Myths fostered in the media about teenagers and pre teens

If you have been reading my blog for a long time, you probably have figured out that I am really interested in young teens/ pre teens as I work in education and volunteer at a local rural school in El Salvador with young pre teen girls.

At any rate, I have no qualms reading teen books or watching teen shows . I figure, I need to really know what kind of stuff teens are exposed to because it sure ain’t like what when I was younger.

But some things DON’T change and it’s a good idea to sit back and analyze what are the stereotypes/ paradigms that are being perpetuated on film , television and in books when they are directed towards youth.  If you read my post on race stereotypes in the media , I talked a little about how we sell myths as truths in the media and perpetuate it for the ultimate goal of consumerism.  Here are a couple of myths / stereotypes that are seen in the media :

 

The Beauty Myth

Most of the time , teens are overtly concerned about their appearance. It’s not done in an obvious way , most of the time they aren’t talking about clothes all the time. However, the way they dress and how they look are a key component of their personality.

Every single character is beautiful. They don’t have zits, they aren’t awkward looking and in fact they don’t look like teenagers.  They are also most of the time white, or “white looking” ( straight hair, straight nose , wide eyes). A lot of them are wealthy, have an endless wardrobe and are very much consumed on popularity and how things look even when supposedly they’re not.

Why the media does this : What better way to teach kids that the only thing they should be concerned about is buying stuff? Get them while they are young and gullible, perpetuate the idea that money buys happiness, beauty and popularity.  Focus on individualism and bloated sense of self.

Myth number two : The Bitch

There is almost always a girl who is a mean girl. She wants the man, the popularity, is sneaky and up to no good. The main protagonist has to spend a huge amount of energy plotting revenge, self defense or something or the other. In other words, she isn’t a human being she is in the plot to create drama. This creates a sense of otherness, a feeling that there  are cliques, social status and people are divided in us vs. them. 
It also fosters an unhealthy sense of competition, of a feeling that you cannot work together and find goodness in everyone. It makes the world black and white.

Why they do this : To create drama, and also it is much simpler to make someone a bitch than to really find a healthy balance.

Myth number three : Sexuality and Relationships

I mentioned that they always seem more mature than they should be . They usually don’t question their identity or who they are. They act like they are 25 and not 14. That’s because in television and film they are played by adults and in books they are written by adults. They are a nostalgic idealized version of what teens should be.  Teens aren’t the ones writing the story. We have no idea what they REALLY are feeling because we don’t allow them to have a voice of their own. We are writing it for them because we want to have a version that makes sense, that would fit into a sense of consumerism.

There is also a very real blase attitude about sex. Most of the teens have sex like they are chewing bubble gum. Very few of them have reservations about doing it, and if they are they are dubbed a prude , a religious freak or isolated freak.  This is all at the ripe old age of 14/15 where technically it shouldn’t be a given that someone had sex. On Mtv, in the show awkward the main girl Jenna asks the guy she slept with how many sex partners he has had. ( uh… they’re 15!! Why would anyone assume that he would be experienced at that point???)

We have become so numb to blatant sexuality that the lack of this, the idea of chastity is such a foreign concept that we really think of it as against nature.  What’s more,  there are no direct consequences for their actions.

Why they do this : This goes back to the fifties, in rebel without a cause. There is actual research that showed that teens were more likely to consume more and go to see something if it had a lot of sex , drugs and alcohol.  The rest as they say is history…Myth Number four LOLA

You only live once. The idea is that, when you’re young you have to take advantage of your youth and get  wasted, drunk, and just be reckless.  Anyone who isn’t like this is again, a prude and doesn’t know how to live. Usually someone has to show them how to LOLA .

 

Myth number five : The Rebel

No one understands them, they need to rebel they have to go away from what society expects them. Parents are douches who just don’t know anything.  Youth is a time of recklessness…. not of doing good

Youth are a burden, but can’t change anything around them.

By being consumed in this world of popularity, beauty , etc they are not even considering that they can change their environment for the better. None of them engage in service or try to do better in the world. None of them talk about spirituality or try to change their neighborhood. If they do, it’s done in such a corny , unrealistic and sappy way that turns people off. If they do , it’s in such a saintly way that no one could possibly live up to that standard.

Myth six : Teens aren’t religious or spiritual.

I don’t think I can think of very many examples of teens who are religious . ( Probably a walk to remember is the only thing that comes to mind) Religion isn’t cool, and it inhibits your behavior.  According to the media, it only is a means for fanaticism, judgement, repression of your true self. It is never a means for growth, faith, adquiring positive values in your life. It never is their decision but imposed by parents who are douches and don’t understand you.

