Saturday, 23 June 2012


I'm watching Silence of the Lambs at the moment... what a well acted film.  It's sometimes easy to dismiss older films for their lack of SFX but as I tell my Drama students, it's the acting that's the bottom line.  I've actually watched a few good films lately: Twelve Angry Men; Little Miss Sunshine; Love, Honour and Obey to name a few.  Quite an eclectic combination of films, but I always think that's a good thing.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Should children’s media put more emphasis on entertainment or education? Why?

The debate surrounding whether children’s media should have entertainment or education as its primary function, is one that can have no definitive answer.  There has been much research carried out on this topic due to the premise that as “potential victims, helpless before this influence, children must be protected” (Hodge & Tripp 1986, p. 37).  However, just because a programme is regarded as educative, does not mean that it has value.  Similarly, merely because a programme is deemed to be entertaining, does not mean it is devoid of any educational opportunities.  Therefore a variety of the two elements are needed to satisfy the audience. 

Developmental theorist, Jean Piaget (1950), identified four stages in cognitive development in children: sensori-motor; pre-operational; concrete operational; and formal operational (p, 161).  During the formal operational years, children are able to think logically and infer meaning, but it is during this stage that children are “more open to ideological influence” (Hodge & Tripp 1986, p. 81). George Gerbner contends that television promotes “our culture’s beliefs, ideologies and world views” (Gerbner, cited in Watson 2008, p. 80), which is a disturbing aspect to television viewing. However, both entertainment and education programming can be manipulated to advance hegemony, containing messages furthering dominant ideology, and therefore both have the potential to be influential. 

Much of the research that has been conducted assumes that children are “passive sponges absorbing anything put before them” (Machin & Davies 2003, p. 105).  This model of viewing, the direct effects model, implies all audiences are passive and vacuous, without taking into account the various reasons for viewing.  Alternatively, the uses and gratifications model asserts, “audiences are not just passive consumers brainwashed by media products, but are active participants who make their own meanings.” (O'Shaughnessy & Stadler 2008, p. 105).   Children watch television for a variety of reasons and are therefore capable of being active viewers, who are capable of making informed choices as to what to watch.  Therefore “Media professionals should not underrate children’s ability to handle great complexity, nor should they under-provide for that need of children for relevant complexity” (Hodge & Tripp 1986, 214).  

According to neurologist, David Perimutter, M.D. (2010), “The average American youth spends 900 hours in school each year, but watches 1500 hours of television” (para. 2).  That is a considerable amount of time spent watching television – however, this is not necessarily time wasted, as according to Hodge and Tripp (1986) “television is not time-out from thinking” (p. 92).  They contend that television provides “innumerable opportunities for cognitive growth” (p. 92), therefore no matter what children watch there is the potential to obtain knowledge.  
The media have often been accused of “taking children away from other activities that are deemed to be more worthwhile” (Buckingham 2007, p. 15).  The perception is that reading, no matter what the text is, is more beneficial than watching television, regardless of what is being watched.  This is problematic in that a value judgment has been placed on two different activities that both have a comparable scope of being either purely entertaining or educative, and as “Young people use various forms of media to negotiate who they are and what the world is like” (Drotner 2001, p. 301), both should be given equal value.  In order for programmes “to be effective they must, at least notionally, appear interesting” (Reich et al. 2009, p. 45).  Without having some form of entertainment value, the programme will not reach the intended audience.  In addition, if an educational programme has no entertainment value, children will not fully engage: “Research involving educational television has found that, to support learning while viewing, a television show must be designed with the intention of educating and provide content that instructs while it entertains” (Wainwright 2006, p. 14).   Therefore a balance needs to be met in order “to capture children’s attention, the program simply must appeal to them” (Wainwright 2006, p. 11). 

Entertainment and education share equal importance in children’s television.  There needs to be a balance, not dictated by the age of the targeted audience, but by providing programmes “capable of being ‘read’ in different but appropriate ways” (Hodge and Tripp 1986, p. 214).  As children progress through pre-operational and concrete operational into formal operational, the child becomes more media savvy and the programmes have to work harder at keeping the child interested.   Not every programme is going to be “of equal benefit for all children” (Hodge & Tripp 1986, p. 213); therefore a variety of entertainment and education programming is necessary.   

Consider how toys are used in one of the television programs or films studied in the first six weeks.

The Toy Story trilogy is a toy fantasy with a reoccurring motif of the tension between loyalty and the societal propensity to replace the old with the new.  Although Toy Story 3 contains that same motif, it is different in that it is also a coming of age story, not just for Andy but also for the toys: “In the course of the film Andy and his toys develop in different ways as he passes onto a further stage in his life, understanding that his old, somewhat battered, deeply faithful companions are best cared for by a younger generation” (French 2010, para. 4).  Whereas Andy’s coming of age takes him off to college, the toys suffer abandonment as a result of being superfluous: “Andy’s moving on, it’s time we did the same” (Toy Story 3 2010). 

