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Thursday, December 20, 2007

sugar, spice—is everything nice?: violence in powerpuff girls


According to the textbook Human Development (2007), children aged 2 above consume 6.5 hours per day on entertainment media, which includes television. Only sleeping tops media watching in terms of hours spent on any children’s activity. Television violence affects youngsters of all ages, of both genders, at all socio-economic levels and all levels of intelligence. The effect is not limited to children who are already given to being aggressive and is felt universally. It is of great interest then what kind of shows children are spending so much time with as well as the impact these shows have on their young viewers.
Among the most popular shows to hit world television in contemporary times is Powerpuff Girls, an Emmy-awarded American animation series about three kindergarten girls who possess superpowers, according to http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/tv_shows/ppg/index.html. Its popularity is such that the series spawned a full-length animation movie, an anime version shown throughout Japan , a Gameboy advance game and, up to now, a consistently high rating in all of its six seasons across a spanning array of demographics from young kids to adults. Further information from the online site of the program’s mother studio reveals that creator Craig McCracken had it initially produced for Hanna-Barbera till the turn of the millennium when its current studio, Cartoon Network, assumed production. Spoofing American as well as Japanese superheroes and popular culture, Powerpuff Girls is about the adventures of three little super girls named Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup who were created accidentally by Professor Plutonium out of sugar, spice and everything nice along with Chemical X. Typical of each episode’s plot is a hilarious take on usual superhero flicks wherein the girls use their powers to “save the world” of Townsville City , USA against such enemies as gigantic monsters, aliens, mad scientists and fugitive criminals. Meanwhile, the girls also battle it out against issues young kids have to deal with, from parental attention to playing with other children.
Being a humorous spin-off of superhero fares like those found in Superman, Batman, X-Men, Fantastic 4, among others, Powerpuff Girls has its huge share of violent acts masking innocently as vigilante takes against various villains of the world. Their exaggeratedly cute large-eyed features may be innocent-looking, but their superpowers unleash destruction when wielded. Practically all of its 78 episodes feature fight scenes with evil elements so at the end of each, the three girls will have saved the day.
One such episode comes in the guise of a bratty little girl, Princess, who is a classmate of the Powerpuff Girls in kindergarten. The girl becomes a witness to the Powerpuff Girls’ bank robbery crime-fighting, and badgers her multi-millionaire father into buying her gadgets and mechanisms that will put her in equally powerful footing as Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup. With her fresh acquisition, the brat brought her obnoxious ways in kindergarten out into the world by using her extra strength, flight, fast-speed, X-ray vision, kinetic blast projection, and the like. The Powerpuff Girls try to stop her from wreaking havoc in Townsville, but a great degree of the city had been destroyed already before the three manage to control their bratty classmate’s power-tripping rampage. The manner in which the Powerpuff Girls stopped Princess from her power abuse is the one thing alarming for young children viewers: the casualness in enacting aggression towards another.
From the beginning up to the end of the 30-minute show run, at least thirty various instances of aggressions are shown. These included the violent acts of Princess towards her classmates in the kindergarten, those of the Powerpuff Girls when they beat the burglars to a pulp in a collective effort to bust their crime, and those of Princess against the Powerpuff Girls when they had a power showdown by the soccer field.
Powerpuff Girls is not alone in portraying violent acts on TV. In fact, there is an onslaught of violence-related TV programs at present, from the innocent-looking cartoons to the rage that is the anime. The violence depicted, however, is often applied with glamorization, trivialization or glorification. Hence, despite the aggression perceived on the monitor, it still looks fun, admirable, or worth imitating. This especially becomes true when the violence is randomly punished, as when the bratty girl learns a lesson not to covet too much power or she will still end up the loser that she is, but she learns this the hard way. This manner of difficult learning was courtesy of the Powerpuff Girls, who combined their individual powers in order to defeat Princess by destroying all her gadgets and mauling her to submission. The Powerpuff Girls indeed save the day, but only in a glamorized violent way. What is more, they are praised for resorting to the Hammurabi code of “an eye for an eye” instead of being made answerable to law for their vigilantism.
A famous study by television researcher and social learning proponent Albert Bandura was done to know the truth about the effects of television violence on children. He split a group of kids into Groups A and B. Next, he showed Group A a videotape of a child acting very aggressively with a doll. For instance, the girl in the video hit and kicked the doll. The children in Group B were shown a tape in which the same girl was having a tea party with the same doll. Later in the experiment, he put the Group A kids in a room alone with an exact copy of the doll used in the video. Children in Group A responded by hitting and kicking the doll and acted aggressively. The children in Group B were also put in a room alone with the doll and they played very nicely with it. This is a study that shows how violence on television increases the likelihood that children who watch will demonstrate aggressive behavior towards others. Children imitate what they see on television. This may find truth in the viewers of Powerpuff Girls.
