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Posts tagged ‘children’

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.



Strawberry Shortcake – “Big Country Fun”

In the episode of Strawberry Shortcake I watched, titled “Big Country Fun”, Strawberry Shortcake and her friend Angel Cake get a job at the “Fairy Prairie Dude Ranch” where they become the counselors of different bunkhouses. While there, their cabins compete against one another in a contest over who can make the best chili, decorate their horses the prettiest, and who is the best at trail riding. Throughout the episode, Angel Cake becomes very competitive and loses sight of the fun they’re supposed to be having at the ranch.

While the article titled “Strawberry Shortcake in the Big Apple City” argues that Gary Cross’ claims accurately describe the nature of the Strawberry Shortcake episodes, I don’t think I would fully agree with that. Admittedly, many things about the series are based off of a fantasy world. For instance, the fact that the trees are big lollipops and the mountains are large cupcakes of course does not correlate to the real world. However, I believe that the underlying themes to the episode I watched would have actually had an impact on the children watching the show. The main lesson the audience would have learned from the episode would have been that competition was created in order to have fun, and it is important to not lose sight of that when competing against other people. Throughout the competition, the characters also showed that it is okay for people to make mistakes and that teamwork is important when striving for a common goal.

No, this Strawberry Shortcake article does not fully prepare children for adulthood, but it DOES provide for a fun way for children to learn important lessons while watching something that appeals to their imagination. Furthermore, I believe it is extremely important for a child’s imagination to be triggered at a young age so they can grow up to become creative and imaginative human beings. Strawberry Shortcake does a spectacular job of combining creativity and important lessons that would be beneficial to young children at the time.

Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake

In Gary Cross’s article “Spinning Out of Control” he argues 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 (290).” After reading this I watched an episode of Strawberry Shortcake because it is an example of a PLC (program length commercial) according to Cross (296). In this particular episode Strawberry Shortcake was a finalist in a baking competition where she had to travel to Big Apple city and participate in a bake off with the “villain” Purple Pie Man that will be on TV. In order to get to Big Apple City, Strawberry Shortcake has to travel on the back of a butterfly. Once she is there she makes tons of friends instantly, and they are all eager to help Strawberry Shortcake win. Throughout the whole episode Purple Pie Man is constantly trying to sabotage Strawberry Shortcake’s chances of winning, but always fails because Strawberry Shortcake’s new friends are there to help her out. Ironically at the end of the episode the announcer of the bake-off offers Strawberry Shortcake a television show, but she politely declines because she will miss her friends. The announcer then punishes Purple Pie Man by making him the new vice president of the television network. Strawberry Shortcake according to cross was the “girls’ version of Star Wars,” and I would completely have to agree  because it the whole show was not relatable to real life (299). The whole setting and plot was unrealistic and so was the process of making so many new friends. No where in this episode did I see any type of life lessons or preparing children to live in the real world. It was all about making new friends, so in my opinion Cross’s argument holds true for the episode I watched.

The Care Bear Stare!!

I watched a short episode of the 80s cartoon Care Bears, this particular episode was called “The Night the Stars Went Out.”  It was about a villain riding around in a cloud stealing stars from the sky so he could have light to see his music when he was playing his violin.  The Care Bears find out who is behind the star stealing and they take him down and get back the stars.  In the end Funshine Bear gives the villain some of her sunlight so he can read his music without stealing stars for light. The problem is solved and everybody goes off happily.

This PLC definitely portrays Cross’s fears that shows are no longer teaching kids how to deal with real life events.  This show is purely fantasy, it takes place on a cloud and they take down the villain by throwing lightning bolts at him and by shooting him the Care Bear Stare.  This show might not teach boys how to shoot a gun or fight in war and teach girls how to raise kids, cook, and clean, but it still emphasizes the importance of teamwork and friendship.  Care Bears and other PLCs are not necessarily very educational but I do not see the harm in them.  Fantasy genre shows I believe spark the imagination and I think that is a very good thing for kids to have.  Cross believed that “the plaything as a tool to reenact the past or prepare for the future had largely disappeared.” He also believed that when PLCs and “toys lost their connection to the experience and expectations of parents, they entered a realm of ever-changing fantasy (309).” This is what ultimately scared Cross.  When he was growing up boys and girls were expected to become certain things as they got older. The toys kids played with and the shows kids watched back before the 70s and 80s highlighted the gender roles that men and women were supposed to take.  Nowadays these roles are becoming blurred and things are changing all time and toys and shows for kids are trying to keep up with the changing times.

Maybe TV Isn’t So Bad After All

While many parents and child-experts agree that television poses several potentially harmful effects, one economist refuses to buy into the argument. Moreover, this is not just any economist, but rather, it is the highly acclaimed, former economic policy advisor of President Obama, Austan Goolsbee.

In a 2006 article published in Slate Magazine, Goolsbee argues that the studies on the impact of television on children are “seriously flawed”, due to their failure to account for more significant social, economic, and environmental variables. Goolsbee claims that because “kids who watch minimal TV, as a group are from much wealthier families than those who watch hours and hours…the less-TV kids have all sorts of things going for them that have nothing to do with the impact of television.” In defense of this claim, Goolsbee cites the research of his colleagues, Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro, who, upon evaluating the 1966 Coleman Report, were unable to find any correlation between poor test-scores and television viewership. In fact, the research suggests that if anything, there was “a small positive uptick in test scores for kids who got to watch more television when they were young.”

This article comes in stark contrast to the opinions that have been voiced throughout television’s history, which although recognizing the potentially beneficial effects of TV, have been largely negative. As Lynn Spigel states in her book Welcome to the Dreamhouse, one of the greatest concerns regarding television was “its dissemination of debased knowledge and its related encouragement of passive minds and bodies” (147)—an argument Goolsbee would dismiss as entirely subjective.

The increasing debates in society today about the failures of our public educational system, as well as socioeconomic factors such as the dramatic increase in single parent families, have also become a large part of the conversation regarding the intellectual development of children, showing that TV is far from the only talking point concerning the welfare of children. In addition, new technologies which have created much more of a reliance on electronic communication have also broadened the discussion beyond the effects of TV to the overall effects of a media and technologically driven society.