Does TV Challenge or Subvert Dominant Paradigms?

I often read articles in the mainstream and alternative media about the dangers of children watching television. Whether it is the violence depicted in shows or the consumer mentality promoted in commercials, we are encouraged to limit exposure to television.

I, too, believed the children in my life would be violent if they watched Power Rangers or any other shows besides those on PBS. When I began to let go of media control, I spent a lot more time watching television with them.

In the last year they have expanded their range of favorite TV shows. Most are on Cartoon Network and include Ben 10 Ultimate Alien, Teen Titans, Generator Rex, and The Kids Next Door.

When I first started watching these shows, I disliked them. They are filled with fighting and battles. Then I began to look more deeply at the themes depicted. What these shows really portrayed were strong, young people who made a difference in their worlds.

These characters often had special powers that allowed them to save the world or battle evil. Adults in these shows often depend on the younger characters to save their communities. The kids in these shows are not relegated to going to school and doing homework at the behest of adults. They are powerful, smart and self-actualized. They do important things. In fact, I have come to gain great appreciation for The Kids Next Door, who actually say that their mission is to battle “oppression by adults!”

I started thinking more about why these shows resonated with them and how they challenge the adult-dominated and adult-controlled world. These shows subvert the dominant paradigm.

When I controlled what the children in my life watched, I did not feel the need to watch with them. Our lives together are much more enriched through watching these shows together. I feel as though I gain insight into what is going on for them when we talk about the shows and share that experience. Their world opens up to me in ways it did not when I was not willing to give up power over their choices.

On the other hand, there are instances in which some shows reinforce other paradigms and stereotypes around gender, race, disability, nationality or sexual orientation that are difficult for me. Part of my challenge when this happens is to remain in dialogue mode with the children in my life, rather than lecture.

Even though I have particular experiences and opinions about social identities and oppression, I am not necessarily the “owner” of truth and knowledge. Rather than impose my view of what is happening, I have to work to engage in a process that examines BOTH (or ALL) of our world-views.

Inquiring about how they might be experiencing a character or show rather than just telling them what I think can open up a dialogue that creates trust and respect as much as it engages both of us in critical analysis of our experiences. However, it can be hard for me to not go into the role of using my power as an adult to get them to accept my view of what is right and just.

In fact, when I use domination and control to impose the “right” values on “my” children, I merely reinforce through my actions that the individual or group in power has the right to define the truth.

Using oppression and domination to teach about “justice” might seem more natural because of my own experiences of being dominated, but it merely reinforces the paradigm and continues the status quo. Instead, together, the children’s truth and my truth can come together and we all learn in the process, while we transform the power relationships between adult and child.

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