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Posts tagged ‘Television’

The World of the Care Bears

Birthday Bear wants a hug. Awww. (click for source)

The episode of Care Bears that I watched, called “Birthday Bear’s Blues,” took place on Birthday Bear’s birthday. The Care Bears are celebrating after scaring off the villain No Heart. Thinking the other Care Bears forgot his birthday, Birthday Bear goes to Earth to cheer up a rich little boy, Charles, because nobody has come to his birthday party. Meanwhile, No Heart is plotting revenge. He tricks the Care Bears into going to Charles’s estate and bewitches a maze with thorns and no way out. The Care Bears are tricked into the maze and trapped. Birthday Bear and Charles watch from outside the maze and seek out Charles’s classmates for help. No Heart begins to track The Care Bears inside the maze. He almost catches Gentle Heart, but the Care Bears team up and “scare” No Heart, sending their beams to find him. Evil is defeated, and Charles learns that you can’t buy friends.

I think this episode of Care Bears refutes Cross’s argument in “Spinning Out of Control.” He argues that 80s kids TV was removed from the “real world,” but this episode deals directly with a topics relevant to kids, friendship and that money doesn’t buy friends. The episode does have a clear moral lesson, even though it is hidden within a world of fantasy.

Cross argued that toys for “no longer needed to conform to the simplest laws of nature” (p. 302). While he sees this as a bad thing, I think personification is a big part of how kids play naturally. Stuffed animals have voices and personalities to kids, so talking bears on television isn’t much of a stretch for them.

However, there are some aspects of this episode that support Cross’s position. The world of Care Bears is obviously very separate from the real world, but the parts of the show that are trying to depict the real world are unrealistic. The villain is “reduced to the killjoy, often pitiful figure whose opposition to the happiness of a colorful world came only from ignorance or fear of caring” (p. 300).  “Evil” in the world of the Care Bears has no relation to evil in the world of today. Additionally, there are no adults. Charles’s own parents don’t come to his birthday party. His classmates are off by themselves flying kites. When the Care Bears are trapped in the maze, Charles doesn’t turn to his parents. They just aren’t there.

The world of the Care Bears is removed from the real world, but the lesson in this episode was clear and not distorted beyond something kids can translate the the real world.

Barbie Explosion

Barbie was a huge part of my childhood, like many other girls. The doll, launched in 1959 and beloved ever since, comes with many different variations of skin color, career, and clothing options. It is widely available in toy stores and even grocery stores. My journey with Barbie began quite simply. My mother got me a Barbie doll when I was 4 or 5. For Christmas and my next birthday, I asked for a few modest accessories so that I could enjoy a few different adventures with my Barbie. Next, I began seeing commercials featuring the rest of Barbie’s family: Ken, Skipper, and Kelly. Of course, I had to have them all. How could I let Barbie live her life alone?! Pretty soon, Barbie needed a van to get around with her new family, but Ken didn’t like the van, so he needed his own Jeep. When Barbie’s first movie came out, I needed a whole new set of Barbies to live out the Rapunzel story. My old dolls already had a life I couldn’t take them away from. My parents and other family members gladly obliged my Barbie fantasies for years, but the final straw came when I got the Barbie Hotel. It cost over $100, had an elevator, and working telephones. I had never considered Barbie needing a hotel until a slew of commercials came out telling me I needed it. After that, my mom said I would have to make do with what I already had. She was sick of me seeing new commercials every day and deciding I had to have the latest item. Although Barbie does not classify as a PLC (program length commercial), I think the popularity of the Barbie movies, and the heavy advertising (a Barbie commercial ran during every kid-related show I watched, and it was usually more than one) would lead to the same effects as a PLC. It did for me. The article we read was titled “Spinning out of Control”, and that’s exactly what happened during my childhood. I started with one doll, and ended with a van, jeep, VW Beetle, 2 houses, a boat, a hotel, over 20 different dolls, and enough clothes and accessories to fill a real closet. It was never enough. That’s the type of environment PLCs and heavily advertised toys create.

