkin lymphoma, both hoping for a doll that girls experiencing hair loss due to illness could relate to and aid in the coping process hair loss. Sypin says their goal was to get “the message out that being bald is beautiful and is no big deal.  There’s no need to cover up.” Though the doll will be produced, Mattel has informed Bingman and Sypin that they do not accept ideas from outside sources. Mattel reports the doll will not be sold in retail stores for profit. Instead, they will be distributed through hospitals that treat young cancer patients where they can be of most help. These bald dolls will be “a friend of Barbie” and include hats, scarves, wigs, and other hair accessories to provide the “traditional” fashion play experience.

The creation of these new dolls who are designed to appeal to a specific audience that can relate is strongly similar to the studies of Elizabeth Chin in “Ethnically Correct Dolls: Toying with the Race Industry,” in which Chin examines the “ethnically correct” doll and how race and outside appearance is involved. In Chin’s studies, it was shown that, though the girls can play fine with dolls that are not exactly like them, they prefer to play will dolls they can relate to. This is why Natalia and Asia wanted dolls of their same skin tone and would braid the hair of the white dolls to resemble their own hair. Therefore, the production of this bald Barbie by Mattel, based on Chin’s studies, will actually make a more enjoyable playtime for children experiencing hair loss due to illness because they will be able to relate to them through appearance.

 

From NWA to Trayvon Martin: How Assumptions Can Kill

In class, we discussed the moral panic surrounding rap groups such as NWA in the 80′s and early 90′s. Older black and white people, and many middle class moms were disgusted by what they assumed was violent, vitriolic, gang-related, and purposeless music. They assumed the message was “kill the pigs”, and that it had no purpose beyond inciting violence in young black youth. Of course, as anyone who has listened to the classic, “Fuck the Police”, knows, these songs were political statements and testaments of the conditions these young man had been forced into. However, many people in the US looked at the music through a racially charged lens. Black men are scary. Black men yelling “Fuck the Police” are terrifying. It makes no difference whether or not their families are being torn apart by police violence; they are scary and dangerous, and they are the enemy. This belief, held by a large segment of the population, led to the message of the song being lost in the shuffle for a lot of people.

Unfortunately, here we are 20 years later, and these types of stereotypical beliefs are still causing problems. They aren’t leading to the banning of rap songs anymore, they are leading to the deaths of young black males. Some people in this country still fear the black male, regardless of where they are or what they’re doing. That fear led George Zimmerman to shoot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager walking back to his dad’s house. Zimmerman has not been arrested, and this has led to protests around the country, especially since the release of the 911 tapes show that Zimmerman may have had a racial bias when it came to his suspicion of Trayvon. Stereotypes and assumptions are bad enough when they lead to moral panics over rap music, but when they lead to the death of a teenager, they’re inexcusable.

 

NWA’s classic “Fuck The Police”

Boy Bands are Back…uh oh

Amazing, life-altering news was released todayby MTVnews, the one hit wonder boy band of the nineteen nineties 98 Degrees is reuniting! While reading this article, and overwhelming feeling battled the instant naseau. I flashed back to being a twelve year old girl, jumping and screaming at the top of my lungs as the Backstreet Boys flew over my head at their concert at the Frank Erwin Center. I remembered hanging NSYNC posters (Justin Timberlake) from ceiling to floor in my room. I was completely OBSESSED.

I see the same crazed expression on the tweens of today with the Justin Beiber phenomenon and the formation of the new boy band One Direction. The thing that is scary about this situation is that I had at least hit puberty when screaming and crying over Justin Timberlake’s dance moves and goofy hair. That is not the same today. The Disney Channel is pumping out pop sensations like a creepy tween dream factory. They start out by watching Mickey’s Playhouse and end up falling in love with Zach and Cody.

Because of this, the age of boy crazed girls is getting younger and younger. We are creating a generation of girls who would dream about marrying Justin Beiber when they should be playing hide and seek with friends.

In the last year a video was uploaded of a three year old crying her eyes out because she loves Justin Beiber. This is not healthy, we are over sexualizing our youth and erasing their imagination. Is this really what we want our young women to be like? I think not.

