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Posts tagged ‘Gary Cross’

Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye?

I did an investigation into Gary Cross’ claims against the “program- length- commercials” of the 80’s.  Cross argues that the shows had nothing to teach children, and that they had no content relevant to helping children understand the “real world.”  I watched an episode of Transformers from the 1980’s on YouTube. I could not find the exact date it aired, but did find that it was the 27th episode from the second season, titled “Golden Lagoon.” The way the show is formatted, a child has to follow the show almost religiously to stay on top of what is happening. Having jumped straight into the 27th episode, I found myself in the middle of a battle, not knowing who was good, and who was bad. The Autobots and Decepticons (I hope I’m spelling that right), are in the middle of battle, when one of them finds a pond full of a gold liquid called electrum that makes makes the Transformers invincible.  The Decepticons get to the pond first, and have the upper hand, until the Autobots stealthily get to the pond as the electrum is wearing off for the Decepticons. The Autobots win the battle, and they celebrate in a destroyed forest as a result of the battle. There was no big mention of teamwork, or protecting the environment, or anything that could be remotely beneficial to a child’s learning experience while watching television.  The only possibility would be that, if the Autobots are the “good guys,” that good always prevails, but that’s a stretch. From the episode I saw, Cross was correct in his criticism.

Fantasy World Isn’t My Only World

Cowabunga Dude

Image of Ninja Turtles from:


The “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a TV series/brand that has its beginning origins in the late 1980’s. The TV series circulates around four crime-fighting turtles and their martial-arts master, Splinter, who happens to be rat. In the episode I watched, titled “Once Upon a Time Machine”, the turtles start off sitting in a room watching TV, eating pizza, and neglecting their martial arts training. Splinter warns them of the dangers of excess calories and of how TV “shrivels your brain.” He then relays the message, “To be sharp tomorrow, one must hone his skills today.” From this message the episode moved forward with the plot of the antagonist “Shredder” wanting to take a time machine into the future, with the hopes that the Ninja Turtles would be extinct and no longer able to foil his evil misdeeds. However, the time portal Shredder uses has been left open and the Turtles follow him into the future. They see their future selves and it is obvious they did not heed Master Splinters advice for all the “future” turtles are more glutton, weak, and can not think effectively enough to fight crime. The “past” turtles vow to heed to their training and be good citizens. Then the turtles proceed to defeat Shredder before taking the time portal back to the present day.

After watching the aforementioned episode of “Ninja Turtles”, I disagree with Gary Cross when he writes in reference to 1980’s toys, “the old view that children should learn from the past and prepare for the future is inevitably subverted in a consumer culture where memory and hope get lost in a blur of perpetual change” (packet page 290).  The problem with this statement is, Gary Cross is viewing the phenomenon, of fantasy toys, in a vacuum, and not taking into affect that the entire culture children are engulfed in shapes their imaginations, not just fantasy television shows. (Also, these two cultures can be separated from each other into distinct entities. Consumer culture and learning about the past). A child will learn about the past from a history teacher in school, and will be prepared for the future from their role inside the household such as doing their chores, attaining quality grades, and participating in sports. A child is to exercise their imagination, and escape from the realities of life while playing with their toys. Even though, the media has created “miniworlds of fantasy play” (pg.297) with toys that parallel the media’s story, children will still play with toys with their own creative elaborations. The toys might not “invite girls to be “little mommies”” (pg. 301) but, this does not mean that girls will not act out the role of “little mommy” with her barbie or other toy because she is witness to “being a mommy” everyday and this is apart of her imagination. To conclude, while the “Ninja Turtles” do not “indoctrinate children with political ideology” (pg. 298) and is a “simple vision of “good” vs. “evil” in a fantasy world where violence was a constant” (pg. 298), there are real world lessons of character intertwined throughout the entire episode. Some examples, from the episode, include eating your broccoli, eating excess calories make you fat, you will ruin your eyes reading in dull light, defacing monuments is a severe crime with harsh punishment, good citizens join the clean up the city campaign, and you must practice everyday if you want to be good at something. The point is, children are going to learn about the past from somewhere and are going to be prepared for the future from somewhere. These lessons of the past and future are distinct entities that can be extracted and learned separate from consumer culture. (Even though consumer culture is apart of our past, present, and future).



Episode found:


Strawberry Shortcake in the Big Apple City

In the “Strawberry Shortcake in the Big Apple City” episode (part 2, part 3), Strawberry Shortcake travels to New York to compete in a baking contest with her nemesis, the Peculiar Purple Pie Man.  He sets many obstacles for her so that she can not make it to the competition or beat him. Luckily, Strawberry Shortcake meets a gang of friends along the way that help her overcome these setbacks, making her trip end on a happy note when she beats the Purple Pie Man in the competition!

