What have we learned from hearing the voices of so many professionals around the world devoted to producing better television for children? How do we make sense of close to two thousand pages of interview transcripts regarding their guiding values and recommendations for translating them into action? Can we recognize a forest among these many and diverse trees? Is there a bottom line to this inquiry? The aim of this chapter is to provide a conceptual framework for producing
better gender portrayals on television for children around the world. To do so, eight grounded main principles are presented that are at the heart of what the media professionals interviewed shared with me. While the concept of “principle” is commonly used in a variety of ways (e.g. as a statement of a basic truth, law or assumption; as a rule or standard; as a ﬁxed policy or mode of action; as a basic or essential quality), I am using it here as an ideal, a vision to be achieved, and through which prescriptive statements for action by producers seeking to “repair” the world are derived (remember the Hebrew expression “Tikkun Olam” from the Preface). Accordingly, the details to be presented are framed as “working” principles that can serve as strategies for production practice and recommendations for advancing concrete change on television screens viewed by children and youths throughout the world. The principles shared involve the following core concepts: Equality, diver-
sity, complexity, similarity, unity, family, authenticity, and voicing. Indeed, concern for these principles seemed to be shared by many interviewees – despite diﬀerences in cultural and geographical location, gender, education, conditions of employment, professional expertise – and thus can be claimed to be universal in large degree. However, clearly, the interpretation of how the principles presented could, or should, be translated into media productions, as well as their social implications, vary culturally. For example, while most interviewees agreed that presenting children in television programs in the context of a nurturing family is a key to healthy development, they disagreed about what family structures might be appropriate for their culture: While some might celebrate single parents or mixed-race families, others may denounce same-sex parents and/or promote the extended three-generation
family. Similarly, while all interviewees agreed that presenting racial diversity is a key to fostering a more humane, just social world, they had diﬀerent ideas about what kind of diversity is relevant – and tolerable – in their own context. The same argument can be made in regard to each of the concepts. Indeed, at their core, each of them is open for critical debate. For example, not all interviewees would agree that “authenticity” is an ideal concept that lends itself to a desirable working principle; that “similarities” between the genders should be emphasized; or that “unity” is desirable or even achievable. This having been noted, when most interviewees referred to each of these conceptual ideals they did so with the intent, I submit, of stating that these are issues that concern them and are part of their decision-making process in conceptualizing and executing a programmatic idea for children’s TV whose general vision remains within the general goal of engaging young viewers in a humane, just world. As in any conceptual scheme, some of the boundaries between the principles
are blurred occasionally, particularly when considering speciﬁc quotations that engage more than one category at a time. However, the purposes of this analytical summary are to highlight the main principles, without oversimpliﬁcation, and to share some of the concrete strategies suggested by interviewees to progress toward greater realization of these ideals. Furthermore, there is no intention to suggest that these conceptual domains can be dissected independently of one another. For example, the issue of diversity calls for the presentation of diverse characters in terms of race and ethnicity as well as the need, ﬁrst, for varied characters within each group; and, second, for a clearly integrated sense of authenticity presented by a program, such that all are, of course, closely intertwined with the goal of promoting gender equality, and so forth. Finally, the order of presentation of the working principles is not hierarchal and does not follow a self-evident inner logic, but rather the order is a matter of personal choice and convenience of style. And, with these provisos in mind, we turn to presentation and discussion of each of the eight principles for change in children’s television, grounded in this study.