Friday, August 15, 2014

Meet George Jetson (With Fresh Eyes)

The other day, an argument over music selection ensued from the backseat of the van. Silas, always the proponent for Wee Sing Dinosaurs, was duking it out with George, who was arguing in favor of Truck Tunes. When I say argument, of course, what I really mean is each boy shouting his selection louder than the other ad nauseam. Ever the mediator, I suggested the solution of Truck Tunes on the way to the grocery store and Wee Sing Dinosaurs on the way home. This was met by cheers from George and wails from Silas, who loudly grumbled, "I'm not even going to listen!! (pause) But I have ears so I have to."

This was the exact sentiment that I felt a few weeks ago when I made a poor decision and allowed my kids to watch an episode of The Jetsons. It all began earlier that afternoon at a public library, where we happened to be looking through the Children's DVDs with no particular selection in mind. It was easy enough: Silas wanted something to watch, and I happened to spot one of my favorite cartoons as a kid, now on DVD. I picked it up and asked, "How about this?" I explained to Silas that it takes place in the future, and that all of the houses are high in the sky, the cars fly, and the Jetsons employ a robot. Sold! We checked out the DVD and I walked out of the library happy to have the chance to show Silas what cartoons were like in my day---that is, the good ole' days.

Wow. In case I had forgotten, those good ole' days were the early 1960's (not my day, just to be clear), which held some really antiquated views on things. First of all, I think they were racist. Absolutely everybody in the future is white, according to The Jetsons. Second, the gender stereotyping was absurd. I'm really not sure what I expected from a cartoon made so many years ago, but it seems to be prevalent through the entire cartoon. Beginning with the opening credits, George is depicted as a career man, and "Jane, his wife!" is a compulsive spender of George's earnings. He offers her a few dollar bills to placate her, and she grabs the entire wallet. So much for financial planning and budget-making together as partners. I knew that what was to come was probably not great as soon as BJ and I met eyes, and we were literally 15 seconds into the episode!

I wish I could tell you that it didn't get any worse than this, but it did. The episode we watched was titled "Las Venus," and is based on George and Jane celebrating their wedding anniversary with a getaway to the space-age equivalent of Las Vegas. After they arrived, Jane left to, of course, go shopping for what she termed "a Saturn bikini." She demurely offered George the description of a swimsuit that has "rings in all the right places." What?? I'm letting my kids watch this? It obviously went right over their four-year-old and two-year-old little heads, but good grief! I wasn't expecting sexual innuendos from this enterprise.

The sexual innuendos continued, sadly. George was confronted by his boss via satellite, and he insisted that George visit with a potential client who was also vacationing in Las Venus. He promised George that the account was a big one and would result in a promotion for George and a personal secretary who, the boss indicated, had been referred to by many as "Heavenly Body." The writers apparently thought that George had no brain and no self-control, because he became ridiculously google-eyed over the possibility of scoring such a prize!! A secretary with a hot body! The look on his face was disgusting. As the episode unfolded, George did in fact meet with the client, who apparently happened to be a good-looking female. Time after time, George's character was dumbed down to be an ogre who could not articulate a single sentence while in the presence of this woman. He ended up looking like a blathering fool.
George made plans to meet with this woman for dinner, even though he was on vacation with Jane. The problem, really, was that he neglected to tell Jane about it. That evening, as he was dining with Jane, he seemed to have forgotten about his appointment and then suddenly remembered that he was scheduled to meet with this client. I'm not sure how he forgot, but okay. Because he felt he couldn't be honest with his wife, he made an excuse to leave her and he hurried to meet his client, who was in another restaurant. As he was blathering with the client, he again seemed to suddenly remember, "Oh! I have a wife! Better hurry back!" And so back and forth he went between women, each time with the sudden remembrance that he was supposed to be somewhere else. Object permanence, not achieved.

The episode, and I am assuming the entire cartoon, is an insult to women and to men. Women made no valuable contributions to anything in this episode and were generally viewed as sexual beings. Men were made to look like dumb oafs who are incapable of speaking in the presence of beauty, incapable of remembering simple plans, and guided by their sexual impulses. People of color, apparently, don't even exist! I couldn't wait for the episode to conclude and wished that I didn't have ears. I suppose that we could have stopped the show in the middle of it, but our children would have reacted as though we had thrown their dessert into a litter box. Probably. Maybe I don't give them enough credit. We could have turned off the show and explained to our children that The Jetsons aren't allowed in our home because we don't appreciate the objectification of women. Surely they would understand that, right? Somehow, though, that didn't seem like the best idea at the time. So we finished the episode and then quietly returned it to the library. The next time The Jetsons came up in conversation, we told them it had been due back at the library. Someday we can have that conversation, but not today.

Some people would say that we're overreacting, but the truth is that kids pick up a lot more than we often give them credit for. If BJ and I allowed our kids to continually watch examples that endorse these kinds of stereotypes, exclusions, and objectifications, then we risk this becoming the norm that our children think is acceptable. The ideas may gradually implant that women are good for shopping, that men become foolish around women other than their partners, that white people are the only ones that matter. I don't think so. Why even introduce those notions, just to combat them? I think we'll stick with PBS Kids shows like Wild Kratts. My kids learn valuable information about animals and their habitats while observing teamwork, kind brotherly interactions, an African-American presence in the cast, and tons of cool scientific inventions that are masterminded by a female named Aviva. This seems like a much better idea. In the meantime, I'll stop reminiscing about how things were better in the days of yore.
Wild Kratts
Brotherly cooperation in action

No comments:

Post a Comment