Toys date back to Greek and Roman times where “children played with balls, clay rattles, clay dolls, hand carts, hobby horses, hoops and spinning tops” (Hampshire County Council 2011, para. 1).   Toys have obviously developed a lot since then, but even in the 1960s “kid’s toys were made of solid materials” (Hjarvard 2004, 43).  This is evident with Woody, a solid toy from a bygone era, in comparison to Buzz, a modern, high-tech toy: “Although traditional toys and play have not lost their appeal, technology is increasingly applied to the pursuit of pleasure” (Goldstein, Buckingham & Brougรจre 2004, p. 1).  However, Woody’s appeal remains intact which is evidenced with Andy choosing to take him to college.   

The film starts with home movies of Andy growing up – being accompanied during fundamental events by the ever-present Woody.   To indicate the passing of time, we see Andy’s height being pencilled in on a doorframe.  After Andy’s height is registered, Woody’s height is then measured.  The placement of Woody at Andy’s side connotes a relationship akin to brothers.  Another instance where the toys are framed as Andy’s companions is when he is watching a scary movie surrounded by the toys, sharing his popcorn with Rex, the dinosaur.  Again the significance is the intimacy of the ensemble.  Once the home movie finishes, the grim reality of Andy having outgrown his toys is apparent: “Woody wake up.  It’s over.  Andy’s all grown up” (Toy Story 3 2010).   The toys represent Andy’s past and are an indication of how far Andy has come in his entry into manhood. 

In the first two instalments of the trilogy, the competition between Woody and Buzz was based on ‘desiring not only to be the ‘favorite toy’ of their owner, Andy, but to possess the admiration of and authority over the other toys in the playroom” (Gillam & Wooden 2008, p. 4).  In Toy Story 3 the relationship between the two has matured and shows another facet of the coming of age motif of the film.  Unfortunately, coming of age for toys usually results in abandonment: “When  we  grow up, or just grow tired of last year’s  cool stuff, we  don’t  just  put away those childish things, we throw them out.” (Scott 2010, para. 7). 

On several occasions in the film Woody finds himself at a crossroads, stuck between loyalty to Andy and his friendship with the other toys.  The first time occurs because Woody has witnessed Andy’s intention of storing the toys in the attic, but cannot persuade the toys of this after they find themselves on the curb, repeating a mantra-like chant of “being abandoned” (Toy Story 3 2010).   Upon arrival at the day-care centre, the hurt of abandonment is soon replaced with the joy of being played with again.  At first, Sunnyside “seems like a paradise where the problem of obsolescence has been magically solved” (Scott 2010, para. 8).  Lotso, the toy in-charge, confirms this with his promises that they will “never be outgrown, or neglected, never abandoned, or forgotten” (Toy Story 3 2010).   However the utopic day-care centre is soon seen for the reality it is, a place of violence and badly behaved children who do not know how to care for toys.   Resulting in Woody again being stuck in the middle and having to decide whether to rescue his friends or to return to Andy and accompany him to college. 

Toy Story 3 reveals an ugly aspect of society – the tendency to replace the old with the new for no other reason than consumerism.  The toys are used in the film to humanise the condition of abandonment and loss, which they overcome by embodying characteristics of loyalty, friendship and love.

Consider the representation of family in one of the Pixar studios films.

The anthropomorphic family epitomised in the Disney-Pixar film Finding Nemo, is a modern representation, depicting a father as the primary caregiver.  According to Tanner, Haddock, Zimmerman, and Lund (2003), due to the fact millions of people watch Disney animated films, “these films are likely to play a role in the development of children’s culture and may influence children’s and adult’s information about families” (p. 367).  Therefore it is important that a variety of family types are being portrayed and although with Disney there is a history of a “variety of family forms, including two-parent, single-parent and step-parent families” (Tanner et al 2003, p. 367), Finding Nemo does break new ground. Tanner et al (2003) have found that “family relationships are often central to the plot and story” (p. 356), and the family presented in Finding Nemo is no exception.

The film starts with a traditional depiction of domestic bliss.  Marlin and Coral have moved into a good neighbourhood with “great schools” (Finding Nemo 2003).  There is a genuine devotion between husband and wife, and this is endorsed by Coral’s soothing of Marlin’s nervousness at being a first time dad: “What if they don’t like me?” (Finding Nemo 2003).  This sets up the deaths of Coral and most of the eggs as being especially tragic.  Coral pays the ultimate price for being a good parent – it is her strong nurturing instinct that leads to her untimely death: “As with other mothers, she places her physical body in danger in her attempt to protect her children” (Brydon 2009, p. 137).  Killing off a parent at the beginning of a movie is a fairly common occurrence: “In typical Disney fashion, the story begins with the loss of a beloved parent” (Beck 2004, p. 27).  Her sacrifice leaves Marlon filled with remorse and guilt, so much so, that when he discovers the remaining lone egg, he comforts it saying, “I promise I will never let anything happen to you, Nemo” (Finding Nemo 2003).   The transition into the credits has the egg morphing into the sun connoting Nemo is Marlin’s sun, the centre of his universe.   He is, after all, the only family Marlin has left. 

In a study conducted by Tanner et al (2003), three distinct categories of fatherhood were found in Disney films: “fathers as controlling, aggressive, protective disciplinarians, fathers as nurturing and affectionate, and fathers as self-sacrificing” (p. 363).  Interestingly, Marlin exhibits aspects of all three categories.   He is a protective disciplinarian (“If you put one fin on that boat…” Finding Nemo 2003), he is affectionate (holds Nemo’s face in his fins) and he is self-sacrificing (faces his own fears in order to find Nemo).  