 

Barbie Hotel

A picture of the Barbie Hotel, the final item of my Barbie Collection

He-Man the Master of the Universes

Ileena Drinking the magic potion. He-Man the Master of the Universes Season 1 Ep 16

I recently watched an 80’s episode of the show He-Man the Master of the Universe called “A Friend in Need” on Hulu.com.  In the episode, He-Man’s friend, Ileena, lacked self-confidence and wanted to be stronger and braver. Her weakness was vital to the evil sorcerer, Jarvan, who was looking to seek revenge at He-Man. Jarvan, disguised as a kind old lady, befriends Ileena and provides her with a  magic potion that will make her feel stronger and more confident. The magic brew works wonderful when you first take it but after it wears off it makes you feel weaker and craving even more. Unaware of the side effects, Ileena takes the illusive potion and finds herself doing things she never had the courage to do before. While under its effect, she almost crashes her father’s flying car. Soon the young girl becomes addicted to the magic mixture. When she tries to get more from Jarvan he tells her she has to do something for him before he can provide her more. She must steal the transmutator that her father has invented. The transmutator is a machine which turns anything into whatever you desire; in the wrong hands it can cause great evil. This is something Ileena would have never done but she finds the addiction to the potion stronger than her will and decides to do as Jarvan asked. Once she gets the transmutator and hands it to Jarvan, he finally reveals himself and Ileena realizes she has made a grave mistake. After clearing her head, Ileena confesses to her father and friends what she has done and has He-Man come and save the day.

At the end of the episode He-Man speaks about the moral of the clip and how the potion compares to drug use. He explains about how drugs are bad for you and your health no matter what other people say about them. Gary Cross’s theory about how children are not being taught to be better adults like “the dolls and play sets that encouraged girls to act out their mothers’ role” (pg 290) did, is not applicable in this episode. Even though the episode did not prepare or teaches children about their adult roles, it does capture a significant problem in life, drug abuse. Drugs have been around since the 19th century and continue to be embraced by more people since the 1960’s when marijuana, amphetamines, and psychedelics entered the market. The epidemic for drug abuse and addiction is a continuing problem our government struggles to keep under control. Children must be made aware of the seriousness of this issue so they do not fall victim like Ileena did.

Sanrio: Friendship Characters

Ah, Sanrio. The company behind Hello Kitty and all those other Japanese kawaii characters. Everyone knows who Hello Kitty is, however I may have had a slightly different experience with Sanrio characters because I spent every summer of my childhood in Hawaii. Hawaii has a very large Japanese population, and Sanrio is a very Japanese phenomenon which became wildly popular among children in America, but especially children in Hawaii. I, like all other children in Hawaii, owned numerous items covered with images of these characters. I remember loving my Keroppi lunch container and taking it to school with me every day, using my Hello Kitty chopsticks and plastic-ware often at dinner, wearing my Pochacco shirt to summer camp, writing in my Little Twin Stars notebook, and drinking out of my Chococat mug. Every drugstore in Hawaii has an entire aisle devoted to Sanrio characters. I remember whenever I would go with my mom to the store, I would spend the entire time walking down the Sanrio aisle and begging my mom to buy me a toy or some new item with a Sanrio character printed on it. There was an entire Sanrio store in every mall and I would visit it with every mall excursion. Even when I got older, I still looked upon the Sanrio characters with a smile because they reminded me of summer and my childhood.

Sanrio products similar to ones I owned in the 90's

According to Sanrio’s website, the company “was founded in 1960’s Japan by Shintaro Tsuji, whose simple dream of bringing smiles to people’s faces, grew into the brand’s ‘small gift, big smile’ philosophy”. An online company history of Sanrio states that the company launched the Hello Kitty character in 1974, originally aimed toward girls too young for barbies or similar toys. This spread beyond the intended age group partially because it tapped into the Japanese ‘kawaii’ trend, the obsession with cuteness. They sell anything from tiny toys, erasers, and candies to big things like suitcases, golf clubs and TVs, all with an image of a character and the brand-name pasted on each item. In 1976 the company set up a base in San Jose CA as a result of growing popularity in the U.S. and set up licensing agreements which brought Sanrio characters into toys included in McDonalds children’s meals. In 1988 Sanrio came out with its first boy character, Keroppi the frog, whose success caused the creation of new gender-neutral characters to bring boys into the market. In the early 90’s, two theme parks were built to keep up with the craze: Puroland and Harmonyland. Sanrio also created TV shows in the 90’s based on Hello Kitty and friends.

