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
Girlpower1 links us to this article about the budding ‘modesty movement’ in America, aimed at the same young girls who are being targeted and/or influenced by marketers and popular culture to participate in the ‘raunch culture’ instead of a more innocent, non-sexualized childhood. The author uses celebrities who are constantly in the media and in the tabloids, and the recent Paris Hilton-goes-to-jail debacle, as a starting-off point for her conversation–Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, etc. She points to their ‘vulgarity’ and asks, are these the role models we want for our young girls?
The author, Colleen Carroll Campbell, gets so much right:
Today’s pop culture tells women that sexual power is the kind that counts most and they can achieve it by showing skin. That message has trickled down to girls, forcing them to trade carefree childhood pleasures for sexual competition.
You can see them in the mall, tugging nervously at their skimpy shorts and halter tops, straining to see how men react to their little bellies flouncing out of low-slung jeans. They look more exploited than empowered as they fuss and cringe, adjust and squirm. How odd that in an age when girls have more athletic and academic opportunities than ever, girlhood has become a high-pressure dress-rehearsal for adult mating games.
This is no doubt, disturbing. As are the following conclusions: Continue reading
Posted in advertising, body image, capitalism, celebrities, child sexuality, childhood, choice, christian right, colleen carroll campbell, consumer culture, eating disorders, girlhood, lindsay lohan, marketing, modesty movement, nicole richie, paris hilton, preteens, raunch culture, sexuality, sexualization of children, teen pregnancy, teen sexuality, teen stars, teenage girls, tween
Supermodel Cindy Crawford caused controversy last September by allowing her 5-year-old daughter, Kaya Jordan Gerber, to pose for Melissa Odabash‘s children’s swimwear campaign last summer. It seems like it wouldn’t be a big deal, since it’s for a children’s swimwear campaign, right? Well, the pictures caused controversy because Kaya was wearing a bikini and standing in the typical risque poses that adult models use, not to mention she had a tattoo on her lower back and was posing topless. Continue reading
Posted in advertising, celebrities, child pornography, child sexuality, cindy crawford, controversy, kaya jordan gerber, melissa odabash, modeling, sexualization of children, tween
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
Ew. (No, not at the picture of Dakota, but at what I’m about to write about).
I mentioned the countdown clock to the Olsen twins’ 18th birthday in a previous post (which is now counting down to their 21st birthdays–which I don’t really understand, because once you’ve been in rehab for a cocaine addiction, does it really matter when you can legally buy alcohol?). But I wasn’t prepared to find a similar countdown clock to Dakota Fanning’s 18th birthday. It’s really obscene, juxtaposing a very childlike layout (the color pink, hearts, stars, a picture of Dakota smiling all child-like) with the desire for her to become an adult–why? So she can legally pose nude and sick people can enjoy their jailbait.
I shouldn’t really be surprised, though. Continue reading
Posted in child sexuality, dakota fanning, jailbait, mary-kate and ashley, olsen twins, preteen stars, rape, sexuality, sexualization of children, teen stars, tween
Recently, Kiri Davis’ short film, “A Girl Like Me,” has been garnering a lot of attention. The documentary explores the issue of beauty and how it is raced within the African-American community, and how that affects young black girls and their perception of beauty. Here is the film:
Davis recreates an experiment from the 1940’s in which the majority of black children, given a choice between a white doll and a black doll, preferred the white doll–and found that the same results hold true today. This shows that the standard of beauty, overwhelmingly, is still an extraordinarily white one. Blonde hair, blue eyes, long legs–all features that we are all supposed to acknowledge as the ultimate representation of female perfection, simply by the knowledge we accumulate as members of a society. I know from my experience with kids that this standard of beauty can reach the youngest members of our society; I remember an incident from a few years ago, when my little cousin was visiting and insisted on playing with the ‘regular’ Barbie instead of the special-edition Mattel Indian Barbie (who was still pretty pale) because it was more ‘beautiful and blonde.’ And who else can represent the female ideal better to young girls than Barbie can?
So nonwhite women are marked from the get-go as being something ‘other’ than the norm of beauty, as shown by the fact that Mattel has to release a ‘special edition’ Barbie doll to represent them. And even then we know it’s just an effort to get our money (and one that I apparently suckered my parents into giving in to).
So why not embrace our difference in an effort to see ourselves as beautiful? Why not exoticize ourselves? Well, Continue reading
Posted in a girl like me, angelina jolie, barbie, beauty, capitalism, consumer culture, culture industry, dolls, exotic, halle berry, kiri davis, marketing, mattel, penelope cruz, race, tween, white standard of beauty, women of color
There was a post over at the main blog about Keisha Castle-Hughes’ now being a mother! I talked briefly about the issue in a previous post in which I wondered what ramifications this would have on ‘girl power’ and young girls who look up to either Castle-Hughes or her character in Whale Rider.
The post on the main blog brings up how teen pregnancy is usually brought up in the media, though–as a ‘problem’ in poor Black & Latino communities. So far I haven’t addressed race on this blog, and I think this is a grey issue that relates to some of the other themes of cultural studies. Obviously, we don’t want babies to be born into the world unwanted. So why not celebrate pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood? However, there’s also the fact that a lot of these babies are born into poverty, and that possibly if the parents had received the same opportunities that people in wealthier communities receive–namely, access to the same standard of education and being put on the track to college–they wouldn’t have had the babies. It’s that question again–can you really be empowered when your options are limited by society? In the case of the ‘problem’ of teen pregnancy, it definitely seems good that people try to create their own narratives within the system by celebrating pregnancy and making it something worthwhile, even if it’s just for lack of a better option.
The case of Keisha Castle-Hughes, though, is a strange one. Continue reading
Posted in cultural studies, keisha castle-hughes, maori, motherhood, people magazine, preteen stars, race, sexuality, tabloid, tabloids, teen pregnancy, teen stars, tween, whale rider
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