“The Snowy Day”

In 1962, prior to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” and in the midst of the civil rights movement, a unique children’s book was published. The name of the book was “The Snowy Day”, and it was written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. The book deals with the adventures of a young boy named Peter, as he explores the winter wonderland around his neighborhood that results from the previous night’s snowfall. What separates this book from the multitude of other children’s books written about similar situations is that Peter, the story’s protagonist, is black. Perhaps even more distinguishing about this book is that while other stories attempt to highlight the child’s race or make it a central figure in the story, “The Snowy Day” does not. Peter is portrayed, quite simply, as a child. His race is irrelevant for the purposes of the story, because the plot focuses more on the beauty of the snow, the simplicity of his experiences, the carefree quality of his happiness- experiences that all children can relate to. Thus by doing so, “The Snowy Day” breaks down the barriers of race by producing a timeless story enjoyed by children of all shapes, sizes and colors, rather than targeting their story specifically towards black people (which would, by alienating other etnicities, almost constitute a form of racial segregation in itself).

Today marks fifty years since the award winning “The Snowy Day” was published, but it is worth noting that the world of children’s literature has not changed dramatically since then. According to a 1995 study by the CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center)

In 1995, the CCBC found that out of 4,500 total books published, only 100 books written by African Americans, and 167 written about (without taking into account any probable overlap). (page 2 of article I used to write this post)

An even more troubling trend, according to Michelle Ann Abate in her book “Raising Your Kids Right”, is that:

Books for young readers reinforce racial, ethnic, and cultural hierarchies. (page 8, second paragraph)

Even when books are published for black, hispanic, asian or children of other ethnic backgrounds, the race of the child is highlighted. It is almost like a “for us, by us” stamp is attached to the literature, and the mere presence of this psychological stamp causes the very segregation that those seeking equality and integration vehemently oppose.

In chapter two (“Looking to Get Paid”) of Robin D.G. Kelly’s book “Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional!”, there is mention of children seeking to use the avenue of professional sports (specifically basketball) towards success because they feel that their options are limited (page 415, course packet). I found this passage about Brian Collier, an award winning artist/illustrator, (page 2,”The Snowy Day” article on the Christian Science Monitor) particularly relevant to this situation:

“I don’t know what it was (‘The Snowy Day’,” Collier said, “but when I saw that boy Peter, he looked like me. I was like, Wow!” Growing up as the youngest of six during the often snowy winters of Maryland, Collier said he knew exactly how Peter felt watching the ”big boys” having their snow ball fights. The Snowy Day had subconsciously planted a seed inside of him, Collier said. For 10 years that seed waited, while Collier dreamed of playing professional basketball like the great Dr. J. But one day the 15-year old hoops fan stumbled into a freshman art class, and the seed was finally ignited. “It was an impact, it was visceral. You just feel it,” he said.”Just like the feeling of that first art class, Collier said America felt a bit of a spark with the publishing of the landmark picture book. “I think it put so much greatness into the world, a sense of diversity,” he said. “It unveiled something that was always there. The jolt was that the rest of the world, the publishing world, didn’t get it. They didn’t really get it until they saw it.”

This work inspired Collier to pursue a field many would have said someone of his race would find it hard to succeed in. The seed of hope implanted in him by the simplicity and beauty of “The Snowy Day”, however, resonated in his youthful mind, and eventually propelled him to success in the illustration and art communities.

In Elizabeth Chen’s book, “Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture”, there is a section called “Ethnically Correct Dolls: Toying with the Race Industry” (page 358, course packet), in which she points out that (following the inspection and subsequent refuting of claims that Shani dolls’ butts were larger than Barbie dolls’)

These ethnically correct dolls demonstrate one of the abiding aspects of racism: that a stolid belief in racial difference can shape people’s perceptions so profoundly that they will find difference and make something of it, no matter how imperceptible or irrelevant its physical manifestation might be. (page 366, course packet)

It is my belief that this “stolid belief in racial difference” is exacerbated by the fact that the Shani dolls were produced specifically for black children. I believe that if those dolls had been released under the Barbie name and not under a demeaning, racially condescending subsidiary, those differences would not have been highlighted. In sharp contrast to the release of the Shani dolls was the manner in which “The Snowy Day” was presented. Rather than target the book towards black consumers, it was written as a non-racially binded children’s book. It was a book that all children could relate and identify to, regardless of the skin color of the protagonist. That to me is an extremely progressive idea, and an appropriate step in the right direction in regards to the dismantling of racist stigmas. Through the concept of understanding, of kinship readers felt towards Peter, they could learn that black children are not so different from themselves. Basic childhood experiences- laughter, wonder, excitement- are common ground that every child shares. And common ground is a huge step towards an ideology of equality in place of segregation.

