May 30, 2009

Generational Differences, Cartoons, and Cooperation

jessicacollett By Jessica Collett

University of Notre Dame

I’m a member of Generation X . My students, on the other hand, are mostly Millennials, sometimes referred to as Generation Y. This difference extends beyond age. As C. Wright Mills explains in The Sociological Imagination, our history and biography are profoundly connected. As different generational cohorts we experienced unique defining moments and cultural influences that have shaped our hopes and our fears, our personalities and our preferences.

For example, because I came of age during the Cold War, the villains in my favorite childhood action movies were Russian or Eastern European. Today, pop culture bad guys tend to be Arabs. In college, I associated one night stands with AIDS, they are associated with the “hook-up” culture. Public service announcements of my youth warned against the devastating effects of drugs (mostly crack cocaine). Today, the truth campaign against smoking and tobacco is Gen Y’s PSA of record.

Increasingly professors and employers are trying to use their knowledge about these cohorts to increase learning, attract top applicants, and enhance employee productivity. Although a tremendous amount has been written, one of the main sources of information on the Millennials is Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation”(2000) by Neil Howe and William Strauss. While there is debate over the generalizability of Howe and Strauss’s assertions, one of their findings that has captured the attention of many is Millennials’ preferences for collaboration. Many believe that they favor teamwork over independent ventures, choosing clip_image002cooperation over competition.

Maybe globalization is partly responsible for this shift, specifically the diffusion of Saturday morning programming. One of the things that diffuses across the world with globalization is culture, both material and symbolic. Material culture is the “things” of a culture – its food, tools, and art (including children’s television shows). Symbolic culture is the values, beliefs, and norms associated with a group. The two types of culture are intricately connected.

For instance, a cultural group’s art (material culture) likely reflects the group’s values or norms (symbolic culture) and television shows are no exception. When I ask my students what their favorite childhood programs were growing up, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers always tops the list. What students may not realize is that Power Rangers, actually imported from Japan, is laden with cultural messages that emphasize cooperation over competition. In the end it always takes all the Power Rangers coming together to overtake evil, demonstrating that the whole is better than the sum of its parts.

While the United States has prized individualism for much of its history, Asia traditionally has a much more cooperative culture. Children’s programming in both countries largely reflects these values. Take, for example, national superheroes. In his chapter, “Transformational Magic: Some Japanese Super-Heroes and Monsters,” from The Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture: Shifting Boundaries and Global Cultures (1998), Tom Gill discusses two superheroes of the mid-twentieth century, Superman and Ultraman. Superman is quintessentially American. He’s an immigrant to the United States from some place far away. His human form lets his viewers relate to him and see his power as their potential. He’s ultimately alone, with no Superdad or Supermom or Supersiblings, yet he can win every battle. His story stresses individual achievement to the American children who look up to him. Gill contrasts Superman with Ultraman, Japan’s superhero. Ultraman, unlike Superman, never flies solo. His family grows over time, and his brothers, parents, and other kin are included in storylines and spin-offs. Ultraman often calls home for help in order to defeat his opponent. Watching these programs, Japanese children learn filial loyalty and the value of solidarity.

Ultraman might have never made it to the United States, but other Japanese characters and shows increasingly have. In addition to Power Rangers, many children today follow Teen Titans, Pokemon, and Hamtaro. The opening and closing sequences of Hamtaro, a cartoon about the adventures of a group of hamsters known as the Ham-Hams, are rich with cultural messages, not only of solidarity and cooperation, but also of the importance of school:

It's Hamtaro time!

…When we work together it's much better!

…My best friend!

…My Ham-Hams!

If she heads for trouble, we won't let her!

…Laura's gone to school, let's go to our Ham-Ham Clubhouse!image

We can fix their troubles just be quiet as a mouse

Watch out for those cats you know they're smarter than you think

But if we work together we can make their plans sink!

Hamtaro!

Snoozer, Howdy, Penelope, Panda,

My best friends!

Oxnard, Bijou, Cappy, Maxwell

My Ham-Hams!

Dexter, Boss, Pashmina, Jingle

Hamtaro!

Little Hamsters, Big Adventures!

'scuse me while I work out, gotta run on my wheel

Hamtaro!

Hamtaro's here to help you!

Hamtaro!

Hamtaro's team is for you!

Snoozer, Penelope, Panda, Howdy, Oxnard, Bijou & Boss let’s go!

Zersnoo, Pepenelo, Sobs, Dapan, Dehow Nardox Joubi & Hamtaro!

…Let’s make a wish ­ ooh, ooh

Make it come true

Singing along with us is all you do!

Come on and do your very best, ooh, ooh

Get a hundred on your test

All of your dreams will come true

…This will be our song, come on and sing

Snoozer, Penelope, Panda, Howdy, Oxnard Bijou & Boss let’s go!

Zersnoo, Pepenelo, Sobs, Dapan, Dehow Nardox Joubi & Hamtaro!

Little Hamsters, Big Adventures

Ham-Ham, Hamtaro!