Although it is generally mothers that are depicted “as primary caregivers who are automatically attached to their children and provide them with unconditional love” (Tanner et al 2003, p. 363), in Finding Nemo “Marlin is not only given an active parenting role, he is performing ‘mothering’” (Brydon 2009, p. 138).  He reminds Nemo to brush, takes him to school, reprimands him for swimming off the reef – things which could be described as being “reminiscent of many Disney mothers” (Brydon 2009, p. 139) – and in addition, plays with his son.  More importantly, he puts Nemo’s needs before his own.  When the diver takes Nemo, Marlin swims out into the open ocean, overcoming his fears.  This selfless dedication is repeated when the goggles are lost into the dark depths of the ocean, and although Marlin is at first scared to follow, with the help of Dory he conquers his fears.  This demonstrates what a good parent Marlin is; he may be “anxious and pessimistic about the son’s growing independence and thirst for adventure” (Beck 2004, p. 27) but everything he does, is done for Nemo.  The familial bonds between father and son are strong.
While the family depicted in Finding Nemo is not a traditional family, according to the study conducted by Tanner et al (2003) a male single-parent is quite common: “Of the ten movies that presented single parents, 60% illustrated single Fathers” (p. 361).   However Beck (2004) considers the father-son family to be “a significant departure for Disney” (p. 27), and one that attracted significant attention upon its release.  Finding Nemo is progressive in the way it presents family and although this depiction may be breaking new ground for Disney-Pixar, the anthropomorphic relationship between father and son have traditional elements.   Marlin and Nemo share a bond, which is based on love and genuine affection for each other. 

Discuss the connection between the story in Babe, and its wider social or cultural significance.

Babe is a film about inter-cultural adaptation, a theme that continues to resonate today with borders disappearing in the present climate of globalisation.   Babe joins the existing farmyard animals as an Other, but his Otherness is even more exacerbated due to his isolation as being the only representative of his species. It is this reason that causes the little pig to adapt inter-culturally.  The ‘us and them’ dichotomy is essential in framing the hegemonic power of the dominant culture on the farm: “For immigrants in a ‘new’ country or a minority culture the message is that survival is precarious and ‘niceness’ and assimilation is the route to acceptance” (Sayers & Ruffolo 2007, p. 10).  Babe’s ‘niceness’ certainly helps his attempts to fuse with the various groups of species on the farm, while never interfering with the anthropocentric authority.  

Babe’s relocation onto the farm is reminiscent of all those who have migrated due to work or family commitments.  Immigration to New Zealand in 2011 was 28,675, with the majority coming from the UK (16%), China (13%), and India (10%) (Department of Labour 2011, para. 1.1).  This number of migrants requires a rethinking of the social climate within a country as, The relationship with the Other is not an idyllic and harmonious relationship of communication or a sympathy through which we put ourselves in the Other’s place” (Levinas 1990, cited in Todd 2003, p. 51).  Therefore adaptation is required by both groups, the dominant culture and the minority entering the country, or farmyard, as is the case for Babe.  The adaptation needed “is a complex process in which a person becomes capable of functioning effectively in a culture other than the one he or she was originally socialised in” (Haslberger 2005, p. 86).   This process is demonstrated through Babe’s attempts at adapting with different species on the farm before finding his place as a sheep-pig.

Babe, through no fault of his own, finds himself in an unfamiliar setting surrounded by unfamiliar species.  This ‘us and them’ binary opposition is actually played out in two spheres on the farm; firstly between Babe and the other animals and secondly, the relationship between the Hogget’s and the animals.  The farm depends on the Hoggets’ maintaining dominance by Othering the non-humans, and this “relationship between the [substitute] Occident and the Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony” (Said 1978, p. 5).  There is never any doubt as to who the authoritative figure is, but for the animals, status is dependent on how useful they are to the dominant culture, with the sheep dogs holding the top rank and those whose only talent is as food, at the bottom.   Babe, through association with the latter, transcends societal norms by adapting to his new situation by becoming a sheep-pig, proving that “the once-clear definitions of “us” and “them” are being blurred” (Kim 2001, p. 3).
According to Melson (2001), “Animal characters are particularly well suited to playing out themes of identity” (p. 157), and Harel expands upon this by asserting that animals are often ““the prototypes of excluded political group[s], due to their ultimate weakness in culture” (Harel 2009, p. 16).  The allegorical level, according to Harel “traditionally deals with humans exclusively” (p. 11) and therefore has a deeper connotation.  By using animals, Babe presents the plight of migrants in a non-threatening way.  We can watch, make the necessary connections and still feel like we are viewing an entertaining story.  Had the director cast human actors in every role, it might have been uncomfortable to watch.  People who migrate have two options available: some “resist change and fight for their old ways, whereas others desperately try to ‘go native’” (Kim 2001, p. 5).  A film showing this would be a dramatization depicting distressing circumstances, and perhaps incline towards the melodramatic. 

