While Justin Bieber is in Brazil ignoring its many wonders – opting to spray paint graffiti on its walls and getting videotaped by girls while he’s sleeping – perhaps he should enroll in Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes where he can learn to live the phrase, “Respeito (Respect): Hard to earn. Easy to lose.”
My son Ian, 18, introduced me to the “Respeito” saying which he wears on a T-shirt and mumbles every time Justin Bieber’s Brazilian antics make the news.
Mr. Beiber, 19, is in Brazil as part of his ongoing South American tour and he’s making a typical teen spiral hash out of it.
“Police in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday said they were investigating whether Canadian teen singer Justin Bieber had illegally spray painted graffiti on an exterior wall of a beachside hotel,” according to the latest Reuters report today.
First video of a sleeping Bieber, appearing unclothed but for a thin blanket, shot by a young woman who turns the camera on herself and blows him a kiss appeared on YouTube, according to CNN.
Then, early Tuesday, the singer and members of his entourage, were caught painting the wall outside an upscale hotel in Rio's São Conrado neighborhood, Reuters reports.
As a dedicated student of Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), Ian works, hopes, and dreams of the day he will make it to Brazil to witness the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.
Even though Brazilian jiu-jitsu isn’t an official competition sport in the games it will be a demonstration sport.
Brazil is Ian’s version of a sacred place, and here’s a guy, around his age, who is defiling and disrespecting it.
However, while Ian growls, I realize that he could have been a “bad boy” too if I hadn’t realized several years ago that parents of teens need to accept outside help in instilling respect and work ethic.
When my boys reached high school, I realized my parenting needed backup in many ways – from coping with bullies to instilling order in chaotic minds.
I enrolled all four of my sons (then ages 15, 14, 11, and six) in Gracie Bullyproof Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes at a local dojo here in Norfolk, Va.
For Ian in particular, his teacher Bill Odom and later Rener Gracie became just the backup parenting he needed.
When I lost my full-time job, Ian realized we couldn’t afford Ian’s classes in BJJ anymore. He solved that problem for me by taking a cleaning job at the dojo and instructing the PeeWees and other groups there.
Bieber’s bank account is loaded. He can go anywhere and apparently do anything, but he completely lacks the discipline, training, and understanding of respect that my son has had thanks to his martial arts mentors.
It’s not too late for Bieber to call on someone like Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt MMA star turned instructor Renzo Gracie, who divides his time between Brooklyn, NY and teaching in his hometown of Rio.
This teen has the unique opportunity to learn directly from the source.
He’s in Brazil, the perfect place to find some tough love from one of the BJJ dojos.
Who knows, if Justin learns to become proficient in BJJ he won’t need the bodyguards and if he applies himself his next trip to Brazil he could be welcomed with open arms.
The collection plate. The tithing. The special envelope. The Sunday school teacher stipend. The funds for the new heater, new roof, and new hymnals. The missions. The seminarians. The refugees. The homeless shelter, the cash for the hard-luck case who knocks on the parsonage door, the electric bill for the newly unemployed. Your church can, if nothing else, find you good ways to spend your money. But tithing and other forms of church giving are down of late – a victim, experts say, of the decline in church attendance, the economy, and, some say, a failure to teach that giving is an integral part of the spiritual life.
According to the Religion News Service, Open Tomb, a Christian research and service organization, reported last month that for 2011, the most recent data available, church giving was down for the fourth year in a row, to 2.3 percent of a member’s annual income, from 2.4 percent the year before. It was the first such prolonged decline since the Great Depression. Some 100,000 U.S. mainline, evangelical, and unaffiliated Protestant congregations were studied, and though Catholics weren’t included, previous data indicate their giving to be comparable, or slightly less, than the others. The drop affected not so much the local congregations, as the “benevolences,” mission, and ministries outside the local church.
How do believers approach that great question of “stewardship,” or, more plainly for today’s purposes, “money”? Matt Branaugh, of Christianity Today’s Church Law and Tax Group, sees giving theologically: “not a requirement, per se, but a response” to a loving God. In Christianity, at least, giving stems from and parallels the example of God, who sacrificed everything, including his son, for mankind. The believer, in turn, is moved to want to give back. The examples of this are all over scriptures: the poor widow who gave to the temple everything she had; the rich man condemned to hell for his years of ignoring the beggar Lazarus; the loathed tax collector Zacchaeus, who, affirmed by Jesus, was moved to give away half his fortune. And so on.
