Friday, February 1, 2013

The Second Blog Post! (take a looksie, if you'd like)

Reflection (though it actually ended up more like a Hyperlink post):

Linda Christensen’s “Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us” strongly resonates with me. As an aficionado of animated television programs, I have, for the past few years, been looking at cartoons and children’s programs from a similar lens. In fact, I’m kind of programed to observe such details regularly in the shows I watch (much to the annoyance of my mother who often just wants to sit back and enjoy them, especially after a long day of work; and who doesn’t particularly want to hear me rant about why [inset show title here] really dropped the ball on that subject or how those characters on [insert show title here] are presenting negative stereotypes).

Like Christensen’s students, I have also looked back at the programs that have influenced me; but unlike her students, I did not struggle with this. It’s pretty clear in my life how television programs have shaped me. When I was obsessed with Dragonball Z, I was always frustrated that of my dozens of action figures, I had only three girls (Android 18, Bulma, and Gohan’s girlfriend Videl or something). While my cousin would flaunt his Vegeta toy, the characters I had were clearly inferior on the show, so when we played his toy would go “Super Saiyan” and defeat mine with ease, as the only one that even stood a chance was Android 18.

But I loved action shows; so when Powerpuff Girls and Kim Possible came into existence, I was thrilled to have female-led superhero shows to fall back on. And while both shows likely have their instances of negativity, they also have episodes that packed powerful messages. On Powerpuff Girls at least (which I have recently rewatched), there are at least two episodes that had strong, feminist messages. One involved a female thief who tries to convince the sisters to hate men in order to get away with stealing Susan B. Anthony coins; not only are the girls taught a lesson by three of their female role models, the episode also provide a history lesson about Susan B. Anthony and her quest for equality (the episode is called “Equal Fights”). Further, in another episode called “Members Only” had the girls attempt to prove themselves to their heroes in the Association of World Super Men (AWSM), only to have the misogynistic group turn them away (despite besting them in each challenge).

If you watch the clip, you’ll see the beautiful exchange as the girls best the stereotyped household gender roles. The episode ends with the AWSM being unable to defeat their opponent and the girls having to save them and the planet. At the end, the AWSM begs the girls to join their team.

When she discusses the newer Disney animated films, I nodded in agreement; regardless of how enjoyable Aladdin and Pocohontas are, I can see their problematic parts. I did, however, want to read more about her analysis of Mulan, as it remains my favorite Disney film, and I’m interested seeing which aspects she finds troubling.

Her section on the Black Cinderella brought to mind several thoughts. She explains the negative messages of Cinderella, but also gives an example of an improved (though still far from perfect) modern rendition of Cinderella staring Cindy Ellie, which is more culturally and socially conscious. Her description made me want to read this story, but it also makes me want to write my own retelling of Cinderella in which the central message isn’t how-to-get-your-man and that beauty-is-everything. This section also reminded me of a made-for-TV version of Cinderella that I still have yet to see, but which stars a multi-racial cast. Thus far, I have only seen gifs from it (via Tumblr), but the parts that I have glimpsed look (at least slightly more) promising than the original Disney version.
[start at four minutes in until about five minutes in]

It also made me think of another modern retelling that starts a male person of color and has a completely different (better) message.

I like that Christensen then transitions into what to do with this newfound knowledge. After all, it’s true that knowing there are problems but not knowing how to go about making change is frustrating. Wisely, she first describes her students’ irritation with seeing through the glass screen (see what I did there? Tying it back to class? Yup, I’m that good); she then explains how she helped them channel their outrage in productive ways. 


While I enjoyed the article, I would like to emphasize that while most animated programs have some kind of flaw in depiction, there do exist some exceptions. While I watch all shows with a critical eye, there are moments when I’m quite proud of the messages the shows are producing. For example, while Gravity Falls could use more characters of color, there is a scene at the end of the first episode (after siblings Mabel and Dipper defeat their adversary together) in which the twins are allowed to each pick whichever item they’d like from their great uncle’s shop:


And Mabel (proving herself more than two-dimensional) choses the grappling hook, which I especially approve of because she isn’t defined by gender roles. She likes wearing her bright colored sweaters and cute outfits but she also will chose a grappling hook over a doll without any difficulty.

Indeed, one show (recently cancelled, go sign this petition to save it please!) that typically displays both a decent amount of female characters, persons of color, and presents characters from various socio-economic backgrounds is the show Young Justice. First season, the leader of the team is Aqualad (Kaldur, a person of color), and another one of the leads is Artemis, who is half Vietnamese (and also from a low income family, as evidenced when she receives a scholarship to a prestigious prep school and attends to make her mother happy, despite feeling very uncomfortable in her new setting). The character Rocket (also a woman of color) appears several times at the end of the season. Better, in the second season we’re introduced to a variety of new leads, including Jaime Reyes (Blue Beetle) and Karen Beecher (Bumblebee), and if the show progresses we will be seeing much more of Virgil Hawkins (Static Shock), whom we’ve only met briefly thus far.

Only a the first season characters are included above, but the characters Young Justice includes are typically reasonably varied and diverse; and when they divide into teams, I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t at least one person of color included (whether it be Jaime, Kaldur, or Karen); and while they could include more female characters, the ones they do include at least portrayed well and not as token females, like many other shows. Animated programs do have a long way to go, but they are (slowly) progressing.


  1. I like that you showed examples of positive messages in media. Most of the shows you mentioned I've never heard of, but I don't know if that's cause they weren't too popular or if I just don't watch tv enough. I know you said one of the shows was cancelled though. I wonder if that had anything to do with the message of the show being so different from what's usually out there or not.

