Free «Representation of Children» Essay Sample

Media representatives see little or no room for discerning an idiosyncratic role morality to the public. A nineteenth century revolutionary called it "propaganda by deed". But, we are not living in Marshall McLuhan's pleasant-sounding "global village"; we not inhabit the cacophonous silicon slums depicted in the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson. A biblical flood of information has confused rather than clarified, deconstructing meanings, dualities, and constructs we once took for granted.

Baudrillard (1988) knows Western thought as though it were single-minded by various degrees of the relationship between a representation and a 'real'. What he refers to as the successive phases of the image basically correspond to those existing media shows. There is the addition, however, of a final stage in which - as the above citation, which also head Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulations, intimates - the real is no longer part of the equation. Exactly, the reach and influence of the media's depiction in the contemporary world is so pervasive that it shapes, unconsciously, the way we think about foreign cultures with which we have little other contact. The media exerts an enormous power also on these cultures, in its effects on areas as diverse as foreign policy making, demand for exports or tourism revenues, or even visa applications to the West. According to Skelton and Allen (1999), "in times of war and disaster in other countries, the media in some sense 'plays God' in terms of its influence on the extent and nature of Western responses".

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag cites examples in the history of war photography that seem morally more horrific because she finds that many of the most famous pictures were artificially arrange even to the moving of dead bodies, or the reenactment of a battle scene to make the image more dramatic. Pathetic images of starving children, helpless and dependent, perpetuated a patronizing, offensive and misleading view of the Third World as a spectacle of tragedy, disaster, disease and cruelty. Sontag further pointed out that "photographs shock insofar as they show something novel. Unfortunately, the ante keeps getting raised - partly through the very proliferation of such images of horror. One's first encounter with the photographic inventory of ultimate horror is a kind of revelation, the prototypically modern revelation: a negative epiphany" (p. 9). The powerful North wants to know and possess the submissive South.

Anne Simpson, in her Ten 8 article, described how these media images of the 'Third World' inform the consciousness of 'First World' children, especially through children's television: A group of third form pupils in an ILEA secondary school, when asked about their images of the 'Third World' listed the following: poverty, babies dying, monsoons, war-devastated crops, starvation, disease, drought, refugees, flies, death, Oxfam, dirty water, India, Cambodia, curries, beggars, malnutrition, bald children, large families, insects, stealing, poor clothing, bad teeth, kids with pot bellies, mud huts, injections (cited in Twitchin 1988, p. 225). As Sontag described such 'photography is the inventory of morality' (p. 70).

Banaji (2010, p. 51) described these discourses tend to fall into one of two paradigms. The first is an effects paradigm, which focuses on content in either a negative or positive manner. Instances include the protectionist stance that sees most Western media products as dangerous and having negative effects on third world countries' values, or the argument that the liberalizing of their economy has brought about the changes in content that challenge sexist and other negative attitudes. The second paradigm posits content as irrelevant. It views all innovations in the Asian media and communications environment as socially beneficial because they, apparently, make their countries more modern and competitive. While a host of other positions exist amongst parents and children, these are rarely articulated publicly. The voices that get most coverage in the public sphere are usually those calling for censorship and/or technological skill development. Complexity is seen as problematic, and hence sidestepped (p. 52).

Children's lack of power is directly connected to the way they are served by the media. Overall, the media's portrayal of children is highly skewed towards a small number of topics. According to a recent US study, more than 90% of newspaper and TV coverage of children focused on two topics: youth crime and violence, and child abuse and neglect (Ben-Aryeh & George 2006, p. 185). The growing concern about commercial pressure on children to grow up too fast is matched only the growing sensationalism of media coverage devoted to the issue of pedophilia and the Internet.

Treatment of children in the media therefore risks overemphasizing two negative trends at the same time: an unbalanced emphasis on children as objects of desire and participants in a celebrity-fuelled race for consumer satisfaction and social status; and mounting anxiety about the need to control new media and the opportunities it presents to abuse and exploit children. Holland (2004) argued that now it is fair to suggest that representations of children in the media are typically used in at least two - somewhat opposed - ways in news coverage. The first is primary illustrative. That is to say pictorial representations of childhood are widely used to illustrate the underlying ideologies of Western society towards children. Holland's (2004) work indicates the ways in which child images - for instance lines of uniformed school children - can be used to demonstrate an ideological construction of political order, or how art images, often recycled through advertising, can be employed to illustrate social constructions of innocence or of sexualisation. Suffering children are among the most frequently chosen subjects of images of war, famine and genocide. They serve the dual purpose of arousing adult sympathy and humanizing the brutality of war, and creating more compelling representations to potential adult news audiences.