Babe depicts the wider social significance of cross-cultural adaptation and the consideration needed on both sides for it to work.  The animals in Babe are “bestowed with a voice that they do not hold in reality” (Harel 2009, p. 13), framing the farmyard as a place of fusion between species.  This fusion fits with Sayer and Ruffulo’s (2007) assertion that in Babe the change we see “in attitudes towards one-another, facilitated by the hero Babe, illustrates a journey to optimistic hybrid-ness that many intercultural scholars also moot as being ideal” (p. 14).  This adaptation is easier to acknowledge because it is non-human actors being used, which maintains the anthropocentric balance.  

Does involvement in a fan culture offer adolescents and adults the same currency, that is, a feeling of involvement and acceptance that is, while especially sought after in adolescence, still just as important for an adult who is struggling with issues of commitment?

I don’t know about you, but if I didn’t have contact with like-minded people, I’d go crazy.  Although I obviously share interests with family and friends, none of them have the same passion for theatre that I have, so I need to look elsewhere. 
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fan culture per se.  If I’m going to the sevens, I like to sit among other kiwis.  It makes sense to sit with people cheering for the same team – it’s easier to strike up a conversation, and you might end up making a new friend.
I admit I joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers website. But that was so I’d know if they’re playing where I'm living.
I remember being a tween CRAZY about Abba but having to wait for any information on them to come out in the teen magazines.  With technology being what it is, it’s so easy these days to get up-to-date information on anyone/anything you want.  The fact a lot of stars have their own websites and Facebook pages must make fans feel like they’re almost communicating one-on-one with their idols.
Of course all this is great for the fans but what bout the celebrities? Their goldfish bowls are getting smaller and smaller.  How many times does a celebrity get in trouble for the content of their tweeting? 
I wouldn't necessarily agree with involvement in fan culture being dependent on age.  I would think sports clubs attract as many adults as they do adolescents, and while this is quite what Schott and Burn’s article was about, it’s still a type fandom.

Schott, Gareth and Andrew Burn.  “Fan-art as a function of agency in Oddworld fan-culture.” In Videogames and Art.

Do programs like The Big Bang Theory, Friends and Sex in the City promote the idea of non-commitment being a way of life?

I found this reading of particular interest as it brings up a never-ending debate between my sister and myself concerning home ownership.  While I enjoy having a place to call my own, to do with what I like, I don’t see the need to actually own a house myself.  My sister is adamant that I should be putting my savings into a house.  (I’m very glad I didn’t like the house she thought would be perfect for me in Christchurch!).  Her and her husband have insisted for years that one needs at least one house in order to be secure – that it’s the only investment that is truly viable.  I’ve never heard them discuss the home ownership debate with regard to the obvious benefit to the government: “Of course, it is in the best interest of a state that does not intend to fund public housing… to emphasise ownership as a responsible adult choice” (p.50). 
Here many people have been given land, and the bank loans that they take to build their mansions (and believe me, they are mansions in comparison to the houses that are being built back home) are laughable – I know a guy who was paying 5% interest, and he thought he was hard done by! And then, every so often the govt. decides to pay off all the bank debt of the locals (of course the banks are owned by locals as well!)  When considering that it was only 30 odd years ago that many people were still living in tents, things have changed considerably.  And the pressure here to have the biggest house on the block is HUGE… almost as high as the pressure to have the biggest wedding!  So even though they don’t have to mortgage themselves into oblivion, AND it’s a fairly new concept to them, the people here are as hell-bent on home ownership as kiwis are. 
I’m keen for my sister and her husband to read the article as I think there is absolute merit in what Crawford says.  I don’t know what it’s like in Australia, but in my hometown in NZ, Blenheim, houses are VERY overpriced.  Someone is making ahellava profit and it isn’t the person selling the house!
I remember reading (unfortunately I can’t remember the source) about how in Medieval times the church steeple was the highest construction in a town and this represented the importance (dominance?) of religion at the time.  Look at the tallest buildings now… investment or insurance companies.  I’ve always found it obscene that you can get a longer conviction for fraud than you do for murder.  Money certainly is the new God (I’m constantly reminded of this when I look around the city I'm living in). 
I’m not sure if I’d regard myself as someone who follows “the time-honoured rituals of age and responsibility” (p.45), but I am definitely someone who rejects “the certainties of marriage, child-raising, and home-ownership” (p.46).  I don’t believe any of these things is what makes a person an adult… it just makes them a spouse, parent and/or homeowner!  What I think of “what it means to be a ‘real’ adult” (p.46) is more about security in one’s identity, respecting others, respecting the environment and stuff like that.  While I’m the first to admit that I “lack workplace loyalty” (p.46) this is precisely because of the expectations I have on how I should be treated by an employer.  As a Drama teacher I regularly work 14hour days.  I’ve set up the Drama department at school and I’ve gone over and above ensuring a regular performance schedule.  What is my reward? My teaching load is being increased next year (with the expectation that I’ll still be able to do everything I’m doing at the moment).  So why would I be loyal to a business that takes and gives nothing in return? I will continue to work hard for them (because I am a professional and I was raised to have a very good work ethic) but I will continue to keep my eye open for other opportunities. 
Now I know many people here who have totally “unrealistic expectations of how they should be treated by employers” (p.46) – in fact many of the students I taught at my last school expected to be able to walk straight into a management position, and because lots of dad’s own lots of companies, many will.  And all these managers will need to have ex-pat assistants to do all the work for them, earning a fraction of the salary. 
I must admit to having “an obsession with childish things” (p.47) – LOVE Harry Potter, American Idol and Survivor.  LOVE my iPhone and all the applications, But I also LOVE Puccini, Swan Lake and Leonardo Da Vinci.  So what does this make me? I’d like to think, a person with eclectic interests.  Does it make me any less of an adult? Of course not.  My age, if nothing else, is testament to my biological standing as an adult. 
I’ve said it in other discussions in other units… I don’t know if this constant requirement to pigeon-hole people is necessary.  I’m more than my job.  I’m more than my race.  I’m more than my religion.  While all of these things are defining factors as to who I am, they are not the sole component.  Being a home owner wouldn’t make me a better person (it  wouldn’t make me a worse one either mind you!), it would just make me more stressed. 
As the old adage goes, there are only two certainties in life… tax and death.  Home ownership isn’t one of them.  In “an environment where few of the old sureties can be relied on” (p.48) I’m not in a hurry to sign my name on a piece of paper that will be binding for 25 years.  Call me irresponsible if you want… water off a duck’s back!

