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Archive for the ‘Parents’ Category

Bentham and Foucault might have been interested in the panopticon but every December we get a view of  true social control in the form of an overweight man at the North Pole. Santa Claus (or Sandy Claws, as he is sometimes called) is just the latest in a long line of beings whose sole purpose is to control children through fear (Krampus is another example, as is the Belsnickel, as Dwight demonstrated on The Office). Recently, though, Santa has been doing his spying by proxy (giving him more time to bully young reindeer).

In Santa’s place are his elves on the shelves, a team of small elves who began taking up residence in people’s homes in 2005. These elves observe the behavior of children and then fly back to the North Pole to report their observations to Santa each night. The magical ability to do so begins when the elves are named (before this point they are apparently in some sort of coma during which they can be sealed in boxes and sent to stores around the country) but the elves are in danger of losing their magic if touched. Upon returning each night, the elves hide in a new place and children delight in finding them each morning. Apparently, some of the elves also like to get into mischief, making them both spies and hypocrites.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

If you have continued reading, prepare yourself for a shock. The elves are actually inanimate objects with neither magic nor the ability to report to Santa Claus each night. Instead, adults in each household are responsible for moving the elves around (thus touching them and ruining any magical potential that they may have had). As you can imagine, this creates quite a bit of work for these adults, to the point that there are posts dedicated to dealing with the fact that they forgot to move the elves. The elves have also been copied in various ways. Telling children that Santa can see them when they’re sleeping and knows when they’re awake and knows if they’ve been bad or good seems much easier, especially since adults are likely to run out of creative places to hide the elf after about the third day.

Assuming that the intention of Santa, Krampus, the Belsnickel, and the elves on the shelves is social control, it seems that the elves would be both the least effective and the biggest pain in the ass. Imagine if the prison designed by Bentham made it possible that prisoners could be observed at any time unless they touched the prison wall, in which case a door came down that cut off the potential view of the guards. There might be no escaping Santa’s creepy spying or the Belsnickel’s judgment, but if I was a kid and I wanted to get away with bad behavior you can bet that the first thing I would do is touch the damn elf.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about ways to control your loved ones via your news feed.

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At Slate, Hanna Rosin discusses a children’s book for parents who are uncomfortable allowing their children to have the same freedoms they did while growing up. While they have been raised with Curious George, then, George does not provide the type of example they want their children to follow. As Rosin says:

Remember poor Curious George? How every time that “good little monkey” tried to have a little fun, he would get severely punished? Like, he’d walk up to a friendly stranger in the jungle and wind up smuggled across the ocean in a bag, or play around with the phone and end up in jail? This year brings the successor to Curious George, an energetic little monkey named Bitsy who is possibly the most pitiful children’s book character I’ve come across in a long time.

As a result, the book Bitsy Bear solves the problem of parents who want to read their children a story about monkeys (although the book is called “Bitsy Bear,” Bitsy is a monkey and the bear is the antagonist) without the danger inherent in exploring their world or jumping on the bed. Rosin concludes:

Jenks’ appendix is full of helpful safety tips for parents, such as: Keep DNA samples at home and teach kids about safety latches in trunks. She says to discuss “good strangers,” such as a police officer and other family members, and “bad strangers”— “people who try to lure children from public places.”  In fact children are vastly more likely to be abducted or molested by family members and people they know than they are by strangers, but this kind of information is far too complex for Jenks to process. “This book is dedicated to the sweet innocence of every child,” she writes. If you are so unfortunate as to have a complicated child with other, less savory qualities—curiosity, willfulness, mischievousness, even, God forbid, a wicked temper—I’d say it’s not the book for you.

Maybe the man with the yellow hat will buy it for George.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed.

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If you have sociologists as Facebook friends you have probably seen this commercial for GoldieBlox, set to a revised version of “Girls” by the Beastie Boys:

Since it debuted on November 17 it has received over 8 million YouTube views and gotten enough attention to be both lauded and lambasted. As summarized by Katy Waldman at Slate:

As GoldieBlox stands to attract even more publicity (it is one of four finalists in a contest for small businesses to air an ad during the Super Bowl), we should ask whether its products live up to the company’s message. Does GoldieBlox actually “disrupt the pink aisle,” inspiring girls to trade in their tiaras for goggles—or is it a cynical attempt to straddle the market by hooking parents on a message of empowerment while enticing kids with the same old glittery crap?