But today’s church headlines seem full of stories of fraud, scandal, and ineptitude. Then, too, professionalization of church fund-raising sometimes seems to manipulate the sacred in pursuit of the sell. Actual incidence of fraud and embezzlement within congregations is “very, very small,” says Branaugh, and can be averted through complete transparency, where the church books are open, the budget handled correctly, the planned ministries and activities are actually taking place. If you don’t see that, it’s cause for considering another congregation. For non-local contributions to the poor, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability accredits church charities worldwide. [Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.]
Speaking of the poor, how rich should your church be? How much cash ought conscience allow for things like stained glass, parking lot landscaping, and support staff? Some see property holdings of any kind as unnecessary wealth. Yet church architecture – be it Quaker austerity or cathedral splendor – traditionally has provided not just shelter for prayer but also a vehicle for directing human creativity for the honor of God. And critics of church holdings may not realize, says Branaugh, that the nation’s churches are a charity in and of themselves, given over – at little or no cost – to a weekly whirl of Girl Scouts and 12-step programs, elder exercise classes and such, serving as de facto community centers.
Each family’s giving decisions will differ, and the answer to “how much” is a matter for prayer, experts say. Some people tithe – give a tenth of their annual income. Some do more than that and some not as much. But in the big picture, giving is less a matter of dollar amount than of heart. No matter how seemingly insignificant the gift, “we’re acting as a matter of faith that God is going to show up and do something with that,” says Branaugh.
The popular consensus seems to be clear: helicopter parents are the worst. They hover constantly (thus the name), denying their children the space in which to define their own personalities and goals. They stick up for their children to the point of absurdity, interjecting themselves whenever their kids get bad grades, have an unpleasant social interaction at school, or even get turned down for a job.
But an intriguing new study suggests that the popular perception isn't quite right; first of all, it teases apart the difference between the term "helicopter parent" and a number of other parenting styles, and finds that "child-centric" parenting may have some positive outcomes for the moms and dads who practice it.
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The study, published in the peer reviewed academic journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, is entitled "Parents Reap What They Sow: Child-Centrism and Parental Well-Being."
A child-centric parenting style is defined as "the psychological mind-set in which parents are motivated to maximize their child’s well-being even at a cost to their own" and "are willing to prioritize the allocation of their emotional, temporal, financial, and attentional resources to their children rather than themselves."
Here's where the study gets a bit tricky: child-centrism is not one-for-one the overprotective helicopter parenting that we've been wrestling with as a culture. The study defines child-centrism as distinct from but positively correlated with protectiveness and overinvolvement in children’s academic affairs (helicopter parenting), but actually marginally inversely correlated with achievement-focused "Tiger Moms."
Child-centrism, in a nutshell, is a straightforward psychological drive to put our children's' needs ahead of our own, and it's fairly self-evident how this urge can create monsters and/or saints of parents who indulge it to the hilt.
But overall, the results seem to be encouraging – the study notes:
In our samples, while child-centrism was not strongly associated with differences in the well-being that parents experienced during non-parenting activities, it was associated with the well-being that parents experienced when taking care of their children, suggesting that child-centrism may be associated with benefits rather than costs for parents’ well-being.
"In short," concludes the study, "when it comes to parental well-being, you reap what you sow."
The study itself is short and clear, and worth reading – the way it teases apart the nuances of cause and effect (and labels like "helicopter parent" and "Tiger Mom") make it a profitable browse.
While a Florida teacher was suspended for physically forcing a fourth grader to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, her greater misstep was in a total lack of respect and humility when it comes to the children in her care.
My kids have said the Pledge of Allegiance since they were old enough to mangle it into, “One station. Underground. Invisible. With liberty and juice sticks for all!”
However, there are kids whose parents have very strong religious beliefs – in this case Jehovah's Witnesses who are forbidden from worshiping objects, including the American flag – that allow them to love their country, but alter the traditional classroom practice.