I never knew the friendship stories behind the characters, and I never watched the TV shows that accompanied them, but I still loved the characters anyhow. Sanrio characters play into the idea of the PLC, or “program-length commercial” mentioned in the Spinning Out of Control (Gary Cross) reading. Cross says, “These programs were ‘originally conceived as a vehicle from providing product exposure to the child audience’” (295). by providing an extensive story and extra characters around the Hello Kitty trend, the TV series surrounding Sanrio characters served just to market more toys and items with the brand to children. Cross also talks about the problem this causes for parents: “PLCs stacked the deck against parents by manipulating young children into wanting a particular toy while ostensibly entertaining them” (296). The Sanrio characters also show the idea of how toymakers “also shaped little girls’ play around licensed characters and fairytale story lines” (299).  In these characters and storylines, most of the time characters “worked together for the common good and did so in a world largely free of adult authority” (300). The Sanrio characters seem to follow the trend of Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Herself the Elf, and other ‘friendship’ characters of this kind of formula.

The World of Strawberry Shortcake

 

An illustration of the title character and her cat, Custard.

Strawberry Shortcake was created in the late 1970s by the American Greetings card company. As the character became a popular fad among young girls, the company expanded the Strawberry Shortcake product line to include dolls, posters, stationary, stickers, clothing, games, etc. Beginning in 1980 Strawberry Shortcake animated specials began to air on television, joining the controversial trend of program-length commercials designed to advertise such product lines to children. To examine the claims of Gary Cross (“Spinning Out of Control”) about the negative effects of program-length commercials or PLCs, I watched the first episode of the Strawberry Shortcake television series.

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GI Joe: A Real American Fantasy

For this post I watched the twenty-second episode from the first season of GI Joe: A Real American Hero, titled “The Funhouse.” In this episode, Cobra Commander has kidnapped a group of scientists and imprisoned them in his temple base in South America. Cobra imprisoned the scientists to try and draw the GI Joe team into an elaborate fun house of traps that he constructed inside the island base. At the end of the episode the team overcomes Cobra’s traps and rescues the group of scientists, all before the bomb planted by Cobra underneath the base explodes.

This episode of GI Joe relates well to Cross’ ideas that PLC’s in the 1980′s showed children a fantasy world that didn’t relate to the actual world around them. According to Cross, toys and t.v. characters of the 1980s’s,” fought in fantastic miniworlds of rocketry and lasers where the child could not fully identify with the creature or violent acts he performed” (Cross, 291). This idea ties in with the GI Joe series. In the episode both Cobra and the Joe team utilize weapons that fire lasers, and real bullets are never actually displayed. This allows the child watching the show to fantasize that no one is ever actually killed in conflict. The victims of laser wounds always get up later if they are an important character to the show. By idealizing combat in this way, the child is completely removed from the actual horrors of battle, and never has to rationalize the violence they are shown. The Cobra enemies presented are also made to look more like robot soldiers than actual people, which further removes children from reality, as countless waves of faceless Cobra soldiers are mowed down in the Joe assault on the base. In this way, television  producers in the 1980′s could show fantasy conflicts and weapons without having to worry about excessive backlash from concerned parents over the televised violence.

 

 

Red Rocket

Gary Cross’ article, “Spinning out of Control,” states that “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 the blur of perpetual change.” I would agree for the most part, that most children’s television shows are pointless and mindless entertainment. However some shows were able to capture young audiences as well as teach them valuable lessons.  G.I. Joe is a good example of a perfect balance between fantasy and (somewhat) reality.  The episode that I watched was entitled “Red Rocket’s Glare,” which was about Cobra Command trying to blow up the world (surprise, surprise ).  Cobra Command was able to buy out a lot of small locally owned businesses across the country and turn them into a series of fast food restaurants called, Red Rockets.  The Joe’s first discovered that something was a midst when they took a short leave of absence to visit one of their teammate’s Aunt’s newly owned Red Rocket restaurant.   There they discovered that a biker gang (with ray guns) was hired by Cobra Command to harass these restaurants so they could lose money and have to sell their business to evil conglomerate Extensive Enterprise, which (surprise, surprise ) is owned by Cobra.  The Joe’s are able to fend off the bikers but in turn trigger Cobra’s attack on the world by launching all of the rockets on top of the restaurants which turned out to be actual rockets and not just props (surprise, surprise ). But in the end, the Joe’s prevailed again through teamwork, intelligence, and some really good resources.