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.
“Imagine if there was an extra adult in your home parenting your child. Every day from dawn to dusk, this person would give your kids information on everything from school work to more personal issues, like dating and relationships. And you have no say what they told your child.”
Angela Ardolino creates this image to explain the role, that she believes, television has taken on in the home. In her article, “Embracing media influence on Children,” Ardolino is arguing that parents do not understand how big of an influence the media has on a child. At the time of adolescence, she states, children form a separation from their parents and look to the media for guidance. What these children see on television and in ads tends to form their values and interests. She argues that this influence is mostly negative. Ardolino ends by giving media tips to help parents and encouraging them to help their children choose positive media role models.
Angela Ardolino is the editor of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine, Founder of Miami Children’s Theater, and an expert in honest parenting. While she does not have children herself, she has so much experience with children and with the study of children and parenting. From her articles on her webpage, she allows the reader to get a sense of what kind of person she is and what her beliefs are. She writes about popular media influences on children today and her responses to these influences range from mildly liberal to mildly conservative. She reaches out to all parents with varying parenting skills.
This critique of the effect of television on children is similar to Ray Bradbury’s critique in “the Veldt.” In his story, Bradbury creates an image of the nursery taking on the role of the parents and all of the children’s behaviors come from what they create in the nursery. Both Ardolino and Bradbury have the same critique of television acting as a parent for children and they both portray this media influence as negative by showing the parents being killed in the end of “The Veldt” and by explaining that children who see tobaocco ads are more likely to take on the habit of tobacco. However, Bradbury explains the nursery more as a baby sitter, whereas, Ardolino portrays the television as an actual guardian that effects all aspects of the child’s life. I think that Ardolino’s critique stems from the greater variety of TV shows, today, than were available in the 1950’s when “The Veldt” was produced. The wide variety of what is shown on TV today makes way for more influences in every part of the children’s lives.
Whether the TV is acting as a babysitter or a role model for children, many critics argue that the media is becoming a problem. As seen in Adolino’s articles as well as in Bradbury’s story, the TV is showing a negative influence on children. Their interests, hobbies, and values are all being formed by what they see while they are left in front of the television. By presenting their arguments, Adolino and Bradbury leave the idea of whether or not there needs to be an intervention in what today’s children are watching up to the parents.
In an article on the TLC website titled, “Is it OK for Babies to Watch TV?” contributing writer Jacob Silverman discusses the negative effects that TV watching has on babies. In the article Silverman addresses several studies which found positive correlations between time spent watching TV and difficulty reading. From these studies, many psychologists and educators have recommended that parents limit their children’s TV consumption. But what about TV programs that claim to be educational for children? Silverman says that studies have been released that show programs like “Baby Einstein” may actually hinder child development. While these programs are very popular, they mostly contain rapidly moving images to attract babies’ attention, rather than active dialogue. Parents think that because shows like “Baby Einstein” are supposed to be educational, it makes it more okay for them to use the TV as a kind of babysitter while they are doing chores around the house and can’t devote their full attention to their baby. This poses a problem because of the sensitivity of babies’ brain development before the age of 2. During this time babies are forming important neural connections and the best way to do this is by providing interactive stimulation, which most programs claiming to be educational fail to do. In one study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, vocabulary development of babies 8-16 months old was studied as a function of watching programs like “Baby Einstein.” It was found that for every hour a day that a child watched these programs, they knew six to eight fewer words compared to children of the same age who did not watch them. Studies suggest that the best way to encourage proper brain development among children is to have parents interact with them and if parents do allow babies to watch TV than it is best to watch with them and provide explanations for the content.
Silverman’s critique of “educational” programing is relatable to the veldt in Ray Bradbury’s story “The Veldt” because the parents in “The Veldt” thought that by providing their children with this new technology they were helping to entertain them and enhance their lives, when in reality the veldt was detrimental to their well being and inhibited interaction between them and their parents. While programs like “Baby Einstein” are not as crazy as the veldt, they do make parents think they have the benefit of educating children while keeping them busy. Overall it seems the most important way to influence children’s well being is by providing them with personal interactions. Also “The Veldt” and Silverman’s article show that it is important to know the real costs and benefits of programs that may be sold as beneficial to children but in reality are not.
In Jeff Jacoby’s article on the harmful effects of watching television on children, called Silence that idiot box!, he argues that letting children watch extended periods of television on a daily basis is no different than giving them a drug that produces zombie like effects. He cites several other articles, including scientific publications from both the 1960’s and today, in his rant against what he also refers to as the “boob tube.” He points out that children who watch one or more hours a day of television are more likely to have poor assignment completion rates and negative attitudes towards school. Jacoby sums up a 2005 study published by the American Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine with these words: “Increased time spent watching television during childhood and adolescence was associated with a lower level of educational attainment by early adulthood.” He also points out studies which show correlation between children watching television and being more likely to smoke, be overweight, or suffer from sleep difficulties and high cholesterol.
Daily views of television in different countries from Boston.com
It is clear that that Jacoby is rabidly against the high volume of television watching that goes on in the world of children, but it might help to understand his point of view if we better understand his background. Jeff Jacoby works for the Boston Herald, is a nationally recognized conservative voice, he briefly practiced law, and has been a commentator for WBUR.
Jacoby points out children watching an extended period of television, and this relates to Bradbury’s story of The Veldt because of the fact that the children in the story Peter and Wendy have been corrupted by the nursery. The facts that the children would much rather have the nursery than have their parents are an extreme of the theory that children can be corrupted by television. In the story, The Veldt, the children are so dependent with the technology that natural activities seem like a chore to them. The fact that the children questioned and complained when their father wanted to move to a different house because the technology has been corrupting them shows that the authority of the household was not the parents but the technology. At the end, the children killed their parents with the help of technology controlling their overall thoughts. This story shows a fictional consequence of how technology can affect and corrupt children.