According to a report by the Tampa Bay Times, Anne Daigle-McDonald, a teacher at Explorer K-8 School in Spring Hill, Fla., didn’t just force a child, a Jehovah's Witness, to place his hand over his heart during the Sept. 11 pledge, but went to the extremes of publicly bullying, berating, and judging him and his family.
The teacher admitted that the boy’s mother had told her about their religious beliefs, but said she was not aware that included the pledge.
However, according to the Times, Ms. Daigle-McDonald not only “yanked his wrist” physically forcing him to take the pledge posture, but carried the issue over to the next day when she allegedly told the class: "In my classroom, everyone will do the pledge; no religion says that you can't do the pledge. If you can't put your hand on your heart, then you need to move out of the country."
In my humble opinion, as the mom of four boys who has met many teachers over the past 20 years, I believe this wasn’t a battle over allegiance to the flag.
This was about allegiance to the teacher and her word in the classroom.
Over the years, I have seen some teachers behave this way when they feel challenged by a child. Some teachers seem to feel that any breach in the normal pattern as a personal attack that cannot be tolerated.
It’s a response born of fear and a need for total control in order to maintain order.
Good teaching is about celebrating differences and learning about diversity together.
As singer Sara Bareilles might ask this educator, “Who died and made you king of anything?”
From our first children's first day of school, we as parents must walk a fine line between respect for authority and protecting their children from ill-treatment.
We are constantly hearing complaints about a teacher who’s “mean” or “unfair.”
As we field these kids’ issues, we do our fair share of judging who is telling the truth, and often we must explain to our children that certain things only seem unfair or unjust, and we must learn to cope. This is not one of those times.
According to Yahoo News, Hernando County School District officials investigated the incident, concluding that the teacher "violated a number of state education rules, professional conduct principles and the student's right to free speech and freedom of religion."
Daigle-McDonald was suspended for five days without pay and instructed to attend diversity training, said the newspaper.
I think this teacher needs something beyond diversity training because this is crossing the line into bullying.
Parents cannot allow any educator to: A. Resort to physically correcting young children in their care. B. Disrespect and ignore parental instructions regarding their child and C. Cast anyone who agrees with that child in the light of someone who doesn’t belong.
It’s not about the child’s pledge. It’s all about our communities pledging to treat all children with respect; preserving their dignity and making them feel safe and welcome in the classroom.
According to NASA, there’s a chance you or your child could become high tech versions of Chicken Little in the next couple of days when chunks of satellite falling from the sky plummet to Earth and into imaginations.
Technically it will just be a satellite falling, not the sky as Chicken Little famously assumed.
However, the European satellite that’s run out of fuel and is set to drop from orbit in an uncontrolled entry to earth is part of so much technological junk raining down on us you might say that little chicken had a valid point after all.
From spent rocket boosters to weather prediction and satellites that help us GPS our way over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s, humanity is producing new space junk faster than its predecessors can fall back to Earth, according to Space.com.
NASA even has an Orbital Debris Program Office, which shows projection models that look to me as if the “sky” is rapidly becoming nothing but space junk waiting to fall on our heads.
My nine-year-old finds this elating news because it means that he might be one of the lucky kids to find a piece of sky litter that he can take to school for the upcoming science fair.
According to The New York Times, “About 100 tons of debris will fall from the sky this year alone. There are, however, no known instances in which anyone has been injured by space debris.”
That quote is fun because it’s as reassuring to parents as it is disappointing to kids, who often love a little mayhem in their falling satellite action adventure stories.
While there won’t likely be any injuries resulting from a crash, parents in the area where it does fall will have an opportunity to go space-junk hunting with kids.
The Times also reports of the most immediate earthbound satellite, “About 25 to 45 fragments of the one-ton spacecraft are expected to survive all the way to the surface, with the largest perhaps weighing 200 pounds.”
Quin is already thinking of how we could best use a piece of fallen satellite to his advantage.
Since we have spent days pouring over possible project ideas for his school’s upcoming science fair (entrance is mandatory,) the solution was clear – pray for it to hit our yard so he can experiment on it for the fair.
