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In recent years, cartoons have become a common and often an ultimate daily entertainment for children of all ages. Capturing children’s attention and sometimes even hypnotizing them with their bright images, cartoons, however, do more than simply entertain children. They contribute to the formation of a child’s outlook, attitude towards life, his/her personality, and other people.
Such an influence of cartoons is obvious in all the spheres of our life, including race and ethnicity issues. Both the ethnical minorities’ and the “white” children’s perceptions of the world around and the social roles it offers are influenced by cartoons (Merskin, 2008). This makes studying the types of characters representing ethnical minorities and people belonging to different races important to understand how the children’s attitude towards them is being developed.
In the process of my research, I have collected information through watching cartoons created for various age groups of children and performing different purposes, like entertainment, education, learning, etc. The first cartoon series entitled “Caillou” is of French production and presents a pedagogically correct cartoon for children aged from 3 to 5. Another cartoon is a Disney product aimed at the audience of children and teenagers aged from 9 to 14 and is called “Phineas and Ferb.”
One more Disney cartoon I have come across was “Lilo and Stitch,” a cartoon for children aged from 5 to 9. The last cartoon taken into consideration in this paper is an interactive show “Jake and the Never Land Pirates”, also produced by Disney Company for children aged from 5 to 9. As all the cartoons are designed for different ages, their content varies a lot; however, each of them has representatives of various ethnicity groups or races, which allows conducting small research about their roles in cartoons.
Characters of different ethnical groups
Although every cartoon I watched includes characters representing various ethnical groups, their roles and importance in the animated series differ greatly. For instance, in “Caillou”, the main characters are members of a European family; however, people of other ethnicities appear in every episode. Thus, the main character’s best female friend is Chinese, and some black children appear in his kindergarten group.
“Phineas and Ferb” also focuses on American characters; however, the neighbor and a close friend of the family is a girl of Mexican origin. In these two cartoons, the representatives of different ethnical groups are given secondary roles. They seem to contribute to the diverse world of “white race” rather than be its central characters.
However, much respect is given to them, as in “Caillou”, for example, some elements of Chinese culture are introduced. The boy is invited to the Chinese family for dinner, and there he discovers their eating habits and cuisine. This teaches children to accept something different and learn to discover new ways of doing ordinary things.
Interestingly, some researches have found that, for a harmonic development, one needs to be surrounded by people who differ from him or her, to compare themselves to someone different and reflect better (Chidester 1).
From this point of view, these two cartoons show white race that has occasional opportunities to communicate with other people and compare themselves to those who have a different origin. Notably, in both “Caillou” and “Phineas and Ferb”, the characters of ethnical minorities are depicted as children from wealthy and cultured families; such approach breaks the widespread bias about the lack of money and education in the immigrants’ families.
Even more, credits are given to the representatives of ethnical minorities in the other two cartoons. Thus, in “Jake and the Never Land Pirates” one of the main characters, a little pirate girl, is a representative of an ethnical minority, which, however, is not specified and is only represented by her skin color. All three main characters in the cartoon are equally important and considered to be positive; thus, equality of different races and ethnicities is demonstrated in these animated series.
More impressively, “Lilo and Stitch” depicts Hawaiian family as the main characters, showing them in their natural environment and not “accustomed” to the European or American culture and its routine. Even the secondary characters in this cartoon are Hawaiian; they wear clothes with bright flower prints, have strong bodies and dancing their national dances.
Moreover, the main character of this cartoon is juxtaposed to a villain of a kind. A Hawaiian girl with dark skin, always cheerful, kind, and inventive, is contrasted with her classmate, a white girl who is rather arrogant, egoistic, and unfair.
The white girl comes from a rich family and is spoiled, while the main character has no parents and is forced to help her sister at work. Thus, this cartoon does not deny the existing prejudice of poor people from ethnical minorities. They are contrasted to rich Americans, but the animated series uses this bias to intensify the positive and negative characters correspondingly.
Having watched the abovementioned cartoons, I have noticed that in all four cases, the characters of different ethnical groups were female. Either pointing to a certain weakness or subordination, this peculiarity may be decisive in forming the children’s opinion about the interrelations between the representatives of various races.
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I believe that in all the cases mentioned, the cartoons show a relatively diverse world of various ethnicities, compared to the cartoons showed ten years ago. Nevertheless, in the case of “Lilo and Stitch,” the setting is rather one-sided. The Hawaiian population has more contact with aliens from different planets than with white people, making the latter look like a minority race (which might as well have been the plan of the cartoon creators).
However, in other cartoons, the characters of “other” races communicate and cooperate with white people, though they mostly appear occasionally and briefly. Indeed, every cartoon contains only one key representative of them, which does not correspond to the modern world where several people of different ethnicities and races can be met every day anywhere.
On the one hand, children’s cartoons do not show enough ethnical diversity while depicting people’s life. On the other hand, the first steps towards the adequate perception of the cultural and mental diversity of our planet have already been taken, and the image of ethnical minorities is becoming more and more cultured and amicable in the cartoons, as well as in children’s minds.
In my opinion, modern parents need to select the cartoons to show to their children and have additional conversations with their children relating the tolerance and value of diversity to prepare their sons and daughters to live in a world which is not their mirror, but the book with many new images to show.
Chidester, Ph. (2013). What a cartoon can teach us about race. Communication Currents, 8(1), 1. Web.
Merskin, D. L. (2008). Race and gender representations in advertising in cable cartoon programming. CLC Web: Comparative Literature and Culture, 10(2), 1-10. Web.