Throughout the entirety of this documentary, William and Arthur were both used as agents of potential success for numerous parties. The most prominent of these parties being their own personal families and the coaches for whom they played basketball. The reasons for which I feel they hold agency are quite similar for each party, but provide a different end. For the boys’ families, success through basketball would mean financial success for every immediate family member. Essentially providing everyone in the family with the rags to riches story which most, who are not placed in this sort of harsh reality of coming to age, only see happening for themselves. Secondly, the coaches who coach these boys are under severe scrutiny, constantly, for whether or not they have what it takes, in terms of coaching skills, to take their potential, and turn them into lean, mean, basketball machines.
The only boys only had one choice to change their future: play basketball, and play it well. This was the only avenue to success for these boys who had come of age in distressed environments; drug infested, crime riddled, and hopeless. Arthur and William are totally and completely at the mercy of the coaches in both their separate college choices, as well as the coach they shared at St. Josephs. As painfully depicted in the film, Arthur was not only removed from the basketball team for not playing “well enough”, though he did play to his full potential at that time, but he was also removed from a higher learning opportunity, and placed back into a public school that looked at him as another Black boy in a system that doesn’t work for him anyways.
I think James chose to depict agency in this particular way because there is very little understanding of the role sports and recreational activities play in the lives of William, Arthur, and other boys like them. I think if it was one thing the director could have wanted us to learn from this movie is that what most people use to entertain themselves with (basketball here) is most certainly another thing in the lives of boys coming of age in distressed environments. Basketball is their livelihood; their way out, and even if they play to the best of their ability, their fate still lies in the hands of others. It is the sad, harsh, and unseen reality James really wanted to shed light on within this film.
WIlliam Gates and Arthur Agee, 03/05/2011, oddpedia.com
When I was three years old my mom got me Lucky the Ladybug, my first Beanie Baby. Lucky quickly became one of my favorite toys and after receiving her I wanted all of the Beanie Babies. Back when I was growing up I would spend hours playing with my stuffed animals. For some reason they were more appealing to me then regular dolls. I suppose since they were animals it allowed me to use my imagination more. Beanie Babies were a huge deal for me and for many other kids when I was in elementary school. Beanie Babies were stuffed animals made by Ty Warner Inc. in 1993 with only nine different animals at the time and they eventually became extremely popular in the late nineties. There were several different animals and styles that you could collect and I wanted all of them. The more Beanie Babies I had, the more crazy and exciting adventures we could go on. Many parents got their kids Beanie Babies so they could collect them and have them be worth something someday, and many limited collections are very valuable. Some rare collections can go from hundreds to even thousands of dollars in certain markets. I, personally, wanted the stuffed animals with the sole intent of playing with them. Their bright colors and individualized name tags were very appealing to kids because they all seemed to have their very own personality. Beanie Babies were definitely a very popular childhood item, which relates to the reading by Stearns and Cross. They state that “an array of new consumer products was aimed at children” (Stearns 3). These stuffed animals were directly aimed at kid’s imaginations. They also were not necessarily gender specified like dolls; boys and girls could both collect the stuffed animals without feeling pressure from friends or their parents for collecting them.
The Baby Burlesk short films of the 1930’s starred America’s favorite child actor, Shirley Temple. Released in 1933, Polly Tix in Washington features Shirley Temple as a “strumpet bent on seducing a senator”; she is essentially a call girl (131). The short film includes adult themes such as political corruption, seduction, and bribery, played out by children of a very young age.
Screen Shot. Shirley Temple starred in "Polly Tix in Washington," released June 4, 1933.
In John F. Kasson’s piece, “Behind Shirley Temple’s Smile: Children, Emotional Labor, and the Great Depression,” he states that these “children literally go through the motions of adult characters without, presumably, comprehending anything about the drama they are enacting” (131). While viewing a few of the Baby Burlesks, I felt somewhat uncomfortable with the scenes being played out. Even the way Shirley Temple struts across the stage suggests a level of flirtatiousness that seems highly inappropriate; not to mention her seductive walk is always directed toward her boy counterpart in the films. The Polly Tixshort displays Shirley Temple in a black lace skimpy outfit, dripping in jewels, and using her body and flirtation skills to sway the opinion of the new senator. She also brings along a decadent cake to aid in her persuasion. One scene shows Shirley feeding a piece of cake to the young senator; she literally had him in the palm of her hands. Actions such as these play into the innocent act of young children enthusiastically shoveling delicious desserts into their mouths using only their hands, but on the other hand, exudes a level of maturity/intimacy usually reserved for adult interactions (similar to the bride and groom hand-feeding each other their first piece of wedding cake; it’s a somewhat sensual event). Although it’s humorous to watch Shirley win over the senator with cake and her sultry antics, the underlying message endorses seduction as an acceptable way of obtaining what you want.
