Do you remember when Charlotte crawled across her web and wrote “SOME PIG!” about her beloved Wilbur?
How about when Jess and Leslie discover the Bridge to Terabithia?
Both these children’s books bring us joy and fill us with nostalgia. While their scenes and special moments remain with us, they also contain one of the hardest and heaviest topics that make even adults stir uncomfortably: death.
And yet, Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia are both stories that have endured within our cultural psyche and earned their place among the classics on our shelves.
Death may not seem like a topic we broach with children unless we absolutely must, but the pain of loss, the complexity of grief — simple as it may sound — is a part of life’s learning process. Whether the pain of Charlotte’s death due to old age, or Leslie’s sudden passing after a tragic accident — the sadness remains with us, and that’s not a bad thing.
C. S. Lewis wrote “a children’s story is the best art form for something you have to say … the form makes it easier to see into the depths, even of death.” Childhood may be thought as a blissful state of innocence and naivety, leaving many adults skittering around emotionally heavier topics. But if done with care, introducing children to concepts loss and grief through books can aid during major transitions and difficulties. Read more >>
When Mattel released its ad for its Moschino Barbie, it caused a stir, simply because one of the stars of this video was a young boy. Male Barbie fans were enthused while there were many who were outraged.
When Target announced that it would be getting rid of the “girls” and “boys” signs in its bedding and toys department, it was met with simultaneous praise and outrage. A lot of this outrage is because many conservatives believe that “there are no gender neutral people” (Hains 2015). “Won’t someone think of the children?” cried others. Marketing toys as gender neutral is not trying to make girls and boys the same. Nor is it trying to get rid of toys like Hot Wheels and Barbie. It is a simple redistribution of toys according to theme and interest rather than gender.
So what’s the big deal? Do these labels even matter? Yes, they do. Labels are real and labels can hurt. They can instill a sense of shame in young children who find their interests do not lie with what the labels tell them that they should like. Little boys who want to play with Barbies should not feel ashamed when they walk down the doll aisle to find the one they want. Little girls with a love for Hot Wheels should not be shamed for their toy selection. Parents may worry that letting their son play with dolls will damage him somehow, but letting him play with trucks could also damage him by reinforcing gender stereotypes that could be harmful in his adult life.
“Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood.” These are some wise words from our father Walt Disney, who would be astonished at how we are butchering his movies today.
Disney movies are something that we all can relate to. They’ve gotten me through some especially tough times. I remember watching them on VCR (I know I’m basically ancient!) Where I would rewind the tapes and start them over again from the beginning. Mulan was one of my favorites, I aspired to be a woman warrior even as a child.
So how should I feel when the cartoons that touched my heart as a kid and shaped me into the woman I am today are created into revolutionized live-action movies that completely miss the point? How will children be influenced by this new development?
#MakeMulanRight is a petition that was circling social media to be signed. Its goal was for the live-action in-production Mulan movie to get an Asian writer and a script change. An anonymous person in the industry leaked the early script of the movie and since then Twitter has been livid. Instead of Li Shang (a Chinese general) being the main love interest for Mulan, the script told a different story. There was to be a European man who comes to China, saves it from potential harm, and sweeps Mulan off her feet. This calls to attention not only whitewashing in the industry, but also the failure to promote the feminism that Mulan so rightly deserves.
— laura (@ezrsmillers) October 10, 2016
The hit Netflix series Stranger Things portrays Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) as the show’s youthful heroine. This is fine because she has an arc that is worth appreciating (despite ending up with Steve), but as fans have raucously pointed out since the series skyrocketed in popularity, there is another character who makes for an even better heroine.
Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser). Or Barb, for short.
— Stranger Things (@Stranger_Things) August 24, 2016
The character appears in five of the eight total episodes of the show, and only for small moments. But in those moments she managed to strike a chord so strongly with viewers that (spoiler!) when she was killed in episode three, it sparked fan outrage and mourning.
One of the more trendy ways of communicating about Barb’s death was through the use of social media, particularly Twitter. Multiple hashtags arose in homage to Barb, with #WeAreAllBarb being one of the most popular. Not only has this hashtag been used to express feelings about the character, but people have decided to post photos of themselves from school, or photos of themselves dressed up like Barb.
But why Barb?
I grew up in the South some time ago (I’m not dropping any more hints!), and my best friend was a little boy who wore Harry Potter glasses and loved to play with my Barbie dolls.
When our moms would arrange playdates, I knew if the rendezvous point was my house, there was only one thing Liam was going to want to play with: my small collection of Mattel “girl toys.” Liam’s mom always made us play with the door open so she could keep him from playing with anything girly. There were a few times I took the fall for “forcing” him to play house, but in all honesty, Liam just enjoyed Barbies more than Legos.