“First thing I would do is call the scientists who told us about meteorites,” he schemed. “I think we’ll need like about 30 scientists on this.”
Quin and I spotted what we thought were meteorites falling over Norfolk two months back and called around to get some information.
I have tried to tell him that the odds of that happening are greater than those of winning the lottery and he said, “Well this isn’t gambling and people win the lottery every day.”
I asked him if he was worried that 100 tons of space garbage will fall on Earth this year and his eyes lit up.
He said, “So, the odds are actually not bad at all that something could fall on us in time for the science fair!”
This is what happens when you raise an optimistic scientist.
So, when should parents of young science fair hopefuls be scanning the skies and looking for falling pieces?
Rune Floberghagen, the mission manager for the European Space Agency’s Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer, or GOCE, told the Times the agency's best guess is on Sunday (Nov. 10), with a possibility for early Monday (Nov. 11).
Oh good, Monday’s a holiday so the kids can be out Chicken Littleing their way to scientific glory all day long.
Meanwhile, I think governments around the globe could use some parenting on cleaning up their space messes. Because they can’t always rely on moms and dads to go out there to pick up after them when it all comes tumbling down.
There's a notion in science known as the "observer effect" – simply put, it suggests that the very act of observing something can alter the material or process being observed. You can generally correct the observer effect by using more sensitive instruments or more sophisticated observation techniques.
But when you get to the quantum mechanical level where the objects are so tiny and so sensitive to change, you just have to take it for granted and factor it into your work.
I'm beginning to get to a point with my six-month-old son where I feel as though every baby milestone and interaction has this "observer effect" hanging over it. Regardless of what's going on – him trying avocado for the first time, for example, or executing his first thoughtfully balanced series of rolls across his play mat – my wife and I find ourselves torn by two oppositional impulses.
The first: to document each baby milestone, which means snapping smartphone photos or taking video, calling our parents, logging it in the baby journal, posting it to Facebook, ad infinitum. There is basically no limit to the number of ways we can document this stuff, and it seems as though a new one is being rolled out every quarter.
The other impulse is just to live it – to laugh, to look, and to talk in real time, not worrying too much whether we have some kind of permanent record of one very little, fleeting moment of joy and change among many.
What I've set up here is kind of an unfair comparison – it's very easy to say: "Yes! Live in the moment like a free-spirited being! Fight back against social media!" without considering that five or ten or fifty years out, Future Us will be very disappointed that Present Day Us didn't do a better job of capturing some of these moments for future enjoyment.
Add to that the fact that for a certain select slice of our Facebook friends (our parents, our other relatives, our friends with kids, our patient/tolerant/empathetic friends without kids) our baby-focused posts are the good stuff, the reason social media isn't just a depressing parade of political arguments and entreaties to raise and tend to imaginary plants and animals.
The simple fact is that there's no effective way to do both. If you're documenting, you're interfacing with technology, not a spouse or a baby. And if you're in the moment, you're not sharing the moment or saving the moment. But the moment's probably (and ironically) more precious for its own perishability.
This, of course, is life. If you want to do stuff, you sometimes have to short-change or ignore other stuff. (Example: My wife just waltzed through my home office carrying our baby and singing "Teatime at the Maidstone," a song that she wrote about the fictional Victorian club that our prim and fussy orange tabby cat supposedly belongs to. Rather than video-documenting the event, I carried on writing this post.)
And as is so often the case with life, the answer lies somewhere on the middle path – leaving enough of a record to keep family and friends in the loop and to have some books to flip through in the years to come without becoming buried in image files and logins. If we manage to find the precise mix, we'll let you know. In the meantime, we're winging it.
Parents of every religion can appreciate Marvel Comics’ decision to bring back Ms. Marvel as a lead character beautifully dressed and styled, yet modest and super powerful as a teenage Muslim girl living in New Jersey.
The new Ms. Marvel, named Kamala Khan, is a 16-year-old daughter of Pakistani immigrants living in Jersey City. The Associated Press, which interviewed Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson, reports "This Ms. Marvel can grow and shrink her limbs and her body and ... ultimately, she'll be able to shape shift into other form."
