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Posts tagged ‘anxious parents’

Hoop Dreams Priorities

Arthur Agee carried off the court by his Marshall teammates in the film "Hoop Dreams"

Arthur Agee carried off the court by his Marshall teammates in the film "Hoop Dreams"

The 1994 documentary film “Hoop Dream” directed by Steve James portrays the story of two African American boys, William Gates and Arthur Agee, in the pursuit of their dream, becoming a professional basketball player. In the beginning, both of the boys display an amazing athletic talent while in middle school. Due to this, a scout from Westchester, Illinois recruits the teenagers to attend the prestigious school of St. Joseph High School. St. Joseph is a private school with an extremely recognizable basketball program particularly known for recruiting and developing Isiah Thomas, a NBA basketball star. To nobody’s surprise, the boys are delighted to attend the school and with their parents permission embark on their new journey.

Through the first academic year, William develops as expected. He plays as desired by the coach, maintains a great academic record, and finds the school is well-tailored to him. Arthur, however, does not achieve St. Joseph’s level of competency. His ability in the basketball court falls short from expectations. When tuition costs rise, the story takes a huge twist. Both of the boys coming from low income families cannot afford the new cost, so the school makes cut-throat decisions. First, they aide William by finding him additional scholarships, trying everything in their power to permit him to stay. Then they present Arthur with two options: pay the other half of the tuition fee or leave. Half a semester passes by and Arthur is forced to leave school losing all he had gained, not just in his basketball dream but academically as well.

As the school presented their decision to Arthur, I found it extremely ironic that the scout told Arthur how he and St. Joseph would do everything in their power to help him accomplish his dream but in the end they destroyed it. At the beginning of the film Earl Smith, the scout from St. Joseph, says that he “helps young people on their road to success.” Yet after one year and a half of a semester Arthur’s road was cut short before any sign of success is seen. The scout knew Arthur and his family were incapable of paying the tuition cost before recruiting him and every school knows that upon early termination of a semester, no credit is awarded to a student so the semester is lost, neither of the options display an indication of aide and help to fulfill a dream. Arthur was cornered to do as the school wanted, leave. He was first treated as a powerful individual with control of his future when in reality he was simply a puppet for St. Joseph to market as they pleased. Arthur’s mother said that the scout offering the basketball players the scholarship to come play with them, “don’t want them to figure out that the story is totally different. I was under the impression I was going to have help in getting him into school, … getting his books, … but yet none of that occurred.” The head basketball coach, Luther Bedford, from Marshall Metro is under the impression that St. Joseph got rid of Arthur because he was not playing as well as they wanted, if he would have, they would have made some type of arrangement for him to stay just like they did for William.

If the scout had never recruited Arthur, he would have transitioned into Marshall Metro High School, the public school he returned to upon leaving St. Joseph with no crushed dreams, no debt, and no lost semester. In the end, the scout did more harm than good to Arthur.

Lunchroom Politics or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gushers

A variety of the General Mills' Fruit Gushers. You always pick out the red and green anyway.

During my childhood, namely throughout 90s and early 2000s, kids’ snacks were evolving. As always, cheap and pre-processed goodies were easily available in every grocery store, strategically placed on lower shelves and in bright, eye-catching packaging. However, it seems that a new trend took hold, whereby advertisers and the companies producing these packaged snacks began to re-brand their products to appear healthier and more nutritional while still maintaining the appeal of ‘kets‘.

Of course, it’s fair to say that notable examples like General Mills’ Fruit by the Foot, Fruit Rollups, Fruit Gushers, and many more were and still are convenient filler items for packing children’s lunches or as a midday snack requiring no more effort than a quick trip back into the house. Despite their names, they are little more (or no less) than glorified and gelled candies.
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50 Cent: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare

Throughout my teenage years, one music artist in particular that I enjoyed listening to disturbed my parents the most. This artist was Curtis Jackson, better known to the American public as the rapper 50 Cent. Jackson grew up on the rough streets of Queens, New York with no father to speak of and a cocaine dealer for a mother. After her death, Jackson began to get involved in the narcotics industry that thrived in that area. This troubled upbringing is reflected in the lyrics of his songs, and he rarely pulls punches in his descriptions of life on the streets of urban areas. His popularity began to increase in the early 2000’s with the release of his hit albums Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and The Massacre. Known for his particularly offensive lyrics, 50 Cent songs regularly dealt with things like drug dealing, gang violence, and misogynous themes. One song in particular, “Candy Shop,” off the album The Massacre, shocked my parents the most. Jackson describes in graphic detail a strip club and the activities he engages in while inside. The song received major radio play when it was released, and any time it was played my mother and father insisted on changing the radio station. This idea of fear over children’s exposure to hip-hop music relates to the George Lipsitz article on the Hip-Hop Hearings of the early 1990’s. In testimony from the hearings, prominent members of the black community discussed the negative effects of hip-hop music on youth, saying that the music,” provoked our youth to violence, drug use, and mistreatment of women. This explains why so many of our children are out of control and why we have more black males in jail than we have in college” (Lipsitz, 390). My parents worried that if I was consistently exposed to the sort of obscenity present in hip-hop music by artists like 50 Cent I would be corrupted. This idea was prevalent in many white households as hip-hop music spread to suburban areas, and parents experienced a sort of moral panic over the strange, new form of entertainment.

The music video for the song”Candy Shop” by 50 Cent, off his album The Massacre, released in 2005

The Woes of Mr. Potato Head

“In 1952, Hassenfield Brothers, a maker of pencil boxes and other school supplies, began advertising its new toy product, Mr. Potato Head, on TV.” (Chudacoff 172) The original Mr. Potato Head was actually relevant to a potato, or any fruit or vegetable for that matter. They were sold by Hasbro in $1-2 accessory packs to stick into fruit that was bought separately by the consumers’ own means. The entire idea was that children could create faces that never looked the same.

“A crucial shift involved consumer items for very young children. Soft, cuddly toys, like the teddy bear, appeared in American markets” (Stearns 7) like many of those things, Mr. Potato Head lost its original intent and Hasbro started producing plastic “potatoes” with holes for the accessories. Children didn’t get a chance to play with fruit anymore. Mr. Potato Head has created a huge revenue as he was featured in the Disney movie “Toy Story.” When I went to Disney world 12 years ago I remember going on a “3D adventure” with Mr. Potato Head. All of this was born out of simple appendages stuck into fruits and vegetables.

Screen shot of the search "Mr. Potato Head" on Google, showing the "classic" look of Mr. Potato Head, in all of which he looks the same

The true value of this toy was that it promoted creativity in children. They could make a potato look happy and a squash look mean. The plastic potato that is now sold was obviously a successful way to make more money from parents who don’t want their children wasting food and have to deal with the tantrums from the children who want to keep rotten Mr. and Mrs. Cantaloupe Heads. However, now all Potato Heads look the same. There are only so many looks you can give the potato without buying more accessories to go with it. Mr. Potato Head went from being a $1-2 toy, to essentially a gender neutral Barbie, always needed a new accessory. This fixed the problem that “boys and girls were attracted to dissimilar products,” (Chudacoff 180) but created a new one: You have to continue to buy accessories to personalize your Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads. An accessory kit can run about $20 each according to Amazon but at the rate of childhood boredom, will one be enough?

Hollywood Harms Youth’s Health?

Parents, activists, and numerous other adults have been afraid of the corruption that media such as comics, television, and movies have on the youth that they are aimed towards.  David Hajdu’s The 10 Cent Plague was all about the moral panics and issues that comic books caused throughout the United States.  In Chapter 5, Puddles of Blood, Hajdu talks about the shift in superhero comic books to crime comics.  When this change came about, many people were outraged and did not like the idea of kids reading about crime (granted they were aimed towards young adults, not young children).  People were afraid kids would start acting on the things they read about.  They were worried the youth would become a violent and immoral generation.  While these youth (now adults) did not grow up to be extremely violent people, we still have similar issues with today’s culture.

Hollywood is responsible for just about everything we see on television and in movies.  Lots of adults still worry about the violence and gore involved in these movies, but we have developed more recent panics.  One of the most often talked about: smoking.  Just about every movie or television show aimed at teenagers or older has a plethora of scenes in which people are smoking.  More specifically: young adults.  You may not always notice it (because it is so commonplace most people tend not to think about it), but it is definitely there.  Many adults think that kids will take after the actors they see and pick up the harmful habit of smoking.  This frightens parents the most.  A lot of parents don’t address this issue, while some parents simply talk to their kids about it.  Others, like the ones in Saratoga, Warren, and Washington counties in New York will take action.  Last Wednesday, 300 adults and children gathered at a movie theater in Clifton Park, New York for “The Smoke Free Movies Initiative International Week of Action” – an anti-tobacco campaign lead by the youth to teach the youth.  For some kids, it is easier to listen to someone they can relate to more (around the same age) talk about these kinds of things than adults, who may seem old and outdated in their thinking.

