When looking back at my childhood, I would say that I watched around two to three hours of cartoon daily and at times up to four hours, especially on the weekend. Yet, I haven’t once taken the time to wonder if there was an impact of cartoons on my growth or how much of an influence the cartoons that I watched had on my personal development. According to a report by Yvette Middleton, she discovered that children were exposed to an average of 20-25 violent acts per hour on Saturday morning cartoons (Middleton).
In addition to violence, researchers discovered that traditional genders have been continuingly portrayed in cartoons (Thompson and Zerbinos). Moreover, children have a difficult time distinguishing what they see on television as fiction or reality, which can have negative impacts on their development. With children being easily influenced and vulnerable to what they see, as a society we must pay more attention to the cartoons they watch in order to support them in comprehending what they see and provide them with positive reinforcements as responsible adults.
In particular, the movie “The Incredibles” will be analyzed to discuss the issues of violence, gender roles, and racial representation found in the film. When thinking back to some of the cartoons that I enjoyed watching as a child, most of them contained violence. I would say that maybe only 20 percent of the cartoons that I enjoyed did not contain violence, however, these cartoons were often meant for children who were under the ages of five and was shown on the child-friendly Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) channel.
Researchers have found that children were more drawn to cartoons that contain violence, and found these shows to be much more entertaining (Middleton). In the film, “The Incredibles”, the storyline revolves around a family of superheroes who must come together to fight an enemy in order to save the lives of each other and the world from destruction. More importantly, this family of superheroes consist of two children, a boy and a girl named Dash and Violet, who must come together to help their parents named Bob and Helen fight the evil in the world.
This plot is alarming because most cartoons that contained violence often revolve around teenage-aged people or older, rather than young children. In “The Incredibles”, the young boy and girl, who both seem to be in elementary and middle school respectively, were integral in the fight against the enemies. They were encouraged by their parents to use and embrace their powers of super-speed and invisibility and force-field generation to defend themselves against enemies who take no qualms in murdering young children.
As we see in the film, these bad guys equipped with assault rifles and flying spinning bladed vehicles did not hold back when they hunted for our young protagonist in a remote jungle island looking towards killing them at any chance they get. We also see near the end of the film, the main villain named Syndrome, kidnapping the baby of the family, Jack Jack, in a desperate last attempt at thwarting our superhero family. However, Syndrome’s plan failed when his cape was caught in a jet engine sucking him into it and violently shredding him to pieces in a giant explosion that ultimately ended his life.
This sort of violence displayed in “The Incredibles” may send some sort of message toward a young audience influencing them toward a path of violence. Aside from violence, “The Incredible” also portrays the traditional gender roles found in society within the film. We can see this from the different way each member of the family’s power is reflective of their traditional gender role. For example, the father was portrayed as an independent and strong man with the power of super-strength who tends to respond poorly regarding his emotions to his wife.
The father, a retired superhero, took it upon himself to go on secret missions after osing his job, all the while hiding this fact from his wife. The wife was portrayed as a stay-at-home mom who had to juggle the family duties which involved cleaning the house and taking care of the children. The wife’s power was being super flexible and elastic because as a traditional wife and mother, a women must be elastic. These gender roles are the typical gender roles that we as a society tend to associate to gender and these could negatively impact children into unknowingly assuming these as self-fulling prophecies when they become adults.
Another major gender stereotype found within the film was that, the boy was an energetic, fierce and stubborn character with his power of superspeed, while the daughter with the power of invisibility was a shy, unconfident and obedient character who did not like much public attention. With a role like this for the boy, it can encourage boys to be independent and strong willed, which can help them develop into strong individuals but could also impact them negatively as well because boys can take on aggression, disobedience, and lack of communication from the boy’s action.
In the film, we saw that the boy was sent to the principal’s office during school because his mischievous behaviors in class. On the other hand, the girl character was not portrayed as positively as the boy because the girl appeared to lack friends and confidence. Throughout the movie, the girl doubted herself which greatly affected her belief in her abilities, and she would always listen to what her parents instructed of her rather than making her own decisions as shown in the film, almost costing the life of her mother and brother in the film.
The problem with this portrayal is that it could negatively influence a girl’s’ outlook on their role in society. It could encourage them to become very obedient and reliant upon an adult or a man that they could lose sight of their own self-worth and their potential. Such exposure as shown in the film could lead to girls lacking confidence and to follow the lead of others to guide them through life. Moreover, the gender representation in cartoons have been dismissed by many viewers because people often do not often think critically about the cartoons and films they watch.
For instance, a survey conducted on children discovered that 78% of children believed there were more boy characters in cartoons rather than girl characters (Thompson and Zerbinos). In the film “The Incredibles”, there were 5 main male characters and 3 main female characters who were central to the storyline. In addition, the majority of the people in the background during minor scenes also consisted of more male characters than female characters. Also, all of the characters who supported the villain in fighting the protagonists consisted of all male characters.
Furthermore, “The Incredibles” does a poor job with regarding racial representation. After watching the film, I noticed that there may have been only one character who was not white, which was Frozone, a superhero friend of the incredible family who appeared to be of African-American descent. Although Frozone was a character who played a major role in the defeating the enemy, he still had a limited role and feature time throughout the film. The limited amount of exposure time that Frozone had throughout the film did not help promote diversity to the children who watched the film.
What I found upsetting was that even the background characters or the filler characters in the film such as the neighbors, kids at school, and people in the city were predominantly white. This is troublesome because the United States is a culturally diverse nation especially in the inner cities. Children who watched this movie could interpret from the movie a lack of diversity, and think that only strong and successful people who impact that lives of others come from white background. This could severely impact children’s perception on people and individual confidence when watching the film.
As a child growing up, I noticed the disparity in racial representation in American cartoons and often resorted to watching cartoons that provided positive reinforcement that had characters who resembled my race. For example, I grew up watching a lot of Asian animation that had characters who were Asian because it provided me an outlet to watch something that had an Asian character who was positively portrayed that overcame all adversity. These characters often instilled a sense of pride and self-confidence.
The cartoon movie, “The Incredibles” was a successful film in terms of box office revenue, however, it seemed to have failed on many levels in terms of societal representation and a missed opportunity to leave a more positive impact on the yo oung children watching it. The violence in the film contained adult level of death and destruction not appropriate for young children. The gender representation shown in the film was reflective of traditional gender role that society deem should be and did not promote any growth of a character beyond their own role. Even the racial representation was worst in the film.
The lack of diversity portrayed did not show any consideration to the diversity of this film’s audience with only one main character of color in a country consisting of people from many different background and ethnicities. With that being said, many cartoons and movies are still a long way from being sensitive to their audience. Perhaps as people become more aware of these cartoons and as movies attempt to influence our views, we can be more conscious of the effect it would have on our own children as we leave them in front of the TV, computer, or big screen to watch it.