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Exercise 2

Sufferin' Stereotypes
Examining Race and Ethnicity as Presented in Children's Media
by NY Times Learning

Grades: 6-8, 9-12

Subjects: Civics, Language Arts, Media Studies, Social Studies Interdisciplinary Connections

Overview of Lesson Plan:
In this lesson, students examine how the media informs the way they, as children, think about racial and ethnic differences and whether "objectionable material" in mass media from the past should be preserved. Review the Academic Content Standards related to this lesson.

Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes - 1 hour


Students will...

  1. Analyze cartoon presentations of characters of different racial and ethnic backgrounds; evaluate the impact of such portrayals on children's views about people of different backgrounds.
  2. Explore issues of race and stereotypes in cartoons by reading and discussing "Rascal or Racist? Censoring a Rabbit."
  3. Articulate their understanding of related issues in the mass media in a class discussion exercise.
  4. Synthesize their views about these issues in a persuasive essay.

Resources / Materials:

  • Television set and VCR
  • A pre-recorded tape of approximately five to eight minutes of a current or old cartoon with commercials edited out (if possible, choose a segment that includes characters of different racial or ethnic backgrounds)
  • Student journals
  • Pens or pencils
  • Classroom blackboard copies of "Rascal or Racist? Censoring a Rabbit" (one per student)

Activities / Procedures:

Warm-up: Students respond to the following writing prompt in their journals (written on the board prior to class): "Think about the cartoons or other television programs specifically for children that you enjoyed when you were younger. In your opinion, did these programs help you form ideas about people of other cultures, races or ethnic backgrounds? Defend your answer with specific examples." Encourage students to share their responses. Then, show students a short clip of a cartoon that you have pre-selected. As a class, discuss: What does "stereotype" mean? Did students see any stereotypes in the cartoon? If so, what kinds of stereotypes were present? Do students think this is acceptable? Why or why not?

As a class, read and discuss "Rascal or Racist? Censoring a Rabbit," focusing on the following questions:

  1. Why did the Cartoon Network decide not to air 12 cartoons in its Bugs Bunny marathon?
  2. Why did animation fans "hit the roof"?
  3. What does it mean that media corporations like AOL-Time Warner and Disney "own the historical record of cartoons"?
  4. What are some of the possible implications of a company deciding to "erase" part of the historical record of cartoons?
  5. Why was "All This and Rabbit Stew" pulled from the Bugs festival? What other types of episodes were pulled?
  6. Are negative stereotypes of French, Italian and Irish people being pulled from the Bugs festival? Why?
  7. According to Art Speigelman, a comic artist, cartoons fulfill a particular role in our society. What is that role?
  8. For whom were early cartoons created?
  9. When did media companies start editing the shorts to make children's programming?
  10. What examples does the article cite of the "baffling inconsistency" with which media companies edited cartoon shorts to make children's programming?
  11. Why does Chuck Jones, the director of many of the "great Warner Brothers cartoons," think that the networks were "lousy editors and lousy child psychologists, too"?
  12. Why do old cartoons create liabilities for modern entertainment companies?
  13. According to Kevin E. Sandler, editor of "Reading the Rabbit: Explorations in Warner Bros. Animation," how has Disney maintained their image as "patriotic, diverse, all-inclusive and respectful of others' identity"?
  14. What is the "great fear" of Mike Lazzo, Senior Vice President of the Cartoon Network?
  15. How has the Cartoon Network compromised between showing what they believe to be objectionable and preserving cartoon history?
  16. Where can viewers watched the banned cartoons now?

Explain to the class that they will participating in a "fishbowl" discussion on this and related topics. First, ask students to number off one to five, and then keep a list on the board of all "1's," "2's," "3's," "4's," and "5's." Ask all "1's" to sit facing one another in the middle of a circle created by the rest of the students. The students in the center are the only ones allowed to speak. If a student from the outer circle wants to add to the discussion, he or she moves to the middle of the circle, taps a participant to indicate that he or she should resume a place in the outer circle, and takes that student's place as the new person in the discussion. After discussing the first question, switch the students in the center to all "2's," and allow the same fishbowl procedure to occur. Be sure to switch topics enough times so that all students have the opportunity to be in the center of the discussion at least once.

Questions to pose to students include:

  1. What in the mass media, such as television shows and movies, might be interpreted as "objectionable material"?
  2. How might come of that "objectionable material" be seen as "historic"?
  3. Does such material play a role in preserving history?
  4. When you turn on the television set, do you see characters that share your ethnic, racial or cultural background?
  5. How are they portrayed?
  6. Do you see characters with other ethnic, racial or cultural backgrounds?
  7. How are they portrayed?
  8. What sorts of responsibilities do the people who create television shows have to their viewers who are children?
  9. Do you think that the creators of popular media (television, movies, videos, games, etc.) have an obligation to keep objectionable material out of their medium? Why or why not?
  10. Do you think that there is an obligation to preserve history in popular culture even if it is offensive to some people?

Each student writes a brief (one to two page) persuasive essay responding to the following questions (written on the board for students to copy prior to leaving class):"Reflect upon what you have read and discussed in class. What role do you think the media plays in how you view people who are different than yourself? Do you think that media has an obligation to remove objectionable material from television shows that are designed for or appeal to children?" Students should share their responses in a future class.

Further Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why do you think "Bugs' many encounters with French, Italian and Irish stereotypes will remain uncensored"?
  2. Why do you think studio executives found those less objectionable than stereotypes of "bloodthirsty Native Americans, bumbling Japanese soldiers, savage Eskimos"?
  3. Do you think the questionable 12 episodes of "Bugs Bunny" should be shown in the Bugs marathon?Why or why not?
  4. What kind of impact do you think television has had on how you view the world?
  5. What kind of guidelines, if any, would you create regarding "objectionable material" that children see on television?

Evaluation / Assessment:
Students will be evaluated based on written journal response, participation in class discussions, and thoughtfully written persuasive essay synthesizing the class discussions and their personal views.

acquired, marathon, oeuvre, offensive, insight, stereotype, provocative, uncensored, unfiltered, primal, preliterate, expressiveness, scrutiny, baffling, inconsistency, deleted, banned, centaur, liabilities, conglomerates, vigilant, globalized, raucous, hapless, inchoate

Extension Activities:
Using the New York Times article read in class as a reference, write a position paper about the Bugs Marathon from the point of view of the director of a banned short, a current studio executive, a concerned parent or a Bugs Bunny fan. Students should present their opposing papers in a debate or discussion.

Watch your favorite live action television show or cartoon from the perspective of a child your age in the year 2051. Then, write an analytic review, responding to these questions from this child's perspective:

  1. What does this program say about the time in which it was created or was popular?
  2. How does it reflect the society in which it was produced?
  3. How do television shows designed specifically for children in 2051 differ from those in 2001?

In a letter to Mike Lazzo, Senior Vice President of programming at the Cartoon Network, compose a set of guidelines for the production of new cartoons or for the release of old cartoons.

Interview children about their favorite and least favorite television shows, and using the same questions, interview adults about their favorite and least favorite shows from their childhood. Create graphs comparing and contrasting the plots of the shows, the type of shows (cartoon, comedy, drama, live action, etc.), types of characters, and any other questions that interest you. Also include questions specifically for children and for adults:

  1. Do the adults feel that the shows they liked best helped shape their views of the world?
  2. Do the children feel that their shows are too violent or provide negative stereotypes?
  3. What does each group think about the children shows popular with the other group?
  4. What conclusions can you draw?

In the New York Times article, Chuck Jones refers to the networks as "bad child psychologists." Research what child psychologists say about television and children by interviewing local child psychologists and by searching online for opinions. Create a poster documenting your findings.