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Good Reads: From a Disney makeover, to unethical work conditions, to refusing US aid

This week's round-up of Good Reads includes a "Barbie-fied" Disney princess, the most selfish generation, the lack of consumer awareness, expelling USAID, and long-form journalism.

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    Disney’s Merida of ‘Brave’ will get to keep her tomboyish looks and manners.
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Disney makeover

Armed with wit, self-confidence, and a bow and arrow, Merida is a damsel who rescues herself from her own distress. Parents and educators have lauded the fiery red-haired heroine of the Disney/Pixar animated film “Brave” as an atypical Disney princess. 

“We wanted our daughters to grow up and be like Merida: brave, strong, resourceful, imperfect but loving,” Karen Dill notes in a blog at PsychologyToday.com

But Disney’s “makeover” of Merida into a sexualized Barbie-esque figure for merchandising purposes has turned fans’ praise to outrage. The organization A Mighty Girl launched a Keep Merida Brave campaign and viral Change.org petition in protest. Ms. Dill cites studies that show that sexualizing women in the media leads to low self-esteem in girls, and men “exposed to sexualized, objectified images of women ... become more tolerant of real-life sexual harassment.” It seems fans’ message may have gotten through. Media outlets reported that Disney quietly pulled the redesigned image of Merida from its website.

Me-centered generation

Joel Stein takes a critical look at the Millennial Generation – those born between 1980 and 2000 – in Time magazine. “The Me Me Me Generation” headline implies that Millennial self-centeredness trumps even that of baby boomers. They were raised with greater resources than any preceding generation, are more tech savvy, and were nurtured by helicopter parents who, along with educators, told them they were special. And for better or worse – they are. 

While Mr. Stein initially dwells on the studies that show Millennials have a sense of entitlement and are lazy, narcissistic, and dependent on their parents, he ultimately acknowledges a more nuanced, redeeming picture. Millennials may not tend toward traditional civic engagement, but they do care about justice. They are more tolerant than any other generation. And while they don’t gravitate toward organized religion, most believe in God and value spirituality. They aren’t rule breakers, but they are changing workplace culture – for the better. And in spite of the insecurity of their era, Millennials are overwhelmingly optimistic about the future.

Shopping as a moral dilemma

In the wake of the Bangladesh garment-factory collapse in April, Jerry Davis explores in YaleGlobal online the accountability of global supply chains. Technology enabled the now-common outsourcing model that keeps parent companies at a distance from production. But technology may also hold the solution to ending unethical working conditions and production methods.

“If consumer sentiment comes to favor ethically-produced goods,” Mr. Davis writes, “then brands will compete on provenance, not just style and quality.” User-friendly technologies now allow consumers to check the ethical or sustainability ratings of various products. Davis says there is “a surprising precedent in the financial markets for reversing the race to the bottom,” even in what used to be the Wild West of emerging market investments. The biggest obstacle to changes in retail supply chains is a lack of consumer awareness. 

USAID losing ground

Sarah Trister writes at Freedom House’s blog about what she considers a “dangerous pattern” developing in foreign assistance. Bolivia is the latest in a string of countries (including Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates) to expel, target, or curtail activities by the US Agency for International Development.

Ms. Trister worries that an emerging pattern of “countries shutting down U.S. assistance programs with little resistance and few consequences” sets a problematic precedent. She argues that US accommodation of authoritarian demands to minimize democracy and human rights concerns has “not been successful for U.S. policy.”

Trister says the “United States must make clear that democracy and human rights funding goes hand in hand with other forms of assistance” – meaning that no aid should be given to a foreign government while it remains “hostile to U.S. democracy assistance and support for universal values.”

And now the long version of the story

As news pages (and reader attention spans) shrink and online coverage tends toward quick bites and breaking updates, many news organizations have cut back on long-form journalism. But, as Susan Johnston writes at the eByline blog, “stories running thousands of words are finding a home online thanks in part to platforms like Longreads and Narratively.”

Ms. Johnston interviews journalist Noah Rosenberg, who helped start Narratively, “an online storytelling platform focusing on New York City’s untold stories.” Time magazine recently named the site on its 50 Best Websites 2013 list, and several top-tier news organizations regularly feature or syndicate Narratively content.

Mr. Rosenberg says the key to the site’s success has been its commitment to telling “beautiful untold stories”; use of multimedia projects; focus on one theme or story a day (an attractive model for advertisers); and the fact that as a small, agile organization, Narratively is “really tuned in strongly to what our readers want” and can adjust and respond accordingly.

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