Reading:  Crawford, Kate.  “Adult responsibility in insecure times: the post-crash world necessitates a definition of adulthood.”  Soundings 41 (Spring 2009): 45+ Academic OneFile.  Web. 20 May 2012. 


Banet-Weiser contends that adults see a camp or gay dimension to Spongebob Squarepants. Do you agree?

It seems to me that adults see a camp or gay dimension to many children’s programmes… remember the Teletubby debacle? And then there was Noddy and Big Ears.  It seems that every time a programme is really popular, if it can’t be criticised for one thing, it’s going to be criticised for another.  
As far as I can ascertain, the Tinky Winky debate was started by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, a former spokesman for America's Moral Majority, who wrote an article entitled Parents Alert: Tinky Winky Comes Out of the Closet, in which he stated (among many other things), “"He is purple - the gay-pride colour; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle - the gay-pride symbol."  In reply to the allegations the BBC said, "This is not the first time that people have read symbolism into a children's TV programme and it probably won't be the last.”[i]  In Poland, Tinky Winky was singled out by Ewa Sowinska who suggested, “there could be some hidden homosexual undertones.”[ii]  As a spokeswoman for children’s rights in Poland, she ordered psychologists to investigate if Teletubbies “promote a homosexual lifestyle.”[iii]  Interestingly, the Polish government had been criticised by the EU for its “policy towards homosexuals” so perhaps the debacle was more of a witchhunt than anything.  Sowinska later said that although she didn’t “believe the Teletubbies is a threat to the nation’s children…her office can recommend that the show should be taken off the air”
More recently, the makers of Sesame Street had to announce publically that Bert and Ernie are “just ‘best friends’ and would not marry,”[iv] adding that as they are just puppets they “do not have a sexual orientation.”   
The thing I’ve always wondered about is whether kids are at all aware of these controversies.  Does a kid watching Spongebob sit there and think, “Goodness he gets on with Patrick a little too well”? Does s/he automatically equate Tinky Winky’s handbag to homosexual tendencies? Or are adults simply applying their fears/distrust/prejudices?  On the few occasions I’ve spoken to kids about Spongebob, the sexuality of the character has never come up.  Perhaps it’s just a case of adults with too much time on their hands.

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. “Is Nick for kids? Irony, camp and animation in the Nickelodeon brand.” In Kids rule!: Nickelodeon and consumer citizenship. Sarah Banet-Weiser. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.  Chapter 6, 178-211. 

Electronic games are normally viewed as the province of male teens. Is this true?

Having really missed the boat on the whole game playing phenomenon, I’ve never been able to understand how grown men can spend hours playing games instead of spending time with their partner (I know two women who have game-obsessed husbands). 
Anything new (and advanced?) is bound to cause concern – look at the ruckus rock and roll created! Goodness even the printing press had its critics.  For people that don’t understand the technology, there is going to be fear.  According to McQuail, in the past it was TV and films that were regarded with suspicion, now “video games and computers have become the latest perpetrators” (McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory, 2000, 368).      
Obviously there are positives and negatives to playing games.  In their book Media and Society: An Introduction, O’Shaughnessy and Stadler describe the positives of games as they “develop swift reaction skills, computer literacy, and engage people much more actively than does television” (2008, 15).  The negatives are exposure to violence, lethargy, encouraging procrastination (instead of doing homework etc) and irregular eating habits.   
Now for the stats:
According to Education Database Online, 65% of American households play video games, a whopping average of 18 hours a week.  Two big surprises… the average age of gamers is 32 (49% of gamers are between 18-49 years of age – and a stat that probably nobody would guess… 26% of gamers are over 50!) and 2 out of 5 gamers are female. Preferred games:  80% of females play Wii (only 41% of males); 38% of males play Xbox (11% females) and 21% prefer PS3 (9% females).  They also assert that the “Mario franchise is the most successful video game series, selling over 225 million games” ( 
These stats are contrary to most assumptions about gaming.  Perhaps we believe that young men are the dominant demographic because if game playing is shown on TV or in films, it’s usually boys that are playing. 
As previously stated, I’ve never been into gaming, but during my last visit home I was introduced to Wii and LOVED it.  I was visiting my best friend and there were six of us playing: my 78 year old aunty; my 38 year old friend; her 43 year old husband; their 12 year old daughter and 8 year old son; and me.  We had a wonderful evening competing at golf, archery, basketball, clay shooting, and pool.  I left that evening sure I’d purchase a console upon returning home after my holiday.  To this day I still haven’t bought one – too scared to, I spend (waste?) enough time on my iPhone playing backgammon, hearts and free cell!