The form parents can be happy to see this character shifting into is that of teen geek girl who is able to expand in ways that may not break the mold but at least morph it into something we want our daughters to be and sons to see.
For comic fans Thanksgiving came early with this one. I hardly know where to begin to thank Marvel for this gift.
First, as a native New Yorker who spent her teen years in New Jersey, I am thankful that “big hair” and Snookie, will no longer be the most prevalent representations of youth in the Garden State.
Not all teen girls are “mall rats” in Jersey thanks to Kamala Kahn. I intend to buy every issue and share them with my sons and all the kids I mentor here in Norfolk, Virginia.
Many of the kids I work with here are Muslims, and I have often seen them struggle to both share their identity and be seen as part of the culture around them. Marvel has taken a super powerful step toward inclusion and multicultural understanding about Muslim culture.
Parents everywhere can thank Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona and editor Sana Amanat for placing Khan in a social environment that according to the AP includes “learning to deal with superpowers, family expectations and adolescence.”
"I wanted Ms. Marvel to be true-to-life, something real people could relate to, particularly young women. High school was a very vivid time in my life, so I drew heavily on those experiences – impending adulthood, dealing with school, emotionally charged friendships that are such a huge part of being a teenager," Willow told the AP.
Of course, the thing parents should really thank Marvel for is choosing Alphona for this project because looking at her fashion sketchbook site we can see that she appreciates and has some background in covering runway shows from the artist’s perspective. Which translates into an ability to clothe female characters with grace, dignity, and style when given the opportunity.
Alphona did sketches of the runway from Toronto Fashion Week for Filler Magazine that show her connection with something beyond Spandex and thigh-high stiletto boots for empowering women.
True, Alphona has her fair share of nearly nude sketches on her website, but while she shows she can create the typical “sexy kitten” images so iconic to comic book females, she clearly possesses an eye for fashion and styling that comes through in the sketches of Kamala Kahn released this week by Marvel.
My guess would be that if Project Runway’s Nina Garcia were selecting an artist to dress a modest, yet gorgeous and inspiring teen wardrobe I think she too would cast her vote for Alphona.
In fact, I am going to predict that Ms. Marvel will inspire some fashion trends for teens that will get the parental seal of approval for real girl wardrobe choices.
Perhaps with the help of Ms. Marvel and her super friends in writing, art, and editing at Marvel, next Halloween we will see kids and celebrities forego dressing as quirky, Twerky Miley Cyrus and morph into something more Marvelous – Kamala Kahn.
Even in today's design-crazed era of Target and HGTV Design Star, it's unusual when industrial designers move out of the shadows and into the spotlight. As consumers, we're generally more interested in sleek products that work than in who created the curves and angles that define their look.
But nearly 100 years ago, French-born, American-based designer Raymond Loewy broke from the pack with a series of sleek, streamlined, chic, now "retro future"-looking vehicles, logos, and home appliances. The Greyhound bus, the iconic Coca-Cola bottle, and logos for Shell, Exxon, and Nabisco all rank prominently among his works. Time magazine featured him on its cover on Oct. 31, 1949, saying "He streamlines the sales curve."
Now, on what would have been his 120th birthday, the designer has really made the big time: he's featured in today's Google Doodle.
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The doodle is based on Loewy's Pennsylvania Railroad S1 train, which even now looks like a breathtaking leap into a brighter, bolder future: This experimental vehicle was the longest and heaviest rigid frame reciprocating steam locomotive ever built according to The Avanti website, and its art deco styling was at once artful and suggestive of great modern power.
The Monitor wrote about the S1 in 2004, quoting Loewy himself:
'It flashed by like a steel thunderbolt, the ground shaking under me, in a blast of air that almost sucked me into its whirlwind.' [...These words] open Raymond Loewy's impassioned description of the S1 steam locomotive he designed in 1937. His words have the ring of the Italian Futurists' manifestos a quarter century earlier, extolling the irresistible thrust of modern machines, sweeping away the past.
Tellingly, this quote comes from a story not about Loewy's vehicle designs, but about an office pencil sharpener that he designed - the S1 anecdote traces the throughline of Loewy's love of optimistic, streamlined, powerful designs from the grand to the picayune, from America's open rails to the penned-in desktops of the office worker.