The substantial amount of time consumed by children watching TV make the images projected onto them the key role models and origins of information on how their fellow humans behave in their world. Studies show that media violence and aggressive behavior in college are correlated. As children get increasingly exposed to violence, they will consider it a normal, integral part of their lives. What is more, they will consider the oppressor role a plum part to land in any culture of institutionalized violence. The Powerpuff Girls are, undoubtedly, the primary role models of many a young child on how people's normal behavior. After all, they are portrayed as humans with needs and concerns about wetting their bed, for example, or about playing. Since they expose themselves to the TV for so long a time, they may perceive that the Powerpuff Girls are acting normally even as their acts of violence, for instance, are unacceptable to the society. An American researcher named Andrew Stern concludes that “two recently released studies reveal that more than an hour of television viewing leads children to have attention problems and aggressive behavior once they grow up to be adults.” (2002) The more time spent in front of the TV, are more likely to develop problems such as aggression. As kids get younger, they cannot distinguish fantasy from reality; hence, cartoon violence suggests to children that violence is funny and without repercussions. When in Powerpuff Girls, villain Mojo Jojo gets a terrible beating and seems funny still, children may just laugh at him, thinking that there are no serious consequence to mauling someone, something that finds no truth in the real world. When viewing children get accustomed to watching violent acts on TV, they become mean to others without regretting about it, become destructive and become disobedient in school. They may draw from the characters that it is cool to act violently, that it is the only way to be.
Research has discovered that media violence decreases inhibitions. Due to the glamorization done on TV among other media, children may perceive that the thrill springing from action need not consider human cost, rendering the act acceptable. Many TV programs portray characters wielding weapons as a symbol of their personal power. Both heroes and enemies who resort to violence in order to fulfill their goals are likely to be taken by children as the models on the effective way of giving solutions to conflicts. They may grow increasingly insensitive to the pain the violence causes. They may eventually forsake the negative idea about violence and may be less inclined to do something right when it is being perpetrated. As violence is depicted more truthfully, the more children will learn from it and put up with it.
As children watch that Powerpuff Girls can do violent acts, they get the message that they can shed their inhibitions and engage in violence themselves. It is easier in the case of these cute characters since their innocent features can make them get away with the acts. Also, their violent acts are glamorized in that they can be seen elegantly gliding in the air as they give flying kicks, throw off colors as they execute their power over the enemies, and look fearless as they fight the villain head on. Children get thrilled by the Powerpuff Girls' actions that do not regard the expense done on the hurt enemy, making the acts appear acceptable. Whenever they show their superhero-parodized powers, these serve as their personal weapon so they feel more aggressive, something that is likely to be emulated by their young viewers. In the case of Powerpuff Girls, they did not feel easily threatened by Princess because the former has natural power whereas the latter has only temporary. For children who are reared on TV violence, the phenomenon may be the only solution they may think of in resolving conflicts. This is shown in the program wherein Princess refused to cease her violent acts toward Townsville until such time the Powerpuff Girls get an exacting revenge on Princess and make her pay her mischief by being subjected to the powers of Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup. While it obviously hurt to be under any physical or psychological subjection, children viewing TV violence may just fall numb for it. They may even encourage violence if that is a means to accomplish their goals without their enemies getting in the way.
These violent actions in the animated series are unsuitable for toddler age because despite the fun way of depicting them, the images the aggressions spawn are destructive and violent. In spite of the ethics of doing the right thing and heroic actions of the Powerpuff Girls, these sometimes pale in comparison with the darkness and evil that surrounds them. Yes, the girls must overcome Townsville's bias and fear of anything new and different to save the day from the evil actions. It is already fine that the little girls are all different from the mainstream and must prove themselves in order to be accepted. That its heroes are adorable, large-eyed little girls lends some charm and probably feels empowering to its young audience. Nonetheless, they employ violence in fulfilling so, and influence children in the process.
The person in the cartoon or television show gets beaten up over by another character and they get back up without being harmed. Children begin to believe that violence doesn’t really hurt others. Television shows that allow the character who commits the crime to receive no punishment, teaches children that it is alright to commit a crime because nothing will be done. Criminals and violent acts do not get punished. Furthermore, television is a powerful teacher and if children are always viewing their favorite characters using violence or aggression to get what they want, children will do the same. Also, television creates heroes out of the people who commit the crimes. Kids feel that if they copy the criminal, they will be a hero, too. The hero that commits the crime is glorified. There is nothing heroic about violence and it is wrong to show kids that it is. Children begin to think of criminals as powerful role models. TV makes violence and even death seem funny and unreal. Children do not learn to respect life because violent television takes away their sensitivity. Children cannot tell the difference between real and unreal because television is make-believe. The people in the stories are make-believe. They are actors and the story is not true. Young children are unable to realize that when a character attacks someone it is not real and should not be imitated. How can children tell the difference between real violence and the make-believe violence done with a script for television, Powerpuff Girls for instance?
There is a wonder that no matter how enjoyable and innocent the show may be to adults capable of processing the images and subliminal message, how much constant, intensity and stimulation a small brain can handle? It is anxiety inducing to parents and caregivers that the positive message people fear and despise the very things that make someone special and that girls are as capable as saving the world as boys—will be overshadowed by the overwhelming way in which that message is visually delivered. So far, parents have not used TV ratings to alarm their wards that certain television shows are violent since parents are often working and children have more unsupervised time. It is essential then for parents or assigned caregivers to make time for children and regularly inform themselves of their day to day experiences, including while they are at school if they attend school. Ultimately, television should not be violent because it acts as an educator and has a responsibility to the children it educates.
References:
http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/tv_shows/ppg/index.html
Papalia, Diane, et al (2007). Human Development. New York : McGraw-Hill.
Stern, Andrew (2007). “More than One Hour of TV Turn Kids into Aggressive Adults.” Manila : Manila Bulletin.

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