One of the guilty pleasures of the girls in my high school (including me) was the gossip girl book series, written by ‘Cecily von Ziegesar’. The series follows the lives of rich, white, pretty kids in the posh Upper East Side neighborhood of New York City, as they go about their days in elite private high schools or modeling for some famous photographer or taking cabs downtown to drink margaritas. My own high school (public, competitive, ‘elite’ in terms of selectivity and academics but with a threadbare WASP presence) was on the Upper East Side as well; I remember spending lunch periods during the 9th or 10th grade wondering which of the surrounding elite private schools Blair, Serena, Nate, and their friends went to. Always present, though, was the notion that the books were silly and over-the-top, and therefore the cattiness and melodrama were not to be taken seriously.
The books, though, are marketed to the tween demographic in the first place. And I’m not sure what they make of it; even though the narrator (the invisible, omnipresent, omniscient Gossip Girl) has a somewhat facetious tone, I’m willing to bet that they take the books more seriously than they are intended to be. There is a whole lot of product placement–Serena’s latest purse or Blair’s latest perfume or Jenny’s trip to Bergdorf Goodman–and I wouldn’t be surprised if some tweens insist on emulating their favorite characters by having their parents buy certain things for them.
But the point is: the CW (home to pretty white kids with problems) is making a TV series based on the books, to debut this fall. I will probably tune in to the first episode, then finish the semester and watch the rest online during Winter Break. You can watch three clips here. Something interesting I noticed in the clips is that Kati and Isabel–Blair’s two sidekicks/cronies/lackeys in the books–are played by an Asian-American actress and an African-American actress. I don’t recall there being a description of what K & I (as Gossip Girl would refer to them as) look like in the books, so it seems like the CW is trying to ‘diversify’ the very white world of the gossip girl books. Then again, the cover of the first book does depict someone with darker-than-tan skin:
But considering that K & I don’t add much to the books, I doubt Continue reading
Posted in blake lively, cecily von ziegesar, celebrities, consumerism, gossip girl, josh schwartz, kirsten bell, leighton meester, multiculturalism, pretty people, teen stars, the cw, the o.c., tokenism, tween, upper east side, veronica mars, wasp
Considering my previous posts about Kiri Davis and the beauty standard, Mattel’s Dolls of the World, the Cheetah Girls, and the Bratz dolls, I’d like to point out a trend in tween consumerism: multiculturalism. (See also this post involving a Hilary Duff music video)
What is multiculturalism? Wikipedia provides a comprehensive summary of its history, but it’s basically the idea that modern societies should “embrace and include distinct cultural groups with equal cultural and political status.” Basically, it’s the ‘melting pot’ (or more recently, ‘mosaic’ or ‘salad bowl’) ideal of American society that I know I grew up learning about in school. The multicultural idea posits that a society should not only ‘tolerate’ different cultures, but that people can in fact benefit from diversity, as we saw in the examples of “Cheetah Sisters” and Bratz the Movie.
The multicultural phenomenon in popular culture really took off in the mid-1990s in the U.S., which makes sense demographically, given the rising numbers of immigrants, especially from Latin America and Asia–remember when Madonna wore a bindi? And remember the macarena? Well, a decade later, we have ample evidence that marketers have kept multiculturalism in mind while creating products for tweens to consume:
- May I point out the more obvious examples from the 90’s, Pocahontas and Mulan? And Princess Jasmin, Aladdin’s one true love?
- More recently, Disney announced plans to create its first black princess, Maddy, featured in the upcoming movie The Frog Princess. Set in New Orleans during the Jazz Age, the film will be Disney’s first hand-drawn one since 2004. Reappropriate and Racialicious both express hope and some apprehension about this. On one hand, why didn’t this happen sooner? And will this end up being stereotypical (Racialicious mentions the possibility of “jive-talking frogs and voodoo priests”)? But on the other hand, isn’t putting a black lead character that girls from all backgrounds will presumably relate to (since Disney will no doubt market it as best as it can) a step in the right direction?