With so many child stars going off the deep end these days (ahem, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan, etc.), it makes you wonder, who’s next?! And how are we going to explain all of this poor decision making to our daughters, whose behavior always seems linked to the stars' to some degree?
Thankfully, it looks like the next train wreck won’t be Selena Gomez. According to the December 2013/January 2014 issue of Teen Vogue, she said, I’m the girl you “take home to your parents, not for the night.” How refreshing – finally, a Disney heiress who purposefully orients herself towards a more worthwhile track. “But how long will Selena Gomez's squeaky-clean image last?” the cynic in me asks.
Selena became famous by first appearing in Barney and Friends (1999), and then Disney channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place (2007). Her fame really got kicked up a notch when she dated Justin Bieber from 2010 to 2012. Their on-again, off-again relationship echoes the ups and downs of many high school and college relationships, making them a relatable pair.
But, but, but . . . what about all her sexy photo shoots and suggestive lyrics? Ninety-five percent of her recent No. 1 Billboard hit “Come and Get it” is this line: “When you’re ready come and get it” (implicitly referring to sex). A photo spread on the Teen Vogue website has her wearing tiny cutoff jean shorts and a plunging neckline. What are we supposed to believe? Is she really as wholesome a role model as her quotes make her out to be, or do the pictures and lyrics speak for themselves? Is she just being manipulated into another marketing machine, just like her Disney peers?
Is it all a marketing ploy? Who is Selena Gomez, really? It’s hard (impossible?) to tell. Her image is too well-crafted to really know who she is, exactly.
One thing’s certain – people (especially teenage girls) are paying attention to Selena. She’s often at the top of Google and Yahoo searches, and she’s currently on a world concert tour. Whatever she does next, we’ll be watching – and hoping, perhaps against all hope – that she’ll continue being the sweet, conscientious girl she seems to be so far.
In the midst of the “Sexy Merida” controversy back in May, cartoonist David Trumble posted a satirical set of cartoons to the Huffington Post. His cartoons imagined how Disney’s Consumer Product Division would redesign other female role models to fit the Disney Princess mold. (The answer: more hair, bigger eyes, narrow waists, and sparkles!!!)
Last week, Women You Should Know wrote about Mr. Trumble’s project, and it went viral. The WYSK article gained a million page views in a matter of days, while a post by Jezebel captured 85,000 views in 24 hours.
I’ve known about Trumble’s project since he first posted it; I even included it in my post about how cartoonists and animators were responding to the “Sexy Merida” debacle. But lately, with his project going viral, everyone has been messaging me about it. So I’ve followed the reception of his satire with much interest.
A lot of people get it – but a lot of people don’t. (It doesn’t help that the Jezebel post presented his cartoons without quoting him on his original intent, creating some confusion.) And many people who say they understand his point nevertheless take issue with it for various reasons. Some say he didn’t take the satire far enough; other say he went too far. A recurring complaint is that by portraying Anne Frank in princess style, he has crossed a line unnecessarily.
Interestingly, a few commenters have even written that when their daughters walked past their computers and glimpsed these images, the girls were drawn to them. When the girls started asking questions about the people depicted, some commenters said they took advantage of the opportunity to teach their daughters about these important women. From a media studies and parenting perspective, this intrigues me.
Anyhow, given the project’s newfound success in the blogosphere and the mixed reception it has received, I was interested in learning more about Trumble’s intentions, his process in developing the project, and his thoughts on people’s varied reactions in recent days. I contacted him, and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me.
Role Models Reimagined as Disney Princesses: A Q&A with Artist David Trumble
Rebecca Hains: As a critic of the Disney Princess brand, I appreciate that with this project, you are encouraging people to think critically about Disney’s presentation of women and girls. Whereas the characters in Disney films have many interesting, individual traits, the Disney Consumer Products division takes all the individuality out of them – reducing them to sparkly, frilly stereotypes of femininity.
Could you tell me more about your initial thinking in this project, and why you decided to respond to the Disney brand in this way?