This episode does go along with many of Cross’ arguments because the towns and buildings are that of a fantasy world, often made out of common desserts. Snail mail in this world is literally delivered by a snail, and airplanes are simply butterflies. This is a world in which the sun talks and when bad things are thrown in Strawberry’s way, such as the Purple Man catching her airplane (or butterfly) with a butterfly net, happy thoughts can save the day. Many things such as this, obvious signs of “moral tags” (296), are evident in the episode. These moral tags were meant to justify the PLC’s and make them seem better for children. Other examples include quotes such as “Never say never” and “Be good losers. Victory lies in the struggle, not in the prize.” The various friends made by Strawberry in the episode affirm the idea that “friendship” toys for girls were being made instead of home-making or mothering toys.

While many of Cross’ points and arguments were shown through the Strawberry Shortcake episode, there were also a few references to the real world. The Big Apple in the title refers to New York City and the bake-off is held in Times Square. One of the friends Strawberry makes is even from London. Some things from the real world stay the same, such as video cameras and tv’s. The Strawberry Shortcake world is not entirely fantasy. One part of the episode that somewhat defies one of Cross’ arguments is the lack of gender roles in toys. A friend made in “Spinach” (aka Greenwich) Village, Lemon Meringue, is a model and is constantly primping and saying how pretty she is. However, this is the only clear gender role shown in the episode.

Overall, the episode seems to reflect many of Gary Cross’ arguments and doesn’t necessarily negate many of them. While I definitely thought it had no educational value, due to the moral tags, it could be said to have some kind of merit. However, I believe that this PLC, although not necessarily all PLC’s, was mainly for the purpose of consumerism. Viewing this one episode, I agree with Gary Cross, although after viewing more of this show, or perhaps some other PLC’s, it’s possible I could change my mind. I sincerely hope all PLC’s were not as horrible as this episode of a girl named Strawberry Shortcake.

The Lorax: Environmentalism Then, Commercialism Now

Susan Linn of the Huffington Post wrote an article recently about the “slew of corporate cross-promotions” making an appearance thanks to the new film The Lorax, an adaptation of the famous Dr. Seuss children’s book.  Linn criticizes the use of the new film to promote commercial products such as HP computers, Seventh Generation diapers, and Mazda SUVs.  The Lorax is a children’s book that was published in 1971 and originally taught a lesson in environmentalism.  The use of this book’s popularity to create a film that in turn fuels commercialism has caused a controversy; Linn explains that the environmental message of the book directly conflicts with the creation and distribution of products using the film and the Lorax as selling points.

This article nicely complements Chudacoff’s piece on commercialization.  The merging of a “‘backstory’ of fantasy with a product” is exactly what’s happening with The Lorax (pg. 180).  Advertisers are taking advantage of a beloved book and using its big budget movie deal to sell products.  Linn talks about how “[m]arketers routinely exploit children’s emotional connection to media characters to sell them on practically everything.”  Chudacoff discusses exactly this issue and how it emerged in the 1950’s through the medium of television.  In his own article on toys and commercialization, Cross writes that the “defeat of reformers’ attempts to prohibit toy ads on television” contributed to the growing number of children consumers (pg. 291).  Based on the Huff Post article, it’s obvious that manufacturers have, as Cross states, “formed alliances with makers of children’s movies, TV cartoons, comic books…” to sell products with the Lorax as their middle man, something the “real Lorax” would have had no part in (pg. 293).

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax Trailer. Youtube. 2012.


uploaded to youtube by whitemagicofdoom on june 9, 2011

A Very Pony Place- Shine On Part 1, with the subtitle Come Back, Lily Lightly was a Program Length Commerical that aired in 1985. This episode takes place in Unicornia, which is a fantasyland where brightly colored unicorns live and play.  The story begins with a group of unicorns stringing lights throughout the town in preparation for the “Rainbow Lights Party.”  A neon pink pony named Lily is named the “Princess of Lightly.”  Overjoyed with this title, Lily laughs, which causes her horn to light up.  Embarrassed, she runs away.

As the story progresses, the rest of the unicorns sing a song about “getting the giggles” and they show how “work” can be fun.  In the meantime, Lily meets a firefly who tells her that it is ok to be different.  He convinces Lily that it is great fun to “shine” and that everything will turn out ok if she will only be herself. This story is very similar to Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer, a beloved Christmas tale, which has been told to countless American children for generations.

