Monday, February 21, 2011

"The Princess and the Assassin: How Today's Culture is Negatively Impacting the Minds of our Teenagers," by Aimee.

Growing up the lucky daughter of a children's librarian, I was never at a loss for good books. My mother Liz tirelessly carried hundreds upon thousands of picture books; then chapter books, then novels and series home for both my brother Nate and I since we were toddlers. What I've noticed over the years is a lack of diverse female role models in the books I was reading.

Disney and his Princesses

This topic is going to cause a riot with my colleagues at work. Yes, I know that these are timeless stories that will transcend the 21st century to become 'Classics', but the sexism and racism in the history of Disney cannot be forgotten. The examples of racism in Disney in this article as recently as in Aladdin (1992), are egregious enough on their own, only equalled in the derisive sexism inherent in the Disney Princesses. See the photo below: 
Photo courtesy of
Granted, these characters do have merits as well, besides their beauty: Snow White is kind, Aurora loves animals, Jasmine is a rebel and independent (although she is enslaved eventually because of it), Ariel is an independent rebel as well (although she loses her identity because of it), Belle is a reader and brave, and Cinderella is also kind to animals. However there are much better female role models, see my list in the last paragraph of this post.

Twilight and the Impossible Standard for Men:

Most recently: people have been reviewing the popular Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, and asking the question, "Does Twilight set an unreasonable standard for men?" In this great article by Ted Cox, he breaks down the Twilight series obsession for teenage girls:

"My sisters, like so many teenage girls, went gaga whenever the hunky, pasty Edward and his male-model coif appeared on-screen. Edward is inhumanly gorgeous, inhumanly strong, holds several medical degrees, plays concert piano, drives a shiny car, is filthy rich and, most importantly, is instantly and uncontrollably attracted to Bella.

It’s not hard to see why Twilight has become so popular. The story probably resonates with young women who feel they aren’t particularly pretty, smart, talented or loveable. Twilight is the movie version of a common teenage fantasy: The hot, rich guy falls madly in love with the unpopular klutz.

I guess that means Twilight is pornography for young women. While porn for men takes normal, everyday guys and pairs them with idealized women, Twilight flips the formula around: Bella is the everyday teenage girl who ends up with the idealized man.

When women are idealized in the media, it’s called sexism, objectification or misogyny. But when men are idealized, it’s called a blockbuster. One blogger at cried foul over Bella needing a man to fulfill her life. The same writer didn’t mention anything about the story holding men up to impossible standards." 

(Excerpt from Ted Cox's article.)

While I don't think that the Twilight series is reverse-pornography, I do think that the media is now holding men to impossibly high standards, especially with the uber-romantic character of Noah in The Notebook, the impossibly fit Wolverine in X-Men, the perfect-assassins or warriors in Hitman, Batman, Superman, Iron Man, and I worry about the impacts of these characters on young males. 

Video Games and the Acceptance of Violence:

When video games were released in the 80's-90's the "Top Ten" games were:

1Super Mario Bros.Nintendo1985
2Super Mario 64Nintendo1996
3Donkey Kong Country 3Rare1996
4Final Fantasy VIISquaresoft1997
5Super Mario World 2Nintendo1996
7Pac ManNamco1980
9Monkey Island 2Lucas Arts1990
10Megaman 3Nintendo1990

 Notice the lack of 'realistic violence', how these games are mostly fantastical violence. Now, in the 00's: the list changes:

1Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of TimeNintendo1998
2Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2Activision2000
3Soul CaliburNamco1998
4Grand Theft Auto IVRockstar2008
5Perfect DarkRare2000
6NFL 2K1Sega2000
7Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3Activision2001
8Halo: Combat EvolvedBungie2001
9Metroid PrimeNintendo2002
10Grand Theft Auto IIIRockstar Games2001
Fantastical Violence: 3 games.
Realistic Violence: 2+ games.
Professional Sports: 2 games.

You can see last year's list of top grossing video games here but now the focus becomes more on being a professional athlete, and real-life violence: both realistic and fantastical. There are many articles about the negative impact of video games on children: mainly that kids, (1) tend to be more aggressive, (2) are more prone to confrontation with their teachers, (3) engage in fights with their peers and (4) see a decline in school achievements. (Source) 

So basically as culture advances: girls are encouraged to accept the "Princess" expectations and boys are encouraged to accept the "Ultimate Athlete" or "Warrior" expectations. There is something inherently wrong in encouraging these expectations in our teenagers: all of which contribute to narcissism, social dysfunction, and low self esteem a direct result of being unable to achieve any of these "impossible standards." 

Already, the differences between Generation Y (which saw the successes and money surplus in the 1990's to the current economic crisis) and Generation Z (who have seen only the Great Recession (2005) from age 10 to now) creates a stark contrast of generations. Realizing that everything can be taken away, and that savings are more important than ever, my generation (Y) is watching Z with interest and capitalizing off of introducing our necessities (cell phones, social networking, clothes, music) to an audience younger than ever. However, all of the older generations have a deep responsibility to create meaningful and ethical role models for these young kids. Role Models such as bookish Hermione, awkward Harry from the Harry Potter series, Enola Holmes, Katniss Everdeen (from The Hunger Games trilogy), Percy Jackson, Stanley Yelnats, Alanna of TrebondCheck out this list of positive female role models. While it's a challenge to find a similar list of positive male role models for boys, I did find this list of "100 Must Read Books: Then Man's Essential Library," on the Art of Manliness- an interesting cultural analysis to be sure!

Check out some of the listed books here: