“A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which everyone who passes by leaves an impression.”
– Chinese Proverb
John Locke aptly characterized a newborn child’s mind as a blank slate, a ‘tabula rasa’ (Latin). And in the 21st century , television has become the best friend of most children , especially those residing in cities and urban atmospheres. They get exposed to this medium as early as the age of six months, and by the time they reach two or three, children become enthusiastic viewers. Time which was previously spent by children in outdoor activities has now been replaced by the ‘Idiot Box’. This has become a problem because too many children are watching too much television and the shows that they are watching (even if they are cartoons) have become violent and addictive.
There is a plethora of cartoons which vary from fairy tales like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to action-based cartoons like ‘Ben Ten’ and ‘Pokémon’. Children between the ages of 6-8 have different preferences; girls are usually into fairy tales and animated ‘Barbie’ series. Most of them even have their favourite super hero cartoons like ‘Spiderman’ or ‘Batman’ or action flicks like ‘Bay Blade’ or ‘Dragon Ball-z’.
These days cartoons have started portraying brutality and goriness in under the name of ‘Action’. Even a series like Tom and Jerry has ample amount of bashing , mashing and trashing in every episode. Simpsons , South Park , The Road Runner Show, Looney Tunes are all peppered with high amounts of violence. And all these cartoons are aimed at a age group of 6-14years.
Tools like bombs, guns and clubs, are used very frequently. Japanese anime cartoons are known for showing action scenes in great detail. Kids are too immature to differentiate between reality and fiction. They are at times not able to process that these cartoons are merely a mode of entertainment. There have been incidents when in an attempt to imitate these sequences, and ended up harming their peers.
Cartoons implant many subliminal messages. This process starts taking root at a very tender age.The clear distinction between what is ‘girly’ and what is ‘macho’ gets inculcated in them.
Cartoons like Barbie , Cindrella, Snow White, Enchanted, Tangled etc always potray the protagonist as a strong yet incomplete girl/woman who will only be complete once she finds her prince charming. Uptil then , she’ll bumble and mumble and have a huge difficulty overcoming obstacles/hurdles.
Almost every cartoon carries a racist undertone too. All Disney cartoons have a ‘White’ princess, while a lot of them have these ‘fair’ princesses having dark-skinned slaves or servants.
Shin Chan , a very popular series amongst children revolves around a five-year old kid flirting with (elderly) women. This involves his teacher , his mother’s friends , women he comes across at the supermarket etc. The ‘funny’ part in the cartoon is vulgar and cheap, and definitely not suitable for the tender minds of children. We have all heard of incidents of kids dying trying to imitate Shaktimaan and Spider-man. Kids have a tendency of imitating their favourite cartoon characters. We need to ensure that the messages we convey through this medium are positive and informative.
Children are no longer viewed as vulnerable human beings that need to be nurtured. Nowadays, companies are increasingly viewing kids through an economic lens. This is because children are easy to take advantage of. A child will see an item that they want and will throw a complete tantrum until their parents give up and purchase it. This is a marketing company’s dream come true.
Cartoon companies are the most common companies that are tapping into this new trend. It is literally impossible to walk into any store today and not see any licensed cartoon merchandise. From playing cards to toothpaste, these companies have covered every angle possible. By doing this it makes it impossible for a child to walk into a store and not want a specific item. Cartoon companies are also known to advertise their object in between television shows. The commercials are designed to have the child infatuated with the object and wanting it as soon as possible.
Winx Club , Ben 10, G.I. Joe, Barbie, Beyblade and many other such series have their own merchandise range.
“A child miseducated is a child lost”
– John F Kennedy
The energy possessed by cartoons is immense. They spell-bind children in a manner that no parent or guide could. They are a friend, philosopher and guide for a child. If used in the right way/context , they can play a huge role in ensuring that the child grows up to be mentally aware and morally strong.
Unicef in the 90s had run a series across south asia called ‘Meena’. It was set against a rural backdrop ,where the protagonist of the series was a __ year old girl Meena. In every episode , she would break a paradigm prevalent in asian countries at that time like Dowry , Gender, Health and Social Inequality.
Children are great imitators. So let us give them something great to imitate.