Reading:  James Newman, Superplay, sequence breaking and speedrunning. In Playing with Videogames. James Newman. London: Routledge, 2008. Ch. 6 Pp. 123-48.

The main characters in Charmed are female. As you watch it, consider whether this would make it strongly gender-based, so that it would appeal to women only.

Even though the main characters in Charmed are female, I don’t think this frames it as a gender-based programme.  The three women in the lead roles are all young, sexy and often wear provocative clothing.  These things would appeal to heterosexual males in the audience.  
Now this doesn’t mean that a female audience member can’t obtain pleasure from viewing female characters.  Gayle Studlar ascertains that everybody in the audience is able to derive pleasure from a passive, masochistic perspective regardless of gender.  This of course is quite different to Laura Mulvey’s belief that it’s only males that derive scopophilia pleasure from viewing.  Women probably take as much pleasure as men from watching attractive people on screen.  I have a suspicion that Susan Boyle probably got as much disrespect from females about her looks as she did from males (no proof, just a gut feeling).
Similarly, just because the protagonists are female doesn’t mean that the males in the audience can’t identify with them.  Again Studler and Mulvey are on opposite sides of the fence with this – Studler believes identification isn’t gender specific whereas Mulvey is of the opinion that because the camera assumes a male perspective, men can only identify with male characters and women with female characters. 
While it might be difficult to see anybody being able to identify with the lives of three sister witches, “it is precisely the fantasy rather then the reality of a text that encourages audience identification” (434).  Is it really that much more to identify with a witch than as Jennifer Anniston as a dentist? It’s not the role of the characters that provide identification; it’s the situations they find themselves in or personality traits that allow identification. 
Rachel Abramowitz asserts that, “If you want to have a huge blockbuster, you have to have a movie that appeals to all audiences, not just young teenage boys” (cited in Goodwin 2002:35).  This is equally true of TV programming.  The producers want the programme to be popular so they wouldn’t want to alienate a particular demographic completely.  So although Charmed might be labelled as a teen programme “based on its position on the Warner Brothers network” (432), according to Livsey (2004)  “the median viewing age is 31” (436).
Whereas the surface aspects (pretty girls, skimpy clothing) might appeal to the men watching, it’s probably the themes (identity, family relationships, friendship) that appeal to women more.  The fact that the show appeals to an audience spanning 16 – 34 year old females actually says a lot for the show.  Sure the sisters were never that young during the series, but I think any identification would come from the plot lines rather than the age of the characters: “The sisters are seen to mature as women who have to deal with such mundane concerns as dating, family tensions, career struggles and issues surrounding identity” (432-433). 

Reading: Rebecca Feasey, Anxiety, helplessness and ‘adultescence’: Examining the appeal of teen drama for the young adult audience.  European Journal of Cultural Studies. 2009 12: Pp. 431-46.

Do you believe that children are growing up faster?

I can’t say for sure whether I think children are growing up faster now or not.  If we consider the lives children led in the 1800s, they probably had less of a childhood in that many left school in order to help provide for the family.  Having to contribute to your family financially would ensure growing up fast.
When I was teaching in NZ, many of my students worked after school and at the weekend. This contributed to a certain level of maturity.   A level that’s missing from most of teenagers I’ve come across in the Gulf, where most families have maids and the children don’t have to do anything (but funnily enough they still miss deadlines and don’t complete their homework!).
I guess kids are growing up fast but not in the same way as in the past. Instead of forced maturity brought on by working, they are growing up more street smart.  Because of media, they are introduced to consumerism and superficial ideals of beauty and what’s important. 
Because we have “a toy market that is inextricably linked to the media” (56), the connectedness of all the so-called ‘trappings’ of childhood are eradicating the innocence of said childhood.  This is forcing children to grow up a lot more ‘street smart’ than before.  They are more promiscuous and knowledgeable about things that were formally taboo.  Barbie always encouraged a certain grasp of fashion and male-female relationships, but Bratz takes this comprehension to a whole new level.  And the fact that tweens can purchase versions of the same clothing the licentious dolls wear culminates in a sad, superficial version of maturity.
Fleming describes children as seeking “meaningful representations” (58) about the world around them through toys.  The world that Bratz represents is shallow.  It’s centred around shopping, looking good (in a wanton way) and friendship.  While the friendship angle is important, so are parental relationships and education – two aspects missing from the whole Bratz (and Barbie) experience.  

Reading:  Dan Fleming, “Managing Monsters: Videogames and the ‘Mediatization’ of the Toy.” in International Handbook of Children, Media and Culture.  Ed. Kirsten Drotner and Sonia Livingstone.  Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publication, 2008.  Pp. 55-70.

Many of the programmes aimed at tweens contain intertextual references that relate to a larger pop culture the tween may be too young to have encountered. Do you think this is part of the appeal, that it broadens the knowledge of the world and so empowers the tween?