- Also recently, Nickelodeon has announced plans to create an animated series called “Ni Hao, Kai-lan,” in which viewers will follow young Chinese-American Kai-lan around as she interacts with the world and with her multigenerational household. According to this article that describes the process that found the voice of Kai-lan (to be played by Canadian 10-year-old Jade-Lianna Peters), the show will be “about what it’s like to be bicultural in America.” And much like Dora the Explorer teaches kids basic Spanish, Kai-lan will teach kids Mandarin Chinese.
So through these examples (which are just a limited sample of a much bigger field), I can see two beneficial effects of consumerism. For one, it seems like the use of ‘multicultural’ characters, no matter how big a role they play (though ideally, different characters could play the lead no matter what their background was), can positively influence the development of young nonwhite girls. It seems pretty simple: seeing yourself represented on screen (or as a doll, or in a magazine) tells you that you exist, and that people like you matter. This applies not only to race, but also to different body types and personal styles. By incorporating this ‘diversity’ into media in a nonstereotypical manner (e.g. without Kai-lan and her family being portrayed as the ‘yellow peril’ about the take over America, or without fat women in the media always being portrayed as crazed for sex), society can come closer to making everyone feel welcome and appreciated.
But critics will ask, ‘Why does it matter if there’s a cartoon character of such-and-such race? Doesn’t that just promote the idea that people should only relate to people who look like them? Why can’t they relate to the characters we have already?’ First of all, Continue reading
Posted in a girl like me, adrienne bailon, aladdin, bratz, bratz the movie, capitalism, cheetah girls, cheetah sisters, chinese-american, consumer culture, consumerism, disney, disney channel, diwali barbie, dolls, dolls of the world, dora the explorer, exotic, hilary duff, india barbie, jade-lianna peters, kai-lan, kiri davis, lark voorhies, lisa turtle, los del rio, macarena, madonna, materialism, mattel, mulan, multiculturalism, ni-hao kai-lan, nickelodeon, pocahontas, princess jasmin, princess maddy, race, raven, raven-symone, sabrina bryan, saved by the bell, the frog princess, tokenism, tween, white standard of beauty, women of color
Thanks to Robyn for bringing to my attention the trailer for Bratz the Movie, the first live-action film of the Bratz dolls enterprise. Er, actually, maybe I shouldn’t be thanking you for this? But either way, here’s the trailer:
Considering that this movie ‘brings to life’ the Bratz dolls that many young girls buy and play with, it’s definitely marketed at least in part (a huge part) to the tween demographic. Aside from all the pink glittery-ness, it contains so many of the same elements that I mentioned in my post about the Cheetah Girls: diversity, not only of race, but also of image (though the blonde girl does seem to take precedence, based on the trailer); a ‘we will overcome’ attitude; and a message of strength found through unity. It’s interesting to see that these sentiments expressed Continue reading
Posted in advertising, bratz, bratz the movie, capitalism, cheetah girls, consumer culture, consumerism, culture industry, dolls, girl power, marketing, materialism, movies, my super sweet 16, tween
There’s a post over at the main blog about the Cheetah Girls as a symbol of the Girl Power movement. As a Disney Channel creation–a made-for-TV-movie based on a book series spawned the real girl group and various merchandise–they’re definitely relevant to the tween market right now. There’s a lot to positively acknowledge here–they’re closer in age to their market than a lot of other girl groups (such as the Pussycat Dolls) are, they present themselves more age-appropriately while still being ‘cool’ and fashionable, they have a ‘sisterhood’ message as opposed to girls being pitted against each other for men’s attention (again, look to the Pussycat Dolls’ breakout single, ‘Don’t Cha (wish your girlfriend was hot like me)’, and most importantly I think (especially in light of my recent post about tweens and race), they’re diverse–racially, body shape, ‘image,’ etc.