My personal love for Barbies was always minimal—I liked to cut their hair off, give them tattoos, and see how fast I could destroy them. Liam was a fan of playing house. When I went to his house, he shared all the Legos, so when he came over to mine, we pulled out my stash of Malibu Dreamhouse characters.
Considering some ethics in marketing Children’s Media…
The past few years have seen a drastic increase in the amount of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs, products, and especially toys targeted towards girls. As a girl who studied life sciences in university I couldn’t have been happier. This was perfect! What a time to be alive! …at least, that’s what I thought at first.
Now before you shoot me I AM ALL FOR GIRLS IN STEM. Like I said before I was ecstatic at first with all the emerging efforts to bring more inclusion into the field I always had great interest in myself. But as I tend to do, I thought about the issue more and more, and as I tend to do, I began to have some doubts. My doubts aren’t from the idea of making STEM accessible for girls through toys, but rather how we seem to be doing it.
There is a significant under-representation of women in STEM fields. This is not new. It has been repeatedly reported that there are far less women working in STEM fields or even holding STEM-related degrees. The distribution of women actually in STEM is also heavily dependent on the field, with women being more prevalent in biology and heavily lacking in engineering and computer sciences. This pattern has become of great concern in recent years and both the Canadian and American governments have conducted research studies that confirm this disparity.
In the midst of feminist empowerment and diversity movements growing among teenage girls and women all over the world, an army of dolls are also getting in line to expose these issues to the younger demographic. Love it or hate it, Mattel and Netflix are on the forefront trying to make little girls and boys play with different body shapes and skin colours.
The most heated debate is centred on the Barbie Fashionista line. Fans of the blue eyed and blonde haired doll can now play with a tall, curvy or petite Barbie as well as seven skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hairstyles. A big discussion on social media, many think this is an “adult hang-up” – an issue too soon to be showed to young girls, while others congratulate the initiative, as shown in this article from Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3422410/Social-media-users-slam-Barbie-s-diverse-makeover.html). Mattel calls it an “evolution of the doll” previously known for unreal waist and body proportions.
“We are excited to literally be changing the face of the brand — these new dolls represent a line that is more reflective of the world girls see around them — the variety in body type, skin tones and style allows girls to find a doll that speaks to them,” said Evelyn Mazzocco, senior vice-president and global general manager for Barbie, in a press release back in January, when the news about the launch came up.
Even classics need to change. Having grown up knowing only the cheerful 1950 Disney Cinderella cartoon, I fondly remember my confused and horrified reaction to reading The Grimm Brother’s recording of this tale originally known as Aschenputtel.
How could Disney have forgotten to mention that Cinderella’s abuse started while her father was in the house, that praying to a tree that represented her mother would get a bird to produce anything she wanted, that she twice tried to convince her evil stepmother to let her go to the ball before giving up and asking for help, or that she hid from the prince despite having no time limit? But that was the point, wasn’t it? Aschenputtel was based on a religious moral lesson that outweighed its practicality, and was neither suited for children nor for the 1990 culture. Thus, Disney turned it into the musical that we remember.
The internet erupted on March 3rd with outrage over the death of Lexa, a lesbian character on The CW series The 100. Emotions have ranged from fury to misery, but perhaps the most upsetting aspect is the feeling of fatigue. The LGBT community is sadly accustomed to being pulled into a series with the promise of representation, only to have it sent away or worse: killed off. For teens struggling with their sexual identity, this practice of queerbaiting could have potentially devastating consequences.
The 2015 GLAAD report of “Where We Are on TV” shows 4% of TV characters are LGBT+, compared to an estimated 10-20% of the actual population. With so few characters to represent the community, the weight of responsibility is heavier on the writers to give meaningful depictions of queerness. However, due to many factors including network restrictions, lack of queer writers, and a tendency to rely on tropes, queerness is often handled poorly or merely used as a tool to gain a queer following.
Queerbaiting is not a new phenomenon. One of the earlier examples in the teen sphere is the band t.A.T.u.’s 2002 music video for “All the Things She Said,” in which the 17-year-old female singers share a kiss, going on to affirm their heterosexuality in interviews. This is echoed years later by Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” (2008) and Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” (2014), both of which use homosexuality (in the titles, no less) to draw the listener in, but within the same song reassure them of their heterosexuality. This turns queerness into a gimmick to be exploited to attract attention, yet all are songs are massively popular both in and out of the LGBT+ community. With so few sources of representation to choose from, it’s unsurprising that queer communities rally around even the slimmest examples of queerness, and those marketing to teen audiences are definitely aware of this.
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