As a child of the '80s, I grew up consuming pop culture like the sugary-sweet cereal you were only allowed to eat on Saturday mornings (at least in my house). Between TV shows, cartoons, movies, toys, board games, and books, my childhood prepared me to kick the ass of any trivia game as an adult.
Despite being an active participant and consumer of pop culture growing up, it wasn't until I had a child of my own that I realized just how much of my own personality was shaped by those Saturday morning TV fests, trips to the mall, and hours spent creating intricate story lines for my Barbies.
Now I have an almost five-year-old son and am much more conscious of how pop culture consumption impacts our lives.
As a woman, I'm more aware of how what I view on television affects me—from shows that objectify women, to others that continuously push gender stereotypes—and I'm much more particular (or least aware) of what I watch. The same goes for which magazines I choose to read, which manufacturers I purchase from, and which sites I browse on the web.
As a mother, I'm knee-deep in dealing with the effects of all the pop culture my son consumes, intentionally or not. While he would be more than happy to watch whatever is on the television, play with any and all toys that are out there, and consume any and every bit of food that stores have to offer, it's my job as a parent to filter what comes into our home. But this becomes a bit more difficult when his exposure expands beyond the home, into grocery stores, schools, restaurants and more. While I can't prevent every last bit of negative pop culture that seeps into our lives, I can at least begin the process of helping him separate the "good" from the "bad," the "healthy" from the "toxic," and the "damaging" from the "fun."
Pop culture isn't the same as it was twenty years ago, and I'm now dealing with a host of issues that my parents never really encountered. As somebody who parents from a feminist perspective, I am constantly challenged by new pop culture phenomena that don't seem to be the best choices for my son, but because we don't live under a rock, he is still exposed to them.
While I've had in my mind all these little personal stories that I've experienced regarding the impact of pop culture on children, Jennifer Siebel Newsom's recent documentary, Miss Representation, left me with some facts and figures to better vent my frustrations. I am certain I'll come back to Newsom's film in a future post, but for now it serves to emphasize my point about why we should be looking at the relationship between kids, current pop culture, and media with a closer eye.
American teenagers spend more than 10 hours a day consuming media, most of it filled with content that objectifies women and distorts their bodies.
While younger kids aren't taking in as many hours a day of media as teenagers, they are still exposed to more than their fair share of sexist, heteronormative, racist, and gender-stereotyping messages.
Whether in the form of advertisements, cartoons, books, food, or toys, pop culture is out there and is feeding a host of tropes and stereotypes that can heavily impact a developing mind. This series will take a look at where pop culture, parenting and feminism meet, as we explore the effects (whether outright & obvious or much more subtle) of media & marketing on children, and their families. I'll also take a look at how pop culture promotes certain stereotypes of families, especially in so-called "reality" shows.
In the next eight weeks we will talk toys, dig into Disney, challenge superheroes, unpack a McDonald's Happy Meal, meet some Muppets and much, much more. I can't wait to start exploring these issue that give me headaches and heartburn on a daily basis, and hopefully along the way we can find some hidden gems as well. I welcome you to join me on this journey, and am eager to hear your thoughts as well!
Now I'm off to sneak a bowl of Apple Jacks while my son snacks on a handful of the generic brand, organic version of Honey Nut Cheerios (Why yes, I'm also a slight hypocrite, something perhaps we can work on together in the coming months...).