    1. Haha, well, my taste is a bit obscure (and also more comparable in many elements to an 11-year-old than a college student), so that could be why. I wouldn't be surprised if that was one of CN's reasons, but I almost think this is their way of making us panic and spend more money, and once we've suffered long enough they'll be like "well, I *guess* we could keep those shows." I kinda hope that's what their doing, because YJ really is a quality show. Thanks for the feedback!

  2. Great post, once again! It also made me realize how much I miss the show Static Shock, it was so good (and so refreshing!) Power Puff Girls is definitely a great example, did they also have a gender-bending villain?

    In regards to Mulan, I don't know what Christensen's points against Mulan are but I've spotted some issues with it (it is also my favorite Disney movie) and the problematic aspects aren't terribly hard to find provided you're looking out for them. Although at first glance it seems to be a film that subverts patriarchy in reality it feeds right into it. It would seem that Mulan is an excellent role model for girls and boys alike; it teaches girls that they can be "as good as the boys", and it teaches the boys that girls are not inherently weak. In reality, the film simply shows that women can "be like men", or at least one woman can be. In the end, it’s still men who are being celebrated. The general stereotype of a woman’s place has stayed the same. Mulan was a hero when she was a male soldier. When she was wounded, her commanding officer and fellow soldiers found out the truth and they disowned her. The fact that she, to their knowledge, saved China by cleverly using an avalanche to take out the Hun army meant nothing as soon as they realized she had breasts. Her being a woman and fighting in the army was such a dishonorable crime that it completely overshadowed the fact that she saved all of their lives, and potentially the lives of millions.

    After Mulan saves China for the second time, this time as a woman, Chi Fu (a member of the Emperor’s staff) and Shang, Mulan’s commanding officer, have the following exchange:
    Chi Fu: Where is she? Now she’s done it. What a mess! Stand aside, that creature is not worth protecting.
    Shang: She’s a hero!
    Chi Fu: She’s a woman. She will never be worth anything.

    No one actually comes out and disagrees with what Chi Fu says. They do defend Mulan, but they do not contend with his statement that women have no worth. What is apparent, however, is that Mulan has become "acceptable". Shang and her fellow army mates respect her, the emperor honors her, and the city bows down before her. Mulan has morphed into the classic trope of the acceptable minority. Much like in modern days racists have the few friends whom they deem “acceptable” and not like the others in their racial group, Mulan has become the acceptable female.

    Even her first act of rebellion isn't revolutionary. She doesn’t disguise herself as a man as a way to show that the fact that she is woman should have no bearing on whether or not she can be a good soldier. Rather, she pretends to be the son of her father as an act of selflessness, a trait which is often considered quite feminine. Females are thought of as selfless and nurturing, and by joining the army in order to protect her father Mulan is being selfless and putting her family first, albeit in an unconventional manner. And when she finally does come home, after saving China from defeat twice, she immediately gives her father the sword of the Hun leader that she earned, as well as the Emperor’s Medal of Honor. She simply wants to make her father proud. And then what happens? She gets whisked away by Captain Li, her prince charming.

    I can still enjoy Mulan because of nostalgia and all that, but I no longer see it as a meaningful children's story. It's just like all the other stories except with some races changed and the patriarchy a little bit more subtle.

    Thanks for the Young Justice tip, I'll try and check the show out (and sign the petition!)

    See you Tuesday,

    1. Oh god that ended up being an essay, ha sorry!

    2. Noooo! That was a beautiful essay! And it gives me something to think about next time I watch Mulan. Also, Static was one of my absolute favorite shows growing up (along with PPG), which is why I'm pumped that he's been introduced on Young Justice. I'm actually legitimately terrified that we we'll miss out on most of his development because of the cancellation. So thank you for signing the petition! If you get a chance to watch it, I hope you like it!

    3. Also, a repeat of today's episode will be on tomorrow (Sunday) morning on Cartoon Network at 10:30am, if you were interested in seeing it. That episode in particular is extremely lacking in female characters (with only one, who is Japanese I believe, and who does not speak English); it is an episode with a lot of cultural diversity though, in that we have Virgil (black), Tye (Native American), Asami (Japanese), and Eduardo (hispanic), as well as Jaime (also hispanic) as the five main characters. Which was appealing, too, but it would have been nice to have another female character or two on the roster. Butttttt I digress.... :)

  3. i agree that we have to show young and teen girl role models to children or teenagers. I think the Hunger Games goes in with young and teen role models too because Katniss shows don't be afraid and also Rue does too.

    1. Right, right! We definitely need more positive media role models for young girls (and young boys, in teaching them that it's okay not to be "macho" and to treat other people - including girls! - respectfully).

  4. Positive but all difference shapes, sizes and color. Many young girls feel left, not white enough, not black enough, not beautiful enough, everything we do is never good enough. We need a role model who is willing to make mistakes but learn from them, a role model is was fat but loss weight or even vice versa we have to give children the realistic world we live in and not this decoded world where it puts a hold on youth growing and experiences everything they should WITHOUT NO PRECONCEIVED Ideas that were already imposed on them from just watching a movie

  5. Yes I instantly saw the gravity falls reference and yes I totally agree that show needs more POC characters, although I totally adore Mabel.

    FROM WHAT I REMEMBER, the Cinderella from eons ago with Brandy (plot twist: i loved it as a kid) was ridic diverse, especially for the late 90's, I remember it being highly praised for that.

    Also TOTALLY agree with Chela up there btw!

  6. Chela: I totally agree with you!


    Figures that YJ, which just so *happens* to be one of the more diverse cartoons is the one that *happens* to be cancelled. Suspicious much? Looks to me like that subtle construction of dominant ideology in the media rearing its ugly head.

    Me? I want to see fat queers on TV who aren't ashamed of being who they are and rocking some seriously awesome (non-gendered) talent.