David Trumble: Well, this blog was conceived quite a few months ago during the controversy over Merida’s “makeover”, and so at the time I did not view it as a standalone blog, but as one of many satirical pieces that highlighted the debate. The “princess” archetype is indicative of a cultural attitude that needs to be re-assessed.
The creation of Merida in “Brave” was a step in the right direction, to broaden the definition of what a princess could be for young girls looking for role models. So when the glossy version of her arrived, I felt it was two steps back – and then the image I created popped into my head. I imagined that if I depicted real-world female role models but then conformed them to that specific mould, through the iconic Disney template, it would better reveal how ridiculous it is to limit female characters to that one archetype.
There are many many more archetypes out there that are just as valid and inspiring for young girls (and boys), and this is evidenced by our real-world heroines. My thinking was, if we can’t place all these diverse women into the same box, then why are we trying to do it with our fictitious women? And so that was the germ of the idea….
RH: That’s a terrific point, because indeed, princess culture as a whole is reductionist. Whether it’s Disney or Mattel or whomever, “princess” promotes a narrow standard of beauty and privileges whiteness. So with that “germ” of an idea, how did you work to develop it? Did you consult others from the feminist/girl empowerment communities? If so, what was the extent of their involvement?
DT: Indeed I did. Whenever I work on a piece of satire, I always share with close group of trusted friends, though ultimately the buck stops with me. I have had the privilege of being welcomed in a community of women who champion female empowerment online, so I shared my concept with a few of them, particularly educational psychologist Lori Day (I have since illustrated the cover to Lori’s book she wrote with her daughter, Her Next Chapter – you should check it out!). Lori was my confidant and co-conspirator while I developed the idea, and with her deep knowledge of feminist issues provided the perfect litmus test for whether or not I was making the right choices creatively.
RH: As far as the buck stopping with you goes: I’ve been reading the online comments about the illustrations with interest – on threads on Facebook, WYSK, Jezebel, and elsewhere. Lots of people understand your project, but perhaps because we are living in the age of Tumblr, lots of people are clearly just glancing at the image and misunderstanding your intention.
DT: You raise an interesting point, Rebecca, which is that the age of Tumblr is certainly a tricky one for satirists. Having started off my career as a political cartoonist, I am nostalgic for the time when a piece of satire or political commentary would be found on the page and be digested by the reader in its own time. The point was not even always explicit; you used to have to find it, or look closer at it, and then it would hit you.
Nowadays, not only have people learned to take in images in as expeditious a way as possible, to the detriment of nuance, but blogs are reposted and re-appropriated by numerous sites and articles (with or, it seems, without permission), to the detriment of the original idea itself.
This blog is a perfect example, since it was originally a Huffington Post blog published at the height of the Merida controversy, with an accompanying commentary from me and captions under each individual princess portrait which made it very clear that the piece was satire. Even then there was a split between people who got it and people who didn’t, which I suppose is the knife-edge of satire anyway.
It is a shame then that the act of reposting is akin to photocopying an image over and over and having the sharpness degrade, in blogging terms the subtext, and even CONTEXT can be lost.
RH: Now, I’ve noticed that even among those who “get it,” a lot of folks seem particularly uncomfortable with your inclusion of Anne Frank in the lineup. As you thought about which women and girls to include, how did you settle on Anne Frank? Did you realize this would be a controversial move?
DT: I did know at the time of drawing that the Anne Frank cartoon would be a divisive and controversial inclusion. The most common complaints from people regarding her avatar was that she was referred to as “Holocaust Princess,” which I completely understand rubbed many the wrong way, and their unhappiness is perfectly valid. I actually visited the Imperial War Museum in London today with my brother and a few friends, and seven decades later, the Holocaust is still impossible to fathom.
I also noted that Malala’s inclusion, whilst also riskier than the others, carried less ire, because she has risen to become a leader in her own right, as opposed to Frank who became famous because of the atrocities she suffered through. Unlike the others, she was defined not by her achievements, but by her victimization. She is the only one who is defined in this way.
I chose to include her anyway for two reasons. The first is that as a satirist, my point about how inadequate the glossy template is in capturing the spectrum of female experience required taking the concept to an extreme, to commit to the irony of the thing. The idea that there could ever be such a product as a Holocaust Princess… the terms themselves are so mutually exclusive. I made a call and I owned the decision.