While I do agree that smoking is bad for your health, I do not think that these images in movies and television shows lead kids down a path to smoke.  It is important for these organizations to be running anti-tobacco campaigns, targeting movies and television may not be the best strategy.  I have found that the majority of young adults tend to pick up smoking from peers at college, rather than from the images that Hollywood engrains in their heads.  If these organizations could find ways to bring these campaigns to campus’ around the country, that may be more effective than to high school and middle school age kids.

Christmas: Capitalism At Its Best

Christmas shopping for most Americans

Growing up, I remember Christmas being the most exciting time of the year. As I’ve gotten older and have become responsible for purchasing gifts for other people myself, I have come to associate the holiday with frenzy and anxiety. Thorstein Veblen was undoubtedly correct to refer to Christmas as a time of vicarious consumption. Christmas is literally referred to as “the season of giving” and if you are not giving you may be seen as cheap or a scrooge. As we have learned in our readings, one of parents’ biggest fears is having bored children. Parents also want to ensure their children do not feel left out or disappointed. With the growing emphasis on the importance of material items in the U.S., parents feel obligated to stretch their wallets  at this time of year to ensure their children aren’t left out. This is because we have been socialized to believe that when you wake up on  Christmas morning, there should be a towering mountain of gifts under the tree with your name on them. The main goal for many children is bragging rights. They want to be able to go to school the next day and compare who got the better presents.

“When compared to the average family budget, the Christmas gift budget makes up 1.3% of all average family spending. It is more than what the average family will spend on reading materials ($110/year) and alcoholic beverages ($435/year) put together.”

In the article “Modern Childhood, Modern Toys”, Gary Cross says, “But in the nineteenth century these celebrations of indulgence were increasingly focused on the family, in parents pampering children. The shower of gifts became a way of demonstrating personal affluence” (59). Essentially, families are going out of their way to buy their children’s happiness. The blame can in many instances be placed on advertising. Companies make it a point, especially at this time of year, to advertise their most expensive, sought after products while basically telling viewers how much they need it. Children see their friends playing with the best new toy and many advertisements lead them to feel like they aren’t “cool” if they don’t have that great toy too. Advertisements only solidify parents’ fear that they will disappoint their children.

Technology: Society’s Youngest Handicap

A button on Barbie Photo Fashion's belt is pressed to take a picture that appears on her shirt, which can then be downloaded to a computer.

The New York Times article “Go Directly, Digitally to Jail? Classic Toys Learn New Clicks” by Stephanie Clifford follows the progression of what used to be simple toys, and their journey through the technologically enhanced world.

Following the American timeline through today, parents have been put under increased pressure to keep their children entertained and therefore “entertainment standards went up accordingly.” (Stearns 5) Toy companies have taken advantage of the technology boom and created a world where “Kids like to play with the gadgets that they see their parents using” according to John Alteio, director of toys and games for Amazon. Toy manufacturers are aware that kids will inevitably be playing with technology and have decided their “job is to not necessarily avoid that, but if you can’t fix it, feature it.”

Barbie Dolls used to “represent a free-spirited teenager, she enticed girls to emulate her style,” (Chudacoff 173) but has evolved into a doll (if you can even call her that) with less meaning and more function. One of the newest Barbie “Dolls” Clifford describes has “a lens in her back; children point the doll at an image, and press a button on Barbie’s belt to take a photo. The image then appears on the front of Barbie’s T-shirt.”

Typically games like Monopoly that were usually played without technology are now played on iPads. Technology has transformed the world of games that previously existed. However now a different phenomenon has emerged. The technology-based game comes first and stuffed animals follow – a different nontraditional way to make even more money.  Clifford sites the “Moshi Monsters, which started out as an online-only game, started selling plush toys.”

“Low-income families were unlikely to have downloaded apps for their children’s toys, for instance, which many of the new toys require,” according to the Common Sense Study. The iPhone and its apps have become the new version of the American Girl series. An American Girl “combination of doll, book and accessories for just one character sold from around $100.” (Chudacoff 185) Both examples are pointing to the inevitable truth that entertaining children to such an extent will only increase the material gap between children.

Julia Johnson argues that “You definitely lose out not having board games be the way they used to…” I would argue that just because it is different isn’t necessarily bad, however toys such as Barbie has lost its original intent and devices like the iPhone are creating a separated society, starting at a very young age.