It is an undeniable fact that TV shows profoundly influence the social and cognitive development of children. In this text, I demonstrate how a show can affect the operational learning and self-socialization of children, using the example of “The Simpsons.” The work proves that, while young male spectators are offered different role models with different behavior, female ones receive as role models mostly physically attractive characters, who take care of others.
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“The Simpsons” presents a parody on a typical American family from the middle class. Even though the show does not position itself as a show for children (the intended audience is general one), it is known that children from relatively young age watch it. A simple Google search reveals that a lot of parents, according to their confessions, allow their kids from 2-3 years old and up to teenage to watch this show. Age up to 10 is a significant period in an individual’s social and cognitive development. It is the time when the capacity of learning, remembering and processing information starts to develop. It is also the period when a child develops empathy and begins to understand social rules.
As for the main characters featured in “The Simpsons,” they include a stay at home mom (Marge), a beer-drinking dad (Homer), but also an insistent, hard-working daughter (Lisa), who aggressively protests against the traditional feminine role. On the one hand, the male characters work outside of a home, whereas the female ones do all the housework. The majority of female characters are depicted as attractive or trying to be attractive. Therefore, the characters of the show perform traditional gender roles. But, on the other hand, males can sometimes portrayed as weak, while female characters demonstrate strength and remarkable intellect. So, it can be claimed that the show sends mixed messages on gender roles and gender behavior.
Watching this show certainly affects such a significant learning process of a child as operational learning. Operational learning works when a child observes the behavior of others, both adults and other children, and adopts them as role models. This form of learning allows children to adapt better to the rules and customs of the society they were born in. However, in contemporary society media play a serious role in a child’s operational learning as well, especially if a child lacks social contacts (no friends, busy parents) and spends all their time in front of a TV set. “The Simpsons” present entirely different role models for boys and girls. For boys, there are various male role models. Religious leaders and business owners in “The Simpsons” are all men. The individuals, who represent the judiciary, the Parliament, and the Department of State, i.e. all three branches of power, as well as the military and the police, are male. These are successful and responsible role models, men having a prestigious, high-status job and/or power in their hands. Other male role models include beer-drinking “losers,” who have a low-status job. For girls, except of Lisa and two crazy old cat ladies, the role models include mostly housewives and teachers. At the same time, no male character is shown doing the housework. Therefore, “The Simpsons” offer boys the role models of both successful and unsuccessful working men, and girls the role models of women, who take care of others and do not build their career.
The other learning process affected by TV shows is self-socialization. Gender self-socialization means that a child assigns themselves to a particular gender and then chooses particular role models and activities to develop themselves as a person of that gender. In early age, children pay high attention to gender information, and this makes them highly receptive to the gender information presented in TV shows.
“The Simpsons” give its young spectators the following information on gender behavior. Women, with a very few exceptions, are mostly portrayed as kind, sweet, gentle, and much concerned about their appearance. Men, however, differ from each other in their behavior, just like the real people. Some of them are cruel, some are hard-working, others are shy, weak, stupid, etc. Thus, the show may affect female self-socialization, making girls choosing activities related to beauty and attractiveness, but it leaves room for various types of male self-socialization.
The mentioned above problems of women’s representation are a general tendency, according to a 2014 study. In most TV shows, female characters are dressed more provocatively and are more concerned about their appearance. As the authors state, “The messages inherent in these programs are that males and females mostly participate in and do the same things, but that males are more important than females because they vastly outnumber them” (Gerding and Signorielli 54).
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To conclude, “The Simpsons” offer the role models of working men, both high and low-status, to boys, but the role models for girls are women, who take care of men and children. While the behavior of males in the show differs from character to character, female behavior is mostly standardized.
Gerding, Ashton and Nancy Signorielli. “Gender Roles in Tween Television Programming: A Content Analysis of Two Genres.” Sex Roles 70.1 (2014): 43-56. Print.