Recently, the Obama administration has proposed several new child labor laws pertaining to agricultural work, and Republican Congressman Danny Rehberg, from Montana, has accused the administration of trying to meddle and not knowing enough about the situation before getting involved. These new laws would target young people working on farms, and would try to limit the sorts of tasks they are allowed to perform in their work. In this article, found in the Huffington Post, Rehberg attacks the new laws and claims that the work they target is perfectly safe for young people. He says, ”You can’t get hurt…It’s impossible. You could have a five-year-old out there running it.” Congressman Rehberg believes that this disconnect comes from people in Washington not truly understanding the work being done on American farms anymore. In his opinion, new technology makes previously unsafe tasks more fit for young laborers, and new safeguards will prevent injuries that previously occurred.
This is a grain auger, one of the types of farm machinery being targeted by the newly proposed child labor regulations.
As my fellow classmate, Daniela Hernandez, wrote in her piece Labor Department proposes new child labor laws, the reaction to the law is similar to the one discussed in Zelizer’s article on useful children. Farming families are attacking the law in a similar way to when Congress proposed child labor regulations in the 1920’s, as an invasion of the rights of parents to use their child’s labor for the benefit of the family (Zelizer, 36). I agree with this connection, in that families who use the labor of their children on family farms still feel that the government has no business meddling in their affairs. They believe that through new innovations in safety technology, the labor is safer than ever and is not a threat to children. Along with this, they also feel that the federal government is overstepping its boundaries in legislating on a topic that should be left to state governments.
According to an article in the Huffington Post, republican congressman Denny Rehberg pledged to use his funding powers in order to prevent the current administration from approving the new child labor laws proposed by the Labor Department. If implemented, these laws would prohibit minors from performing certain types of farm-related tasks deemed too dangerous for them. Representative Rehberg argues that the new proposals are skewed due to a general misconception about what truly takes place in American farms. He claims that farm work has changed significantly over the last century, and thanks to the many technological advances, farmers can now perform their tasks with modern equipment that is incapable of hurting them. “You can’t get hurt,” Rehberg stated. “It’s impossible. You could have a five-year-old out there running it.”
However, the several accidents concerning minors working in farms that have transpired during the last few months beg to differ. In July 25 of last year, ten farm workers were injured in an electrocution accident while they were detasseling corn in a Illinois field. Of these ten workers, two were 14-year-old girls who, after being rushed to the hospital, were pronounced dead. Just two weeks later, two 17-year-old boys working on a farm in Oklahoma, suffered critical injuries when pulled into a grain augur while on the job.
Furthermore, “although child and worker advocates said the new rules were long overdue, the proposals created an uproar among farmers and agricultural trade groups, who argued that the rules could hurt family-farming traditions” (Dave Jamieson). This reaction on behalf of farmers is strikingly similar to the one Zelizer describes in the chapter of her book that we read for class. When Congress approved a constitutional amendment regulating child labor in 1924, the biggest opposition came from the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Farm Bureau Federation (36). However, when we consider the terrible economic circumstances that characterized that time period, the opposition from the farmers becomes more understandable. Zelizer quotes Michael Haines’ explanation that child labor “appears to have been the main source of additional support for the late nineteenth-century urban family under economic stress” (34). Nowadays, however, there is no excuse for their opposition. Incomes have increased enough that there is no need for children to work. And if they do decide to work they should be protected from performing those tasks that could potentially endanger their lives.
This is the course website for Rebecca Onion's American Studies seminar at the University of Texas at Austin, convened during the spring semester of 2012. You can see the website for last semester's version of this course at this link.