Well, that kind of depends on the age of your kids. Is it “Time for lunch!” a la Bubble Guppies or “Adventure Time!” a la…well, Adventure Time?
In my house it’s actually both, since my two kids are 7 years apart. But I’ve spent a lot of time here already talking about preschool media and girls and gender, so I’m going to put aside the rich (mixed) fodder that Bubble Guppies provides in that arena* and look instead at tween/middle school media and boys and gender – otherwise known as what I want for my son.
I mean sure, that’s kind of what Cosmos is for (best family time ever – even the 3 year old is enjoying it, even if she doesn’t really understand it yet), but it can’t be NdGT all the time. So, this is where shows like Adventure Time come in.
To be frank, it took me a long time to warm up to this one and I’m still not a regular viewer, so apologies in advance if I’m remembering plot or character details a little wrong, but for my purposes here, my overall impressions are more important than whether or not I’m exactly remembering back-story with encyclopedic accuracy. Anyway, I know a lot of people are turned off a little by the profound weirdness of this show, but that’s not really an issue for me, let’s be honest. From the sidelines, catching glimpses while wandering through rooms or seeing commercials or buying the Hey Ice King! Why’d you steal our garbage? video game, I thought it was just another buddy show – two guys, Finn and is dog/brother Jake, wandering through an imaginary landscape having snarktastic adventures. Kind of like a dozen other shows on Cartoon Network and similar channels, which is just about the only substantive criticism I’ve encountered about this one. My husband – who is primarily in charge of vetting son’s viewing habits – didn’t have any concerns about content or language so wev. And while I’m still not a regular viewer, I have really come to love this show. Not only is it just generally entertaining, it is different from a lot of the other shows that are marketed primarily to boys in really important ways. Most importantly in my view is that it shows boys/young men/their avatars** being kind and thoughtful.
That’s right – Finn in particular is a character who not only tries to just plain be nice, but who also is regularly shown wrestling with moral dilemmas in imperfect situations. For example, pretending to die a violent death in the face of homicidal, but ultimately completely inept insect sized people seems like a great solution to the meddlesome problem of being woken up repeatedly by an invading annoying army. But what happens when they realize in the midst of their celebration that they didn’t actually conquer the giants? What should one do when faced with a choice between watching someone you love be tortured or lying about loving someone you don’t love and being forced into a marriage that will ultimately lead to more pain and heartbreak? What is Ice King’s real completely tragic story?
Because no post of mine would be complete without a discussion of the portrayal of female characters, I’ll note that the show is better than decent in that regard as well – there are a lot of them, most of them are royalty, but real actual-power-within-their-domain-not-just-looking-for-love kind of royalty. Princess Bubblegum – the pink haired character who appears in a lot of the graphics and promos – is a wicked-good scientist who Finn completely acknowledges is way out of his intellectual league, but who he nevertheless has a huge crush on. She is a leader and an intellectual and shown as being the most desirable woman in the show.
While I’m never going to argue that the media-approved role models for girls are less limited and confining than those for boys, the fact is, there’s not a lot out there that doesn’t show boys as being bumbling fools, sporty macho jerks, muscle-bound super-heroes, or some combination of all three. My son, meanwhile, is a sweet sensitive kid who will happily care for his sister and play with her and her pals. One recent afternoon at the park, he was surrounded by 3 and 4-year-olds and perfectly balancing his obvious preference for her with being fair and kind to the other kids. It can be hard for him that his particular personal strengths – the things that really make him stand out in a community full of bright talented experience-rich kids – are these personal traits that are rarely celebrated publicly, period, and almost never in relation to boys.
I know there are other characters like this out there, but it can take some digging. What are some other examples of boys being kind do you see in your kids’ media choices? Bonus points if they are shows – like Adventure Time – that are widely marketed and recognizable.
*In sum, pretty decent depiction of preschool play, including a socially awkward, possibly mildly ASD character, lots of mixed-gender interaction and some disregard of traditional roles, that totally falls apart when you get to the totally gender segregated and stereotypical marketing. But I digress and my daughter has pretty much moved on at this point, so maybe Team Umizoomi is in your reading future.
** Speaking of which, Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legends of Korra are other great shows that do well in this regard. But this post is about Adventure Time.
Featured image courtesy of Cartoon Network