As I’ve grown, I realized that there was no one like me in any of my recreational distractions. I’m and African American female who also happens to be completely deaf in one ear. Granted these may be setbacks that don’t outrageously affect my everyday life, but they are still part of who I am and I’d like to see that portrayed in the media. Once my difference became apparent to me I began a full-fledged examination on the shortage of characters with disabilities in the media. When entertainment doesn’t do its best to reflect real people and real-life experiences by diversifying its characters, we “real people” feel cheated. It affects the self-esteem of any child with a disability who can never relate to what they watch or read, and it creates a strain on children who haven’t learned how to properly approach other children who are disabled.
The problem is not only the matter of the lack of children’s media that feature characters with disabilities but also the way they portray them. There is a difference between media about a character with a disability and media that includes a disabled character. The latter could easily be ensnared by “secondary character syndrome”, i.e. creating this character that is different from the others in race, sexual orientation, or special needs and using them as a prop or a filler instead of a character the audience can actually relate to. They have no story, they barely have a voice, and by the end of it you probably won’t remember their name (if they are given one). More effort should be put into making those characters count and creating a storyline around them that develops their needs and lifestyle in a way that accurately portrays someone who is disabled.
Read more >>
With Remembrance Day now over, I was thinking about the First World War (1914-1918).
Apparently it’s hard for people to remember the events of the war when they aren’t even sure when it started. A recent British survey cited in a Daily Mail article shows that “nearly two-thirds of young people were unable to say that the First World War ended in 1918” and “54 per cent of the same age range, 16-24, also did not know the war began in 1914.”
So why do youth know so little about this war? How many other famous and influential historical events do they know little about? I doubt I am able answer these questions, but I hope to give a rough idea of the role the media plays in how much young people know about history.
Many video games and movies include historical settings and characters. A man referenced in Assassins Creed, Hassan-i Sabbah, really did establish one of the first assassin groups during the first crusade (starting in the 1100s). Assassins were chosen by Sabbah to influence and sometimes kill enemy leaders. In the game, assassins always seek to kill the enemy, while historical facts show that sometimes scare tactics were used so killing didn’t have to take place. For example, a Muslim leader once awoke to find a knife and a note beside his pillow that roughly said that he would be killed if he attacked the group of assassins. Of course, these differences aren’t too terribly surprising because the game is historical fiction.
Disney has released many movies based on historical figures, including Pocahontas and Mulan. In the movie, Pocahontas chooses to say when John Smith leaves. Historically, however, she traveled to England and married John Smith but died soon after. Another interesting fact about the story of Pocahontas is that she was, in fact, the daughter of the chief of her tribe, but she was not the rebellious heroine portrayed by Disney. She didn’t rebel against her father’s wish to kill John Smith; in fact she was asked to make the decision and she chose to let him live.
Children today are spending more time on screens and by the time they reach their early twenties they will probably be exposed to more than a million ads. Some would argue that the increased exposure to advertising has made children, teens and young adults more media savvy than ever before, but I think this over exposure is actually clouding their judgment. Read more >>
In the Children’s Entertainment Program at Centennial College, I teach the two courses in the business of children’s entertainment category. In addition to learning about the landscape of children’s media, the regulatory and funding frameworks and the legal and financial aspects of the industry, we spend a lot of time reviewing news and topical issues. Beyond just the “who’s who” and “who’s doing what,” we track trends and lightening rod issues—and this leads to some of our most interesting discussions. Read more >>
I spent many screen-time hours encouraging my young daughters to watch television with an open mind and think critically about their viewing, especially in recent years with the onslaught of reality shows like Real World, The Bachelor and The Hills. In addition to my annoying reminders and play-by-play while viewing these shows, they’ve also been exposed to many aspects of media coaching from workshops in the classroom to on-set studio visits. Actually, they’ve impressed me with their insightful observations over the years. They do get it and they’ve seen behind the curtain. But I believe there is another looming challenge ahead for parents who want to ensure they are raising truly media savvy viewers—and no one is talking about this yet. Am I the only one concerned about TV cooking shows and their impact on our kids?
Have you ever gone to a film with a friend only to discover that you may as well have been at different movies because your interpretations of the story were so different? This happens because we use our life experiences to make meaning from any text that engages us. Age, gender, race and ethnicity are just some of the lenses that determine our interpretation of a narrative. If you discuss a shared film experience with a young child, you would be surprised at how developmental issues make the child’s movie experience quite different from your own. Having enjoyed the first Stuart Little with my grandson, I invited him to see the sequel. As we found our seats in the theatre he looked over and announced, “You know Grandma, Stuart Little is going to be very glad to see us.” This was an “aha” moment for me because my grandson and I had vastly different experiences with the same movie.
I have a confession. I may well be a closet gamer. For years my connection to gaming consisted of telling my teenage son to stop gaming and come for dinner; do your homework; clean up your room…you get the idea. Sure I’d tried to play Xbox with him, Halo to be specific. I spent most of my time in this first-person shooter running the wrong way, staring at my feet or the sky, pressing the wrong buttons, dying (over and over) and making my son laugh hysterically in the process. The dexterity required and the necessity of pressing multiple buttons at the same time in order to shoot, jump, lob a grenade and run were beyond me. True my son had devoted hundreds of hours to this game. His friends played it, and he could play with them online, added incentives that just weren’t there for me. After five or six matches I decided that until I had a thousand spare hours to devote to this, it was a futile exercise.
Then came the iPad. I knew there were games, but never that I’d be sucked in like a raccoon in a dumpster.
Here at the kidsmediacentre we love (and indeed are charged with) researching media and its influence on kids. We’ve recently completed a couple of qualitative exploratory studies for our friends at TVOKids. In one of the studies we asked a group of self-proclaimed, hard-core seven and eight year old gamers about their favourite online destinations and then we sat back and watched the debate unfold. Read more >>
One of the most exciting and motivating parts of teaching in the Children’s Entertainment: Writing, Production and Management Program is the diversity of our students and the vibrancy that it brings to the classroom. These qualities will undoubtedly have an impact as our students disperse into the industry – and for those of us who were involved in designing the program, it’s everything we had hoped for. Read more >>
Media offers a world of entertainment and learning possibilities for children and youth. The kidsmediacentre explores kids' media futures and is committed to supporting cross-platform content producers in Canada to ensure the kids' media industry is vibrant, indigenous and committed to the healthy growth of children.