Myth Seven : Youth Love and Not Caring

Teens are only concerned about love and relationships and their inner circle. No one’s pain is important to them. They aren’t concerned about issues like the environment or the world. If they are concerned it’s in a naive and misguided way ( think cher in clueless) or in a very judgemental and bossy angle .  They don’t care because they can’t do anything about it, it’s not their problem it’s someone else’s.

Breaking the paradigm

How about thinking that youth are capable beings who are the best equipped to make significant change in their communities and in themselves? How about they become empowered to grow spiritually and intellectually by fostering their innate talents? How about thinking that about what they want to do when they grow up and to start from the age of 12 to try and work towards those goals? How about instead of having parents be their enemies they are their allies for growth and betterment? What if instead of thinking about themselves they care about the world around them? What if instead of focusing so much on how they look they focused on becoming better people?

I would watch that… wouldn’t you? I bet if there were more stuff in the media like that, it would help to break down these paradigms into something new and entirely different of what teens should be.

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The Appeal of Taming the Beast

Beauty and the Beast… it’s such an alluring fairy tale isn’t it? It’s something that permeates our collective unconscious , swirling stubbornly into our psyche that we eat it up with glee. By now, most people have heard the darker side of the fairy tale but let’s go back to it shall we?
This myth is something that dates back centuries all the way back to 2nd Century A.D. Clearly it is an outdated version of male and female roles, relationships and romanticism. Yet the myth pops up over and over throughout history, cleaving greedily to our weakness and our externalized desire to change others in order to change ourselves.
What is the allure of the myth of Beauty and the Beast and why is it is such a huge foundation for our relationships ( especially among women)? Let’s reexamine it’s elements , even though most of us know them quite well. The fairy tale tells of a prince who was imprisoned in a castle and became a ” beast” . He is violent, abusive but underneath he has great beauty. A young and beautiful maiden is forced to live with the beast ( Stockholm syndrome ) and eventually through her love he changes into a beautiful prince. Her love transformed him.

So what is the more darker and sinister side? Clearly the message is the following : If you stay and put up with someone’s ” beastly ” behavior eventually you will change him and he will become exactly what you want him to be. If you put with his abuse, his ugly behaviour eventually you will create something beautiful.
Hold up.
And the definition of codependency according to wikipedia is : defined as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (as in an addiction to alcohol or heroin); and in broader terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of or control of another.[1] It also often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.[2] Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, and also romantic, peer or community relationships.[2] Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, or control patterns.[2] Narcissists are considered to be natural magnets for the codependent.

The girl forsakes her family, her friends and her environment to please the beast. The beast becomes totally dependent on the girl to achieve total happiness and love. He cannot fully function without her, to the point that when he lets her go he dies. He is only beautiful because she loves him, and she only comes into her own through his love. There is a total blurring of self. The beast also awakens the girl’s sexual desire and her true identity. Through taming his animalistic traits she is able to become truly happy.

There have always been Byronic Heroes in literature.These men are anti heroes who are only redeemable when they find love and only for a short while. The men tend to be obsessive, physically attractive, charismatic, troubled and over indulgent, a mysterious and dark past, extremely driven at the cost of others and extremely vindictive. Usually the only moment they find any kind of redemption is through loving someone else. Examples range from Dr. Frankenstein, Dorian Grey, Severus Snape, Lestat, Anakin Skywalker, Tony Stark,among others. The beauty and the beast myth takes Byronic heroes a step further by the woman becoming the saviour of the doomed anti hero much to the detriment of the heroine.

Usually the Byronic hero hides a darker beast. This can be symbolic or an actual physical manifestation. The beast is uncontrollable and dark and can become increasingly vengeful and bloodthirsty. Examples of the beast range from vampires, werewolves, mummies, Dr. Jekyl, freakishly large flys, invisible men, rotting pictures, gargoyles, swamp monsters, sand men and all kinds of other things in between. These monsters, when they truly become these selves are unable to control this inner beast. In some variations to the story, the beast becomes an emotional or physical ailment. This ranges from drug addiction, obsessions, greed, psycopathic tendencies among others.

We are taught is that despite these bestial qualities there is a slight possibility that he will totally become something else and entirely wipe out all the negative elements and keeping only the beautiful ones. The vampire will always be beautiful, the prince will have the money and the power, the jealous and abusive man will still maintain his good looks and charm.