Chris Brown and Rihanna at the 2012 Grammy's - Much controversy over Brown performing at Grammy's
Most often, when we hear people criticizing the entertainment world, they are usually accusing celebrities or certain TV shows for not “setting a good example” or being a negative influence in children’s lives. However, in an article I found on Huffington Post, Chidubem Nwabufo claims that the fault really lies with the parents. The writer wrote the article in response to all of the media attention centered on the controversial Chris Brown and Rihanna relationship. Apparently, there have been many Facebook and Twitter posts commenting on their new song together that have all been along the lines of, “What kind of message is this supposed to send to our children?” Nwabufo argues that the problem is not the example that the celebrities are setting, but rather, the problem is that the parents are now relying so heavily on letting celebrities set the example for their children in the first place.
I found it extremely interesting to find an article written from this point of view. Most of the articles we have read and discussed in class have been a critique of the entertainment world and the effects it has on American children. Nwabufo claims that the celebrities are just doing their job, and it is the parents’ jobs (not the celebrities’) to teach their children right from wrong. In response to the writer’s claims, I would argue that he is correct when he says that it is a parent’s job to teach their children what is or is not appropriate, but, nevertheless, the children are always going to idolize Hollywood stars no matter what their parents try to tell them. I don’t believe parents are relying on celebrities at all to set a good example, but there is no way to ignore the fact these stars ARE influencing the youth of America. In a perfect world, parents would do such a great job of teaching their children right from wrong that the children would know who is an appropriate role model.
Huffington Post writer Ann Brenoff states that she is a big fan of “Modern Family” and that she loves the shows, “smart humor and characters”. But in this article she rips the show and the Writers Guild of America, for letting a particular episode of “Modern Family” air. The episode as she describes it is titled, “Virgin Territory” and deals with the sex life of the high school senior Haley who apparently has been sexually active for a while now with her boyfriend. Then the father, Phil, says that he is the cool dad and should be more ok with his daughter being sexually active. Brenoff takes offense to this statement and the rest of her article writes about how kids aren’t having sex as much as they used to be and that this show shouldn’t be showing lies to the youth of the country. Brenoff then states that she knows that teens aren’t ready to be having sex by stating, “Seventeen-year-olds may be physically ready to have intercourse, but emotionally they are far from being able to handle it.” Then she ends her article by stating that the writers of “Modern Family” should have had Haley hold out from sex with her boyfriend and that she has to wait until college. Brenoff has a clear stance on what children/teens should see on T.V, and that is that T.V. is way to inappropriate for minds of our youth.
This article defienetly relates to fear in parenting that Chudacoff talks about in “The Commercialization and Co-optation of Children’s Play”. Chudacoff commonly talked about the idea that T.V and videogames shaped the minds of young and inspired them in some way. He states, “Oppurtunities for fantasy play mushroomed, but at the same time character and story lines shaped children’s amusements in a way that, at least in some fashion, overrode independent imagination” (pg. 185). To me, this quote means that the imagination of a children’s mind is corrupted by some of what they see on T.V and that their imagination is based on some of the plots and characters they see. So, a child instead of dreaming about powder-puff girls and cupcakes are now dreaming about the sex life of Haley on “Modern Family”.
Another relation to a reading from class, is the idea of who is the filter between the kid and what they see on T.V. Spigel and her piece titled “Welcome to the Dreamhouse” argue that the parents, more specifically the mother, are the filter to their child’s T.V schedule. Brenoff from the Huffington Post says something different in that, “The most-powerful lobbying group in America is the Writers guild of America.” She then goes on and rips the writers of “Modern Family” and the guild for letting this air, but according to Spigel she has no business doing so and that is because this should be the mothers job not to let her child see it. So overall, the ideas Brenoff talks about n her article and what we have been dealing with in class are very similar. Why are parents scared of T.V? Well according to Brenoff it is because of shows like this. But with what we have discussed, there is still no way to tell how a teen or child would take in this information about sex, but somebody must relegate it, but we have to figure out How and who must relegate the television?
Huffpost Celebrity describes the recent experience of two British girls, 8 year old Sophia Grace Brownlee and 5 year old Rosie McClelland, in the Ellen DeGeneres show during their Grammy Awards 2012 red carpet debut. The young duo was invited to attend Ellen’s popular TV show to display their adventures as they interviewed celebrities at the 2012 Grammy’s.
The British duo started their public display with their YouTube video singing Nicki Minaj’s top chart song Super Bass. It was there Ellen’s team discovered the young sensation and invited them to Ellen’s show. After an appearance on Ellen’s show, Ellen was extremely impressed she sent them as her correspondents to the 2011 American Music Awards. Now, after obtaining more exposure through Ellen at the 2012 Grammy Awards the girls state they are becoming pros at red carpet events and interviewing.
These young girls are being exposed to the adult media culture at a very fast rate. Critics wonder how the events they attend and the content of lyrics they sing may influence the girls childhood. As Lynn Spigel wrote “Television’s immediate availability in the home threatened to abolish childhood by giving children equal access to the ideas and values circulated in the adult culture” (Pg 150). In the Ellen show the girls stated they learned the lyrics to Nicki Minaj’s Super Bass song in under a week , yet do not know what the song is really about. During the Super Bass performance Sophia Grace is caught singing “he cold, he dope, he might sell coke” and “He just gotta give me that look, when he give me that look then the panties comin’ off, off”. Conflict arises questioning if the girls performance displays the parents lack of character in raising their daughters or supports an impressive talent which Sophia Grace and Rosie as potential superstars in the making. Whatever the conclusion is, we can all agree the young duo has an amazing career in the entertainment industry and we will be seeing a lot of more of them.
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.