GoldieBlox highlights some of the same difficulties that Lisa Wade discussed in relation to Miley Cyrus. If young girls want pink things, and the products on display in toy aisles suggest that they do, it makes sense that a company would try to profit by giving them what they want. If parents, on the other hand, don’t want to reinforce negative stereotypes, it also makes sense that a company would try to profit by giving them what they want. Wade writes:

That’s how power works. It makes it so that essentially all choices can be absorbed into and mobilized on behalf of the system.  Fighting the system on behalf of the disadvantaged – in this case, women – requires individual sacrifices that are extraordinarily costly.  In Cyrus’ case, perhaps being replaced by another artist who is willing to capitulate to patriarchy with more gusto.  Accepting the rules of the system translates into individual gain, but doesn’t exactly make the world a better place.  In Cyrus’ case, her success is also an affirmation that a woman’s worth is strongly correlated with her willingness to commodify her sexuality.

Despite their interesting commercial, GoldieBlox are a product (is a product? Goldie Blox appears to be the name of a girl in the line of products). No matter how much we want it to be a subversive company that sticks it to The Man for young girls everywhere, its existence and success depends on the same system as every other toy. So we end up with pink building toys with narratives designed to appeal to girls who have already accepted stereotypical notions of femininity whose parents want them to realize that being female does not limit their potential. All in the name of profit.

Update: See also Elline Lipkin’s take at Girl With Pen.

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As somebody born in the early ’80s, I was always too young to completely identify with the stereotypical Gen-X slacker (despite the name of this blog). I was also too old to completely identify with the Millenials. Because of that, it is nice to see them apologizing for the errors of their ways (via Upworthy):

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The first, available here, depicts how Barbie’s proportions would translate to a full-sized woman:

Life-Size Barbie

The second, available here, depicts how a real woman’s proportions would translate to a Barbie-sized doll:

Realistic Barbie

It will be interesting to see whether the increasing availability of 3D printers will change the sorts of toys that children interact with.

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Every year about this time children everywhere are given the opportunity to recognize the various levels of effort that their fathers have put into raising them through the purchase of greeting cards. As I noted last year, the fathers depicted in these cards are nearly always excellent, leaving few options for sons and daughters whose fathers fell short of this standard.

If you look hard enough, however, alternatives exist. Unfortunately, these cards are probably given most frequently to excellent fathers with excellent senses of humor rather than to the mediocre fathers they describe. The thing about mediocre fathers is that some of them don’t realize that they’re mediocre and, for those that do, reminding them of this fact on the holiday designated to honor them probably makes you a mediocre child. Along these lines, here is the Father’s Day card that I found at Target but did not buy this year:

Happy Father’s Day!

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From MSN (though it has been covered numerous other places as well), here is another example of a teenager’s backstage statements causing frontstage problems. As the article states:

The lawsuit raises the complicated — and quite unsettled — legal quandary that balances students’ constitutional rights with schools’ needs to maintain order and a positive educational environment. For example, can schools punish students who publicly criticize school officials on their own time using social networks?

Federal district courts have handed down contradictory decisions on that issue. Facing a chance to settle the matter, the U.S. Supreme Court in January declined to hear three cases on the issue.

But private social media criticism, intended only for a limited audience behind a password or a privacy wall, raises a different legal issue, said Teresa Nelson, a lawyer for the ACLU in Minnesota.

“The notion that it was a search of her private Facebook content … the Fourth Amendment applies,” she said.  “The government has to have a really good reason to do that kind of search,” and would need a court order in most cases, she said.

Situations like this demonstrate that even the ability to choose who is allowed to see the content you post on Facebook is not always enough. With this in mind, I offer the following advice to classmates, coworkers, and anybody else who wants to complain about their public lives in private:

Facebook is not for venting! Even if you choose who can see your posts you may find yourself needing to explain them to your friends, parents, school officials, bosses, or college professors. If you want to vent, do it in a Google Document that is accessible only to you and a few close confidants. Facebook is the equivalent of writing a comment in somebody else’s yearbook. Google Documents are the equivalent of passing a note to a few of your friends. Yes, there is still a chance that it might fall into the wrong hands, but that chance is vastly diminished.

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