Contrasting the above songs with the theme song of Jimmy Neutron , an American cartoon, is particularly striking:

From here to the stars,

With my candy bars,

Rides a kid

With a knack image

For inventions.

A super-powered mind,

A mechanical canine, 

He rescues the day

From sure destruction.

…He's gotta save the world

And get to school on time,

So many things to do

And not much time

Who can we count on?

Jimmy Neutron!

Who can we count on?

Jimmy Neutron!

Who can we count on?

Jimmy Neutron!

Unlike the Hamtaro songs, which highlight the group or team and go so far as to list the names of all of the Ham-Hams, Jimmy Neutron’s episodes and theme songs emphasize the importance of one boy who must constantly save the world. Jimmy Neutron was born with “a knack for inventions [and] a super-powered mind” and school is mentioned in passing, as one of the many things he has to do. Hamtaro, on the other hand, emphasizes doing one’s very best and making a hundred on a test, to make all one’s dreams come true.

While I don’t know of any scientific research on the power of these children’s shows for fostering cooperation or competition, sociology is rich with research on the influence of the media on our perceptions and behavior. It might just be that one of the reasons the Millennials value collaboration is all those Saturday mornings spent with the Power Rangers and the success of the team-oriented shows that continue to follow might be suggestive of media’s tendency to both shape and reflect culture. It might just be that shows demonstrating cooperation over competition are more appealing to today’s young people.

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Comments

I think that places other than the United States have better teamwork skills because thats how they were raised and how their culture expects them to be. In the United States we don't have quite the same standards in culture. We really are more of the "all about me" countries. Young people are used to having things given to them and competing for the best.

Very interesting article. I definitely agree with the last comment that stated that the U.S. really is an "all about me" countries. Most other countries are all about what "we" can achieve not "me." I strongly believe that's the way it should be, two minds are better than one!!

Very interesting article. I definitely agree with the last comment that stated that the U.S. really is an "all about me" countries. Most other countries are all about what "we" can achieve not "me." I strongly believe that's the way it should be, two minds are better than one.

I also agree with the above comment, in that people in the US are really focused on themselves, rather than the big picture. That is even true where the whole world is concerned. There are so many Americans who barely know anything about the world, or the problems facing other countries.

I totally agree that American shows focus on the individual overcoming obstacles and i think it is too exaggerated. I think it gives children the wrong message that teamwork isn't valued. Another Japanese imported show that i wanted to mention was Sailor Moon, because it shows the strong focus on team effort in overcoming obstacles.

I THINK IT IS GREAT TO BE INDIVIDUAL, IN FACT I HATE GROUP WORK. I UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF TEAMWORK IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS, BUT I WOULD RATHER BE RESPONSIBLE FOR MYSELF. I DON'T LIKE THE THOUGHT OF NOT BEING IN TOTAL CONTROL OF MY WORK. I DO AGREE THAT GEN Y IS MUCH MORE COOPERATIVE THOUGH. IT'S FUNNY THAT EVEN THOUGH POWER RANGERS WAS A JAPANESE SHOW TAT DISPLAYED THE IMPORTANCE OF TEAMWORK, MOST CHILDREN STILL PICKED THEIR FAVORITE ONE, AND BELIEVED HIM/HER TO BE THE BEST RANGER. SO EVEN THOUGH GEN Y IS MORE COHESIVE, THERE IS STILL A SENSE OF INDIVIDUALITY.

It's true that our cartoons are more about the individual and less about the group. It seems though that many children prefer it that way. What kid wants to be every single superhero out there? Not to mention that we do actually have many cartoons where the group is favored over the individual.

It is intriguing that socialization to cultural values occurs in something as basic as children's cartoons. Given the general shift away from outdoor games and imaginative play, this is also ingenious. The importance of good vs. evil once promoted in games like cops and robbers has been replayed on the small screen. Individualism and other cultural values are being instilled in malleable young minds in very digestible bites.

Very interesting article. I agree with most of everyone above me as well that the US is a very "all about me" country. You may ask yourself the simple question why? The answer is that we were all raised that way, to be concerned about number one.."me". Other cultures around the globe are raised to work as a family, or a team if you will so that they can achieve certain goals. While it is great to be an individual, one also needs to focus on the importance of team work and not trying to make it "all about me".

I found this article to be very interesting. One of my favorite television shows was as well the power rangers. I remember them working together and then they could finally beat off the 'bad guys'. It's funny how different countries have such different cultures and how that affects how they raise their children and what they try to emphasize to them. However, I do believe that being an individual is very important to find your place in the group.

I think Jaquanda is right about her post. Even though in most work places it takes team work to accomplish a goal, it also takes alot of different ideas from different people.

The generation gaps is a telling sign of impotance in world view and the inlfux of other culture.I'm a Gen Xer my favorite where scooby-doo and he-man which was all incorporating a team for the goal against villians so why does Gen Y get all the created for working together and we get Gen Xers get individualism as a characteristic, it baby-boomers wanting power until they die, then reliquish power to some generation with no loyalties.

Such an interesting and simply wonderful article sharing. Thanks.

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