But secondly, and more profoundly, if ever there was an individual who WAS a holocaust princess… by virtue of her grace, her spirit, her writings of hope, of belief, of faith in the face of great evil ... it is Anne Frank. For all the farcical aspects of the princess satire, I felt her inclusion in this list of diverse female role models was nevertheless entirely valid, so that is why I included her. In my view she earned her right to be there alongside these other women, because she earned her strength … as a writer.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have named her “Diary Princess” to evoke her strength rather than her fate. I take that onboard, and everyone’s opinions are valid in this instance. An artist can never hope to earn everyone’s approval, nor in fact should he.
RH: Another theme I’m seeing in the responses: Some people say it isn’t clear enough that the drawings are satire. They seem to expect that good satire should be recognizable at a glance–and people glancing at these drawings think you’re serious. As an experienced cartoonist, what’s your take on the state of satire today?
DT: Well that’s an interesting question, isn’t it? How clear SHOULD satire be?
An argument could be made that if half of your audience don’t get the joke, then it’s very successful satire indeed. The history of political cartoons is filled with examples of artists who would mimic propaganda posters to ridicule their form and function, and in fact, how many of us have clicked on a shockingly ridiculous headline only to realize as we’re about to post it everywhere that it came from The Onion?
The artist’s ability to almost pull the wool over someone’s eyes is central to the conceit of parody, to be as close to the material it’s mocking as possible, whilst at the same time being ridiculous. In my opinion, good parody is not about the first glance at all, but every glance after that as you look closer. It’s a trick, a feint, and its effectiveness is closely linked to its slyness.
RH: Some of those who missed the satire really liked what you did. Many people are fans of the Disney Princess brand and cheered for the idea of a Disney film about women like Jane Goodall or Rosa Parks.
Do you think there is something about the Disney Princess style that makes it especially hard for people to recognize this project as satire?
DT: I believe the answer is closely connected to why I chose that style in the first place: Because it’s very powerful. The archetype is so specific and the style so iconic that when the real-world princesses were placed into that mould, many were delighted with the results.
Perhaps I was too proficient at replicating the style, since I traced the poses directly from examples in order to draw further attention to the cookie-cutter template. The one-size fits all princess mould has ascended to a universal language in our culture, we recognize it instantly, and part of the delicious irony of the point I was making was how successful the transformations were–however inappropriate they might be.
RH: Indeed. One final question: A lot of us have a love-hate relationship with Disney. How would you characterize your own feelings about the company?
DT: It’s important to note that I have been a fan of Disney my whole life, and adore Pixar’s film library. Seeing Pinocchio at the age of 6 was one of the reasons I am the artist I am today. My blog is not an attack on Disney specifically; in fact, they have many times created strong female character that defy the mould (such as Lilo, Dorey, Jesse the Cowgirl, and of course Merida).
My blog is not to say that the archetype of the princess is innately wrong – merely that it is over-used. In my view there IS a place for those kinds of characters, but that they should just not be taking ALL the places on the stage.
Our cultural ideal of a woman is this princess mould that has been captured by too many cartoon media outlets, books and movies. Being an ideal woman has come to mean squeezing your individual greatness into this archetype. My drawings are meant to convey that greatness in women exists in our history books and before our eyes, and they do NOT fit into these moulds. Importantly, they never needed to in order to be who they became, so it’s time to take away this artifice of expectation.
We as a society have embraced an archetype that does not serve our daughters. We have to change our consumer habits in order to change what marketers sell to our daughters.
Note: Since our conversation, David Trumble has decided to officially retitle the Anne Frank cartoon as “Diary Princess.”
In related news, David Trumble’s new book series for children, Mother Goose Retold, will be released in the U.S. in 2014. The series retells the classic Mother Goose rhymes with original new verses that take the stories into unexpected realms. Retailers have already ordered 500,000 copies of the series’ first three books, Twinkle Twinkle, Little Miss Muffet, and Humpty Dumpty. Congratulations to David on this success!
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rebecca Hains blogs at rebeccahains.wordpress.com.