Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ethical Consumption and Children's Media: A New Blog

I'm launching a new blog.

I'm taking a contemporary media class as part of my PhD coursework, and it's given me the opportunity to merge a lot of my interests into one project.

As a rhetoric and compositon scholar, I am interested in studying the ways that we use rhetoric to construct identities (for ourselves and others), especially when it comes to race and gender.

While these things were important to me before I became a mother, giving birth to a biracial little girl obviously personalized these issues in a new way. Suddenly the (often limiting) messages about race and gender jumped out from everywhere: commercials, movies, songs, books, toys, clothing, bedspreads.

The messages were particularly disturbing when they were embedded within media intended for children. It felt so unfair to me. The themes are so pervasive it started to feel inevitable that media exposure would be immediately connected with racism and sexism. So many princesses spent their whole lives pining for a husband. So many villains had darker complexions. What's an over-analytical parent to do?

Then, in the media class, I started doing some research on ethical consumption. You've probably heard of it. Ethical consumption is tied to the idea that consumers are like voters; every dollar we spend is a vote for the companies whose products we buy. By purchasing their products, we ultimately tell them to keep doing what they're doing because it's working.

We all make decisions about purchases, often based on cost and quality. The ethical consumer "consider[s] the consequences to others as part of their purchase decision process" (The Ethical Consumer). Ethical consumers also call for action based on these decisions. The most common type of action is a boycott, refusing (and asking other to refuse) to purchase products because of the actions of the company making them. The flip side of a boycott is a "buycott," seeking out (and asking others to seek out) products that are created by companies perceived to use ethical practices. Most commonly, these calls have to do with labor practices and production materials. A typical boycott would be requesting no one to buy clothing made at a sweatshop. A typical buycott would be requesting people to buy eggs from cage-free farms. 

What does this have to do with children's media? Well, rather than just locking my daughter in a sensory deprivation tank for the next 18 years (which sounds expensive and probably is not very sound parenting), I aim to turn my critical eye to ethically consume children's media. 

My primary goal is to choose media for my own daughter that I feel is appropriate, but--in doing so--I can also share my insights and open up dialogue about the media in general. Together, we can discuss what makes for positive identity narratives and what media products deserve consumption. 

Likewise, my goal is not to censor or ban media. I am fully aware that my daughter will (and needs to) be exposed to themes and perspectives that I don't share. But being aware of those messages ahead of time will leave me more equipped to discuss them and confront them. 

So, the long and the short of it is, I'm launching a new blog as a companion to this one. This blog--See Jane Juggling--will offer reviews of children's media and an interactive rating system. It will be part of my final project for the media class (accompanied by a critical analysis of the role of ethical consumption in media), but I plan to keep it going. I'll be watching, reading, and listening to this stuff anyway, and I'd love to share my insights with others and hear what you think as well.  

1 comment:

  1. I'm fairly new to your blog (I think I came upon it in August), but have enjoyed it ever since and in particular your media commentary posts. I enjoy them for myself getting updates on popular culture. and for my parenting. With no TV programming at our house, we limit what our three-year-old daughter is exposed to through her choice between DVDs (she gets to see one post nap each day if she wants to) and books (whenever). And of course there is more, what with her super savvy ipod skills (lately she's tended to snatch the "family ipod" whenever I turn my nose to my new smartphone) and the stuff that comes through mail (including stupid advertisements). We try to choose quality material and steer her in that direction when we check out books and DVDs at the library, but it's not always easy. Trailers for one lead her in a direction I'm not always pleased with. And just advertisements and fashion in general that hype up the princess theme. I look forward to following your new blog as well as this one!