Kids These Days…Comics These Days

Children love cartoons and, it seems, cartoons love children. From the musings and misadventures of Calvin and Hobbs to the comical yet seemingly innocent troubles of Charlie Brown in Peanuts, cartoons have given the spotlight to many young children over the years. Their adventures have portrayed them as curious, mischievous, and fun loving. But does it stop there?

Recent studies have shown that cartoons and the media in general, tend to portray children in negative or stereotypical ways and, often, do not expose the more “taboo” societal issues that children face. According to an article by Rick Beach on the University of Minnesota Film, Television, and Media course website, children are often portrayed as the victims, accessories, little devils, or brilliant geniuses. Additionally, the issues faced by children rarely delve into more controversial topics such as racism, public safety, or even homelessness, opting instead to stay with more tame topics such as peer relationships and romance. (Beach)[1] Minority children are also oftentimes underrepresented in media with an astounding 76% of newspapers not carrying 18 of the current comic strips that feature minorities (the few papers that did carry these comics were only limited to half of the United States). And it gets worse. Some Japanese comics (manga) have been shown to portray children and/or minors in sexual situations between each other or—worse still—being raped. (Reinhardt)[2] In an entertainment form that was originally for children is this really the type of portrayal that they should have the potential of being exposed to?

Granted, everything isn’t for children, and it can be said that some forms of media (including comics), that portray children are not necessarily directed at children. However, it can also be argued that all portrayals of children are not appropriate, whether the actual children see them or not. Exemplifying this is the idea harbored by many individuals that showing children in pornographic or sexual situations in comics and manga may perpetuate and/or worsen the fantasies of pedophiles (Reader Comments)[3]. Some even will go so far as to think that this risk constitutes the penalizing of anyone who draws such images. But this, I must say, is a bit extreme. To quote Japanese attorney Takashi Yamaguchi, “Depicting a crime and committing one are two different things.  It’s like convicting a mystery writer for murder.” But there must be a balance and it seems that that balance has yet to be found. While it is not beneficial to the reader, creator, or to children themselves to portray children in an unrealistically tame light, people must also keep in mind that they are indeed children and their innocence (yes, even in comics and cartoons) must be protected and not corrupted or ruined in an outlandish way such as this.

In this same way, children must be protected from underrepresentation or misrepresentation.  This is not to say that media outlets and comics should place a floodgate of racially diverse children in their works to make it seem as though they are trying too hard, but they also must not delve into the all-too-common practice of patronizingly placing a single “token” child to artlessly insinuate that there is racial diversity in a media outlet’s work.

The point here is simple: let kids be kids. In art and real life, children must be portrayed as what they truly are for the most part which is, simple and innocent. Every once in a while, portraying children in a different light can make a point that is relevant or not frequently addressed. However, delving into this area too often, as seen by many individuals’ reactions can lead to skewed perceptions over what the creator intended to convey.  Besides, in many cases the actions of a normal child are far more than interesting enough for any television show, cartoon, or comic book. It has been said that many times, “A characteristic of the normal child is he doesn’t act that way very often.” (Author Unknown)

~Jorie Goins


[1] Beach, Rick. “Module 5: Studying Media Representations: Children/Adolescents.” CI5472 Teaching Film, Television, and Media. University of Minnesota. Web. 2 May 2011. <http://www.tc.umn.edu/~rbeach/teachingmedia/module5/9.htm&gt;.

[2] Reinhardt, Akim. “Oh No, Bonobo.” The Public Professor. 10 Feb. 2011. Web. 02 May 2011. <http://www.thepublicprofessor.com/?p=1809&gt;.

[3] Subeta – Virtual Pet and Avatar Community. Web. 02 May 2011. <http://subeta.net/forums/view/407054&gt;.

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