You want to know how prevalent this myth is throughout history? Let’s look at some examples :

Psyche and Cupid – 2nd Century
Psyche is the youngest and most beautiful of three daughters and, through Venus’s jealousy of her beauty is forced to marry a man (supposedly a monster) without ever seeing him. She lives in an enchanted palace where her only company is invisible servants who attend on her and play music for her and her husband who comes to her at night and leaves before the sun rises so she cannot see him. When her sisters discover her wealth and that is not allowed to see her husband, in their envy they convince her to light a lamp while he is asleep so that she will finally see who she is married to. As Psyche does this, she finds her husband is none other than the god Cupid himself and in her joy accidentally spills a drop of oil on his shoulder. Cupid is forced to flee and Psyche follows him until she reaches the house of Venus where Cupid is being kept from her. Finally the lovers are reunited, plead their case before Jupiter, and are allowed to live happily ever after.


Wuthering Heights

Heathcliff ( Although admittedly he does not ever change, both Catherine and Heathcliff have a codependent relationship) – Heathcliff and Catherine are two wild counterparts, he is beastly and savage but it is only her love that tames him slightly. He becomes more evil as she strays away from him and her ” true self” ( Catherine herself is an extremely spoiled and willful character) . His constant presence in her life ultimately leads to her death as their love/ obsession is so strong that it eventually consumes both of them. Heathcliff is so consumed over avenging those who did him wrong that he accomplishes little else in his life.

Mr. Rochester and Jane
Mr. Rochester is cold, and Jane is plain. Through Jane’s love he becomes warmer and more alive but we find he hides a terrible secret. He has chained his crazy wife in the attic. Jane is unable to make a life for herself without him, and eventually comes back to Rochester who at this point is blinded and maimed over the fire that conveniently killed his wife.

Mr.Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
Mr. Darcy is prideful, makes fun of Elizabeth and has a hand in not allowing Elizabeth’s sister to marry his friend. But we soon find out he has noble intentions and loves her deeply.

Do you begin to see a pattern? All these men were loathsome at the start, but become ” softened’ by love. They change and transform by the women who surround them… or at least try to.

Yet in the Victorian times, there was a degree of fear or consequence in embracing the beast. Today’s modern examples hold no such luck. Let’s look at some examples from recent literature :


Bella and Edward in the Twilight Series

Bella is almost the same name as ” Belle” and it is little coincidence. Bella is bookish, reserved and has little life or meaning until she meets Edward. Bella becomes meaningful in the fact that Edward notices her. She forsakes all her former life, her friends and family and risks her life several times to be with him. Yet little is seen about the depth of their relationship. All we know is that they consider each other beautiful. We do not know their common interests, their goals in life or their talents. Belle constantly needs to be protected and makes little decision throughout the whole series. She is a weakened damsel in distress. When Edward leaves she literally becomes comatose and suicidal and only can cope by seeking refuge with another man ( Jacob). She has no problem leaving behind anything of consequence including Jacob to be with him. She forsakes her whole life- literally- to be with him. She only obtains meaning when she becomes like him , an immortal. Edward himself has some redeeming qualities, but is possesive and jealous and is quite one dimensional in terms of character development.

Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey
Probably the worst of the bunch, Christian Grey is controlling and abusive , emotionally manipulative and sadistic. Anastasia is able to make him ” change” by loving him. Yet we only see that she is the one who succumbs to his lifestyle. Within a couple days of knowing him she strays far away from her friends and family and submits to his whims. She is not even allowed to have male friends simply because they are interested in her. Her whole identity is melded with him.

The interesting fact is that it is not men who are writing these novels now but women. Women are imprisoning other women by succumbing to these alluring myths. We dress it up as a romantic ideal and gobble it up. The question is : Why?

Why is this myth so stubbornly repeated for centuries? One of the main reasons is that there is a certain amount of appeal of externalizing our own worth on others. By giving the power to an other inside of our own self. There is an allure to allowing someone else to make decisions for us. The desire for self worth and love and it’s transformative power is something that is intoxicating. There is one positive element of perpetuating this myth and that is the belief in the goodness of others, but the problem is the toxic codependent nature where our very identities and lives depends on others changing . The reality is that the only person we can really change is ourselves.

But the myth is misplaced. What if the ” beast” was merely the elements of our own selves? What if the love of Belle is merely our souls and by finally conquering the bestial qualities through spiritual power we are able to become a beautiful and whole self?
We need to take over these myths and stop selling it to little girls in a pretty package to sell merchandise. We need to stop teaching men to be this way and to depend on women to ” change” them.

We continue to give significance to these fantasies and as such measure our own self worth on this. You might think, it’s a harmless fairy tale. But fairy tales have the power to manipulate our inherent beliefs about our relationships, sense of self and identity. Our whole family structure is based on these romantic illusions. Battered women around the world adhere to the belief that somehow, if they keep chugging along maybe the men they love will change. Maybe someday they will always become the prince. Men all over the globe are taught that what women want is to be dominated. Maybe we are not conscious of these thoughts and perhaps many of us combat them. But we must realize that they exist, and try to create new and empowering myths.