Perhaps the greatest message “The Snowy Day” has left us with was summarized by the late Deborah Pope:

“As anyone who’s ever brought home a snowball could tell you, ultimately there is no color to put on children’s experience of snow.”

Cover of "The Snowy Day", courtesy of ChristianScienceMonitor.com

Too many eyes on African-American youth?

The death of Trayvon Martin has sparked parent discussions about the black male code.

Last month Trayvon Martin, a seventeen year old African American high school student, was shot and killed in a middle-class Florida neighborhood by a self-appointed watch captain, Andrew Zimmerman, who claims that he shot the boy in self-defense.

 

The case has earned national attention from the media, celebrities, and most importantly parents of young African-American males. Unfortunately, Trayvon Martin has become the poster child for African-American males that are automatically assumed to be criminals. According to an article in the Washington Post, Parents now are establishing rules for their children, teaching them that they may be scrutinized in public based on the color of their skin. Even though people may misjudge them, parents encourage them to be on their best behavior in public and avoid situations that yield even the most remote possibility of incriminating themselves. Children can do this by choosing the clothes they wear more wisely, taking precautionary measures not to resemble gang members. Andrew Zimmerman profiled Trayvon as “up to no good” because of the black hoodie he had pulled over his head in order to shield himself from the rain. Zimmerman discovered that the young black male was not carrying an alcoholic beverage or a weapon, but rather a can of iced tea and a pack of skittles. Trips to the local grocery store may not even be safe for young African-American males anymore.

 

In the Article Hemmed In and Shut Out the author explains that children who visit grocery stores avoid domestic turmoil and gang violence in the area they live in. They presumably frequent stores with little money to buy inexpensive items like candy, drinks, and snacks for themselves if they are not running errands for their parents. When African American youth visit stores in wealthier neighborhoods they can protect themselves from dehumanization by dressing up to appear respectable and nonthreatening to others. For example, areas that are at an economic disadvantage experience a “social and political culture [where] black has come to be equated with poor”(339). Wherever young African-Americans go, it seems people keep a careful watch. In the case of Trayvon Martin, too close of a watch. It is unfair to think African-Americans are instinctively considered guilty until proven innocent when killers like Andrew Zimmerman are considered the opposite. It is crucial for parents to advise their children on how to present themselves in public and react to awkward situations.

Moral Panic and You

Panic not in the disco

Today I decided to post about our favorite class topic: moral panic.  Keeping it light, I decided to feature Cracked.com’s top six most ridiculous moral panics in America.  Low and behold, comic books is at the sixth spot.  You’ve also got a reference to a drug made from excrement, Dungeons and Dragons, and backward rock and roll messages, among others.  What the site is getting at, and which I think is pertinent to class discussions, is the fact that often times moral panics don’t really need to exist anywhere but in the mind of wary adults.  As society increasingly becomes more saturated by information (without too much of a stop-gap) and becomes more overworked, it seems the reliability of actual moral panics fade into the background.

 

The very nature of moral panic is the thought that something is corrupting the youth.  There seems to be a predisposition amongst adults of a certain stripe to fear what possible influences the outside world may have upon their children.  This is referenced in Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt” which we read some time ago.  In that story, the children turn into monsters through their addiction too technology.  In that story, the parents don’t understand the tech as well as the children.  This ignorance – and fear of it – seems to be essential to moral panic.  Instead of having a freakout over rainbow parties, parents could instead converse with their children.  This may not be the most comfortable thing, however.  In this light, we can almost see moral panic as a knee-jerk reaction standing in place of true understanding of children and the actual repercussions of the stimuli presented to them.  Yes parents should look out for their children, but this act requires the very simple function of looking.  This Cracked list points out the absurd lengths crazed adults will go to to put fictive fears to sleep without actually checking to see if such panics have a leg to stand on in reality.