Intertextuality isn’t new. Julia Kristeva coined the phrase in 1966 in her essay, Word, Dialogue and Novel.  Roland Barthes had stated, “A text is… a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash” (Image-Music-Text, 1977, 146).  Kristeva took this further when she described it as “an intersection of textual surfaces rather than a point (a fixed meaning), as a dialogue among several writings” (Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, 1980, 65).  According to William Irwin, the term Intertextuality “has come to have almost as many meanings as users, from those faithful to Kristeva’s original vision to those who simply use it as a stylish way of talking about allusion and influence” (“Against Intertextuality”, in Philosophy and Literature, v.28, Number 2, October 2004, 228).
Intertextual references have the ability to make programmes appeal to a wider audience.  Consider The Simpsons… this programme uses intertextuality a lot. The Simpsons is clever in that it appeals to kids, primary due to the animated characters (not to mention Bart’s antics) but many of the plot lines, by appropriating other texts, appeal to an older, more knowing (?) audience.  Even when the intertextuality involves a text the younger viewers would know (I’m thinking of the episode based on The Wizard of Oz), there is always something in there for the adult viewers. 
On a personal level, I feel empowered when I’m watching something and there’s an allusion to another literary work.  When I’m writing plays I often do the same.  Of course my agenda isn’t one of increasing consumerism, it’s reinforcing what the students know about Shakespeare, Beckett, Brecht etc.  
The issue isn’t really the intertextuality itself; it’s the why behind the inclusion of the intertextual references.  If it’s just to push another product (aka Disney) then it has VERY little to do with empowering tweens and it’s all about financial gain.  The Garfield example in this week’s reading by Kinder, is what I’d describe as clever intertextual referencing which achieves the double of appealing and empowerment.   Whether it would appeal to tweens on the same level as it appeals to me is debatable, because a lot of the appeal is tied up with prior knowledge.

Reading:  Marsha Kinder, “Television: Endless Consumption and Transmedia Intertextuality in Muppets, Raisins and the Lasagna Zone.” In Playing with Power in Movies, Television and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.  Pp. 39-86.

To what extent is Hannah Montana a ‘brand’ as much as a television show?

In order to describe a new market, marketer’s came up with the term tweenager (defined as “a preteen or a young teenager”).  This was a repetition of the birth of the word teenager.  Giving each group a descriptive name of its own, allows feelings of maturity and independence, or even coolness.  It also helps to pinpoint the target audience of products. 
In his paper, Sekeres recounts the history of marketing to children, showing that this is not a new phenomenon.  Perhaps licensed characters began with Beatrix Potter and her Peter Rabbit dolls, wallpaper and game in 1903 (p. 6), but I don’t think anybody would have been able to foretell where it all would lead.  I was amazed when I first read about the Harry Potter brand being licensed to between 200 (Hade and Edmondson, 2003) – 500 (Taxel, 2002) different products depending on whose research you believe (p. 2).  Branding has certainly come along way, for the sole reason that there’s obviously a lot of money to be made. 
A character like Hannah Montana becomes a brand when the character is promoted as a product – outside of the programme/film/book.  As Sekeres states: “Brands are built by corporations mostly to create associations in consumers’ minds between branded products and a desirable lifestyle…” (p. 3).  When Hannah Montana’s face appears on products as varied as “pilot bags, wigs, tshirts and pants, sheets, valences, slumber bags, digital photo cubes and cameras, buttons to put in the holes of plastic clogs, and dolls…” (p.17), makes her more than just a tv character.  By anybody’s standards, this a vast array of products. 

The major theme of Hannah Montana is that of identity.  This would resonate with the issues of identity that the fans of the programme would also be facing, being at that inbetween stage of adolescence.  This commonality would encourage (?), persuade () the audience to participate on the interactive website where, “There is no discernable difference between the entertaining and advertising aspects of the site” (p. 18). 

The pressure to conform with peers at this stage of development is immense.  Just as adults succumb to the water cooler effect, tweens yield to peer-pressure, hence the array of products available for consumption.  

Reading:  Sekeres, “The Market Child and Branded Fiction: A Synergism of Children’s Literature, Consumer Culture, and New Literacies”  

What elements of ‘girl power’ can be seen in children's programmes?

I have often wondered how scantily clad women, pouting and purring for the camera can be upheld as feminist icons when all they are doing in reality is selling their sexuality.  This applies equally to pop stars, toys (Barbie or Bratz) or characters in animated children’s series.  In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir discusses the binary opposites of male/Self, female/Other (1976, 267), which positions women as marginalised outsiders rendered voiceless by the hegemonic status quo.  Duval expands upon this by describing children, along with women and minorities as having “been constructed passive subjects in popular culture” (405) and therefore considers a programme like The Powerpuff Girls as a step in the right direction by painting a “relatively more progressive picture than media images of the past” (413). 
There has been an influx of programmes showing females as strong, independent, fearless upholders of justice – aimed at both the youth and adult markets. However, I would argue that these are providing a superficial substitute for real role models as the characters are more often than not completely objectified.  In fact, in programmes that use human actors, the female protagonist is paraded in various states of undress in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  How is this feminism?
The thing I found most interesting about Duvall’s article “Perfect Little Feminists?” was the attitude of the girls who were part of the study towards violence.  They seemed to have an intrinsic knowledge of gender-coded attitudes towards what is acceptable and therefore “did not reject violent programs outright” (410) but “differentiated between masculine and feminine violence” (410).  But this knowledge isn't inherent, where did they learn this? From their friends or from the programmes themselves?
I found it quite fascinating that they could articulate which levels of violence appealed to boys rather than girls, saying that “boys would like the violence because they were more prone to violent behaviour than girls” (410).  Although boys do often tend to be rougher than girls (always a shock when you first work in a boys school), surely girls are just as capable of violence - perhaps the difference is the tendency to act out violent urges.  Therefore, are these girls being set up to accept that men behaving violently is a normal aspect of their physiology?
However, isn't their assertations of the gender divide just more of the same? Do they go home to pink bedrooms? Will they chose female options at school and leave engineering to the boys?  Wouldn't it be great to have some portrayals of female role models who wear conservative, casual, comfortable clothing and are treated as equals because of their intelligence... 