In Spinning Out of Control, Gary Cross states that, “the toys derived from these stories were abstracted from the real world of family care and future roles.” (281)   I disagree with his opinion. This Little Pony episode dealt with several “real world” issues. Friendship, acceptance, and  laughter are all importance issues in the real world.  “Be yourself and others will like you just the way you are,” and “laughter will enrich your life” are both values that benefit family care and future roles.

The setting and the animated ponies were fantasy, but this did not distract from the lessons present in the script. I feel the “make-believe” aspects of the show are what captivates the young audience and keeps their attention for 30 minutes. As a parent, I feel that this particular episode would teach my children some wisdom in an entertaining way.


Kitchen Playsets

"My Very Own Kitchen" by American Plastic Toy, $32.99,

When I was younger, I, like most of my friends and family, had a miniature kitchen playset. I had plastic bowls, utensils, pots, and even plastic food. I loved to make multi-course meals that I would force my brother to “eat.” I logged so many hours over the stove that eventually, many of the knobs, doors, and handles fell off, leaving me with a long laundry list of household repairs, much like my parents encountered in real life.

While modern kitchen sets have not always been around, I’m sure kids have been playing with their parents’ pots and pans since the invention of the pan, until someone finally thought to create miniature sets for play. A variety of companies make them and they come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. My brother even had a mini grill, complete with sound effects. They’re affordable, in the range of $50 to $200, and they come with all kinds of fun, fake accessories.

I think that one of the main appeals for these mini kitchens is what Cross talks about when he explains the necessity of mimicry (43). Mimicry is a form of learning and is something most kids do in order to associate themselves with the adult world. Mimicry is fun, although I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that the things kids imitate are usually not as fun as they are when you’re pretending. I hate cooking and doing the dishes, which are two of the very things I used to do with my kitchen set.

In class, we talked about toys for boys and girls, and I think that kitchen sets can be very gender neutral, which is another reason for their popularity. Yes, some are clearly meant for girls (the bright pink ones) and others for boys (the grill my brother had looked “manly” in red and black colors), but many of the sets on Amazon have gender neutral colors and show boys playing with them in the pictures. My brother always played with mine when we were little. Maybe this gender neutrality is recent due to shifting gender roles, or maybe not, but either way, I think that kitchen playsets can be for boys or girls. I don’t think that there is any stigma about boys pretending to cook, especially since many men cook now.

However, I can’t say that other types of toys are always gender neutral. I remember the year I stopped getting the same toy as all my male cousins. It was sad to see them all shooting each other with their nerf guns while I stared at my stupid charm bracelet wondering how I could steal my brother’s gun without my parents noticing. However, life goes on.

Kitchen playsets are a fun way for kids to imitate their parents and enjoy their childhood. If only doing the real action were half as fun as pretending.


Barbies, Bratz & Upbringings

Toys for children serve multiple purposes, some of the ideas behind toys revolve around inspiration and building dreams. I was the only girl in a house of boys, I have an older brother and a younger brother. I learned how to play with Street Sharks, Beast War and when PlayStation came out I knew how to dominate at Marvel Super Heroes. So hopefully this makes it easier to understand why there was not much room for My Pretty Pony and Cabbage Patch Kids in our toy box. These were just a few of the popular girls toys of the 90s; when I received my first Barbie, she was so beautiful and everything I knew I wanted to be. It was easy to start a collection, at approximately $25 a doll. Christmas and birthday wishes became easy to guess. Barbie possessed the perfect hour glass shaped body, with long legs. She had big colorful eyes, with long hair. Every outfit she ever had always fit perfectly, and looking back now I know that I grew up with that image in my head of what girls were supposed to look like. As I grew older and grew out of my Barbie phase, I noticed that Bratz dolls quickly began to become the new “it” toy for young girls. With my new maturity and perspective on dolls like these, I was quick to notice that the Bratz dolls wore twice as much make-up as Barbie, their facial features were much more pronounced as plastic surgery began to grow in popularity amongst celebrities. Their outfits became more revealing and Bratz portrayed as overall much more “trashier” appearance than Barbie. In Gary Cross’ article about “Modern Children, Modern Toys”, he explains about Locke’s theory that “children should have a variety of toys.” (page 46) However he also goes onto explain that toys should be used to “…guide the child’s “progress” or training.” By training he was referring to how girls should be taught how to be exemplary caretakers and housewives. While Barbie stood for everything feminist, she did not emphasize learning those types of lessons. I appreciate the fact that she didn’t teach this, because as our society grew, women started to devote more time away from the house and more on their jobs and careers.

Barbie, featured in the center, with her two friends.


Some of the Bratz dolls featured together.