Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
Have you ever noticed that every time we’re about to have an economic free fall or a brouhaha in the government, we have a new Batman movie?
Think about it, we had a stock market crash in the late 1980’s, and a Batman movie came out right after. The economy tanked in 2007 and we had another one. Did we invade a country or fight some terrorist group? We had a Batman movie at each time. July 7, 1966 we launched Operation Hastings adding around 11,500 troops to the already overblown and unpopular Vietnam War amid labor strikes on the US home front, just before Batman: The Movie launched in theaters July 30th the same month. Now we’re looking at a major intelligence snafu and OH LOOK Lego Batman.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Batman. But every time the country is about to turn on a billionaire fat cat or his Republican cronies, there’s a Batman film, to make you look up to a billionaire fat cat in spandex who purchases his superpowers. It’s a ploy to make you rethink vilifying the rich after an economic free fall or a Republican has added an extra hurdle for you to jump.
But another thing I notice is that every time there’s a Republican in the White House, we suddenly have demeaning shows aimed at our little girls.
For example, girls programming until the 1980’s was all but null and void, with the idea being that little girls didn’t like the new technology of television. So in the 1970’s, little girls only had two shows to choose from. Josie and the Pussycats, which was a slightly smarter but ultimately more tame clone of Scooby Doo based off of the popular Archie comic of the same name, and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, a yawn inducing chase series about a moderately intelligent blonde heiress, who needs a team of little people to protect her from her murderous uncle. While both shows did show the ladies “could” think for themselves, much of the focus would be on the villain of the day, or on the more cumbersome characters. In Josie’s case, Valerie’s attempts to save the day were often overshadowed by how cute Melody could be and how awful and rude Alexandra was, not to mention how pretty and talented Josie was just for bobbing her hair and singing well. Both shows would leave television before Nixon.
Fast forward to the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan was in office, and who was dominating the airwaves for little girls?
Jem was a television show about a businesswoman named Jerrica, who by day was all about fashion and the corporate world, but by night was Jem, a makeup crazed rock star who would encourage the girls in her pop band to openly trash rival group The Misfits simply because they were different. Jem was supposed to be the “good guy” in each episode, but if you re-watch the reruns on Netflix, you’ll see how materialistic she was and how unrelenting she was towards anybody who wasn’t preppy.
Following Jem, we had a two episode OVA of Barbie, who while much nicer, was still shown as being materialistic. She was followed by Maxie’s World, about a teenage girl who yes, went on adventures, but was also, very makeup heavy. Rainbow Brite was a little stronger for girls, but both she and rival program star Strawberry Shortcake had writing that was lacking, even by kid’s show standards. The original My Little Pony was all about being glamorous and like Jem, had characters that ere supposed to be nice, but ultimately shunned ponies who were different, and each show was nothing more than a cheap shill of the latest doll trends.
She-Ra was almost an action packed counterpart to her twin brother He-Man, but like the other girl shows, closed out her run with forgettable episodes about fake friendship, makeup and almost no action scenes whatsoever. In contrast to He-Man, She-Ra would look for reasons not to fight, while her brother’s shows featured a weekly slaughtering, telling little girls that it’s not their place to be strong.
After Reagan and Bush vacated the White House, we had Bill Clinton. And during his eight year reign, we had a slue of more positive shows for little girls.
Gone was the superficial nonsense of the 1980’s. In place of those shows were Tenko and the Guardians of Magic and a heavily edited port of Sailor Moon. While both shows “did” have a toy line, the toys were an afterthought and often scarce. The focus was not on makeup or looking pretty, but rather on the girls being strong, fighting monsters and saving the world. Both title characters Tenko and Sailor Moon comprised their teams of every character who was treated as the odd ball out, in sharp contrast to Jem, who shunned girls who were not as preppy as she was. Tenko had a mix of male and female characters in varying roles, while Sailor Moon only seemed to hang around misfits, save except for Naru, then known in the states as Molly. The shows encouraged girls to be themselves, embrace their differences, and to never be afraid to fight for what’s right. The early 2000’s would be helmed with Cardcaptor Sakura, another Japanese import about a little girl who used magic cards to save the day, and similar to Sailor Moon, was an instant friend to anyone who was an outcast. The only throwback to the 80’s being Sky Dancers and Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders, two slightly superficial shows but both rooted in action sequences with girls taking the helm as superheroes. For the educational set, there was Carmen Sandiego, an action cartoon about a girl named Ivy who had to track down world renowned thief Carmen, while also solving history and geography based clues with her younger brother. All of these shows had a moderate message for teamwork, but each season finale was centered on the girls ultimately learning to rely on their own, separate power, the lesson being that you must rely on yourself and that you won’t always have someone to hold your hand and guide you.
But as soon as Clinton left office, we had good ol’ Dubya. And for eight years, we had Bratz.
Similar to the 1980’s girls shows, Bratz was a toyline first and a cartoon second, that focused on fashion and makeup. Once again, we had alleged “good guy” characters who would trash people who were different, body shame and teach little girls that looks really are everything. Bratz is by far one of the worst offenders, with a toyline featuring underage girls dressed like hookers. Even Bratz Kids and the Bratz baby line were rife with age inappropriate costumes that would have made Barbie blush.
Following Bratz, we had Totally Spiez, a spy program that featured three again, judgmental girls who were so obsessed with clothes and makeup, that they would often forget they were on a mission on behalf of the government. A slue of superficial Barbie films made their way to television, again touting the importance of friendship (albeit more forced this time around) and on looks. Dora the Explorer offered a little more adventure to the preschool set, but was a show that talked (or rather screamed) down to little girls and had Dora relying on everyone around her to help her do the tiniest task. As she grew to adolescence, the focus became less about adventuring and more about once more, makeup and fashion, as she found a multicultural set of females to aid her in lipstick and shoes. A remake of Strawberry Shortcake focused on friendship and minimal plotlines while action shows Winx, Tokyo Mew Mew/Mew Mew Power and Magical DoReiMi offered less fighting and more segments of underage girls dressing in age inappropriate attire, conversing about makeup, boys, fashion and friendship. A slight reprieve came from W.I.T.C.H. but was also light on action when compared to the 1990’s programs.
Once Obama was in office, girls programming took a different approach.
We had Sofia the First, followed by spin-off Elena, two shows about girls in positions of power who have to learn how their choices affect everyone. Doc McStuffins about a girl doctor who has to use quick smarts to save the life of her toy friends. DC Super Hero Friends leaves much to be desired in the writing department, but does encourage girls to get into comic books and action, Shimmer and Shine promoted problem solving and responsibility while closing out the Obama years was newcomer Nella: The Princess Knight, a pre-school show about a child princess turned knight who balances diplomatic issues with swashbuckling action sequences. Similar to the 90’s, each of these shows reminds girls that teamwork is wonderful, but you need to first focus on your own strengths and smarts to win the day.
As we enter the Trump years, led by a man who famously has gone in public with his low opinion of women and his desire to strip away both education and women’s health while also combating accusations of spousal abuse and rape all over the media, we are again faced with the prospect that television may take a step backwards in regard to our girls.
Republican years in girls programming have shown to be all about makeup, clothes and in being judgmental, while non Republican years are about girls being strong, educated and welcoming.
Republican era involves teaching girls that they are nothing without a team while non Republican years have our girls still appreciating teamwork, but relying on their own merits first.
We need to encourage programmers and stations alike to keep up with the trend of forward thinking shows for our young girls.
Be vocal, be relentless.
Our girls are watching.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!