Reading:  Duvall ‘Perfect Little Feminists? Young Girls in the US Interpret Gender, Violence, and Friendship in Cartoons’

Are Bratz toys appropriate?

I guess Bratz toys are as appropriate as any toy conceived to manipulate young consumers.  While we might think of MGA as an evil puppet master, putting their economic growth above what’s good for tween girls, when I think back to my own childhood, there were similar (albeit accompanied by less sophisticated marketing strategies and a smaller range of by-products available) toys available – by similar, I mean toys that becomes brands as opposed to skanky, shopaholics – primarily, for me, the Wombles.  (Okay in hindsight, the word similar wasn’t the best one to use!).  I remember craving everything Wombles that I could get my hands on.  In fact the first record I ever bought was a Wombles record.  I went to school with the lunchbox and pencil case, and went to bed with a toy Orinoco.  What messages subliminally influenced me? Not to litter, and to care for the environment.  But there is the rub.  I received educative messages that actually have the potential of making me a caring member of society, rather than just another mindless consumer. 
I live in a self-proclaimed shoppers paradise, I find the preoccupation with consumption quite vulgar.  Everything revolves around purchasing power.  Of course people have a lot more disposable income here than they ever would in their home countries, so it’s easy to get sucked into buying for the sake of buying.  And although a good deal of the expat population come here thinking that their bloated salaries will enable them to save, spending is generally what people end up doing.
McAllister discusses the “the association of young girls’ self-identity with commodities” (244) which I think is quite problematic for the future.  I’m reminded of those awful Little Miss pageants where the notion that happiness is reliant on physical beauty is promoted.   So as an extention to this, are tweens going to grow up believing that one can only be fulfilled if one has the means to shop endlessly? Well if that's the case, I guess the vast majority of people are going to have dreadfully discontented lives!  Telling a girl that her identity is tied up with consumerism is as detrimental as telling her she will only find true happiness on the arm of a man.  It denies who and what she is or who and what she can become.  While reading the article I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the MGA executives have young daughters… the term selling their mothers kept springing to mind.  I guess the fact that “Tween direct purchasing power increased 400 percent from 1989 to 2002” (248) is a mighty powerful incentive to do whatever needs to be done in order to ensure that money comes MGA’s way, regardless of the connotations for the future.
When I see Bratz it reminds me of the scene in Love Actually when Emma Thompson asks Allan Rickman which doll they should give their daughter’s friend for Christmas, the one that looks like a street walker or the one that looks like a dominatrix? What I find more worrisome than the advocacy of unbounded consumption is the promotion of promiscuity.  Why can’t little girls be left to be little girls instead of being encouraged to grow up so fast? And what are they being encouraged to grow up into? Doctors? Lawyers? Teachers? No,consumers.  And not just casual consumers… but consumers who are hell-bent on looking like carbon copies of a preconceived notion of ‘cheap’ beauty, combining “stereotypical Western beauty and hyperleisure” (247). The dolls certainly have an “overly sexual appearance” (244), which is disturbing considering the targeted audience.  It’s scary that the (provocative) clothes worn by Bratz are available for tween girls to purchase – are they purposely trying to set up young girls to be victims of violent crimes? Of course, I’m sure they (they being MGA) have all kinds of fancy answers about individual choice etc, but for me the bottom line is they are promoting a “cartoonish hyperfeminitity” (252) which re-positions females as accessories to men.   Females, according to Bratz, are shopaholic, superficial, beings whose only real worth is based on their physical appearance (which they've been fortunate enough to purchase). 
The one positive I took from the Bratz phenomenon is that it’s more about community than individualism, however as research shows that “young people shopping with peers increases spending while shopping with family members decreases spending” (255), this isn’t an ideological attempt at empowering young women.  It’s just another ploy to increase profit.
Toys, it would seem, have come full circle.  As opposed to the environmentally conscious Wombles that I was captivated with in my youth, “the potential effect of environmental waste on the planet that commodity culture encourages” (256) is something that should be of concern to everybody. 
As an aside… I enjoyed the inclusion of the word ‘plugola’ in the reading.  I remember a comedy song my mother used to play me when I was a child about the ‘payola’ scandals in the 50s.  I hadn’t thought of the term in years, so it brought back happy memories. 

Reading:  McAllister ‘Girls with a Passion for Fashion’