Here is a song/movie clip from the first Cheetah Girls movie, “Cheetah Sisters”:
I think this song has a really great message for young girls who are at an age when they probably start feeling like they need to compete with their friends for boys and popularity. It emphasizes unity, no matter how different girls are from each other: Cuz we are sisters we stand together / we make up one big family though we don’t look the same our spots are different / different colors we make stronger, that ain’t ever gonna change, and it even emphasizes global unity with We’re from everywhere all around the world. Furthermore, I think the fact that the girls are fashionable and show off their dancing skills without being sexualized is really important–it’s letting girls have fun without introducing them to things that they’re not ready for yet. And astonishingly enough, all of the girls seem to matter in the group, with their own personalities–everyone brings something to the table, and everyone has something that makes them special. In this way, the song teaches girls to trust in themselves more: Got the brains got the power and we speak the truth.
So what problem do I have with “Cheetah Sisters”? Well, I wonder if it doesn’t emphasize unity a little bit too much. The girls don’t just benefit from having each other around, they depend on each other for the strength to follow their dreams: There’s a time when we all choose / To either quit, or follow through / To just loose faith, or trust your heart somehow to lead you through the dark / We’re not the only one who’s dreamin’ / Who needs help to carry on / We might geet lonely but we’re not alone. Saying that the girls need help to carry on departs so shockingly from the other Girl Power narrative we’ve been looking at this semester: the one of the individual woman, underestimated by society, who fights her hardest and maintains her composure, in order to be accepted in a (traditionally male) position of power, e.g. G.I. Jane.
However, the individualistic narrative of ‘girl power’ can be troublesome too, because it so often involves a woman fighting for her own right to occupy a traditionally male role of power, almost always without regard for other women, and often even at their expense. So the ‘sisterhood’ message of “Cheetah Sisters” seems pretty great for what it is. I actually wonder if the unity message isn’t so strong precisely because Continue reading
Posted in adrienne bailon, beauty, body image, capitalism, cheetah girls, cheetah sisters, consumer culture, consumerism, culture industry, disney, disney channel, dolls, girl power, hilary duff, kiely williams, marketing, movies, pussycat dolls, race, raven, raven-symone, sabrina bryan, sexualization of children, teen stars, that's so raven, tween, women of color
After writing the last post about young girls of color and which dolls they prefer, I was bothered by the fact that I couldn’t remember what the Indian Barbie doll I had when I was little looked like (maybe when I get home once the semester is done, I’ll look through all the closets in the house for it…). So I did some research on Mattel’s history of releasing South Asia-related Barbie dolls, and found these two:
India Barbie – released in 1982, as a Special Edition, part of the ‘Dolls of the World – Asia’ line
India Barbie 2nd Edition, released in 1996, as part of the Collector Edition for the same ‘Dolls of the World’ line:
Is it just me, or is Continue reading
Posted in advertising, barbie, beauty, capitalism, consumerism, diwali barbie, dolls, dolls of the world, exotic, india, india barbie, marketing, mattel, nirali magazine, race, sari, south asian, taj mahal, white standard of beauty, women of color
There was an article in the NY Times recently about the lack of female executives behind the scenes in studios, and it prompted an interesting discussion over at the main blog about how the movies that are greenlighted are the ones that make the most money. As a result, a lot of movies end up being ‘dumbed down’ or ‘cleaned up’ to a certain degree such that they’re rated PG-13, so that tweens (a large market, presumably the ones with the most buying power in the modern U.S. economy, as I talked about in an earlier post) are able to see them on the weekends. This makes a lot of sense; I’m sure lots of people have heard of the phrase ‘kiss of death’ used to refer to an X rating for a movie.
It must be true that the tween demographic makes up a significant portion of moviegoers if studios cater to them so much, but I have to wonder if Continue reading
Posted in advertising, capitalism, consumer culture, consumerism, cultural studies, culture industry, female executives, marketing, movies, new york times, studios, tween
I found this 2005 article from BusinessWeek that not only said a lot of interesting things about companies marketing toward tweens, but also reflected a lot of interesting dilemmas in our society that are related to some of the theory we’ve read in class. To start off with, the article talks about how though tweens have a lot of purchasing power, it is only because they’re permitted to have it by their parents that this is so. This makes me wonder, does this reflect Continue reading
Posted in advertising, Althusser, American Girl, Baby Boomers, capitalism, consumer culture, consumerism, culture industry, dolls, gender differences, marketing, Panopticon, tween