The media both helps in forming such perceptions, and is itself informed by them. 'New Racist' understanding of foreign cultures and conflicts impacts on policy formation at a number of levels (Skelton & Allen 1999, p. 110). Western policy makers are influenced directly by the media, and indirectly through the lobbying from the different actors who are themselves informed by media representations. Decision-makers within aid agencies, for example, are subject both to pressure from the public and charity-supporters, as both financial supporters and political activists, and to the decisions of their main donors, the Western governments and government agencies that control aid budgets. UN bureaucrats are less directly affected by public opinion, but play an important role in actually providing information to the media themselves. The power of the media lies thus in its influence on the children whose impressions of foreign culture have an actual impact on events in Third World countries through the policy strategies chosen by the West. Its responsibility lies in its role in the provision of information and analysis, as acknowledged by CNN for example in its claim to be 'informing the world' (cited in Skelton & Allen 1999, p. 110).

The growing domination of the media by large cable-television corporations and newspapers subject to market pressures in an unprecedented way makes it even less likely that such crises will be portrayed in an accurate manner, and gives such organizations unprecedented power over the amounts of money that may be raised in an emergency, and the types of policy that may be pursued by the West. Little space remains within these organizations for the individual writers and photographers who have traditionally brought news of disasters and wars to our living rooms, and little time can be found for today's news journalists to study or appreciate the particular aspects of particular situations. Some attempts are being made, mainly by aid agencies, to work against these trends and improve the quality of reporting on disasters. Some agencies, such as 'Save the Children' (Skelton & Allen 1999, p. 111) have adopted guidelines to monitor their own use of images in disasters appeals, in attempts to avoid contributing to the negative imagery of helpless Third World populations reliant on the West.

Legitimacy is not an all-or-none phenomenon; it varies in degree. Why it has varied, in different times and places, remains a classic question in the social sciences, including anthropology, as well as in philosophy and other humanistic disciplines. Justice and fairness are two major principles of European jurisprudence that have accompanied the development of democracy. Interestingly, laws that regulate the private family life of citizens are relatively late arrivals. In particular, laws that regulate the life of children did not appear until the beginning of the twentieth century (Rose & Miller 1992). From that time onwards, however, children have been more and more regulated and increasingly the state has appointed itself as its moral guardian.

As the new category of childhood, perceived as qualitatively different from adulthood, became entrenched in people's thinking, children and childhood emerged as prime targets for state's intervention. Adoption, a practice that challenges the very foundation of twentieth-century biocentrism of Euro-American kinship, seems to present the state authorities with a practice particularly well-suited for the exercise of benevolent control. While the moral principles underpinning recent national adoption laws in Western Europe are in line with an idealistic approach towards governing society in order to achieve the best interest of its subject (cited in Schinkel 2010), they are also normative and universalizing.

What Heintz (2009, p. 88) noted down in adoption laws is a radical shift in the identity of those whose best interest the laws should safeguard; from adults to children; from aiming to satisfy the needs of adoptive parents to favoring the needs of the adoptee. The paramount purpose of adoption became to ensure 'the best interest of the child' (p. 88).

In order to instill a universal ethical value, local understandings about the rights and responsibilities of sociality are ignored. The establishment of a global infrastructure to supervise the implementation of these conventions is the manifest expression of global governmentality, a globalization of Western rationality and morality (Rose & Miller 1992). Accompanying this and legitimizing practice are psychologically informed discourses, voiced and managed by the psycho-technocrats who work both nationally and internationally.

There is an intentionally built into the globalization of (Western) rationality and morality, albeit from the best of motives: a genuine desire on the part of the wealthy nations to safeguard and improve the lives of unprotected children in the Third World countries. However, Heintz (2009, p. 89) arises several assumptions from this agenda which remain un-debated; e.g., that it is best for children to grow up with their biological parents in a family home; that children are vulnerable and in need of adult protection; that street children and child labor are unacceptable phenomenon; that the child of whatever age is an individual with his or her rights; that the child's agency must be encouraged and he or she be empowered to participate actively in shaping their own future.

Historically, In Centuries of Childhood (1979), Aries claimed that in "Western Europe the notion of childhood as a distinct human condition started to merge only around the end of the 15th century, and that before this people had little conception of childhood as a phase in the life-course. He claimed that 'in medieval society the idea of childhood did not exist; this is not to suggest that children were neglected, forsaken or despised. The idea of childhood is not to be confused with affection for children: it corresponds to an awareness of the particular nature of childhood, that particular nature which distinguishes the child from the adult, even the young adult. In medieval society, this awareness was lacking" (p. 128).

The development of a child is a complex phenomenon influenced by various psychological and sociological factors. The developmental process is basically a conjugation and interaction between eight distinct stages among which the first three vastly influencing the childhood phase. During 1-2years of age (stage described by Erickson (1968) as basic trust vs. basic mistrust: hope) a child needs to be well-handled, properly nurtured and loved by the responsible caregiver in order to build trust, security and a basic level of optimism. Otherwise, if the child treated badly, he or she must develop a feeling of insecurity and become mistrustful. Another psychological crisis triggers when the child is between 2-3½ years (phase known as autonomy vs. shame: will), when children having a good parenting style learn about his or her newly found abilities and become proud about controlling those abilities instead of being ashamed.

On the other hand, if a child does not receive a good parenting treatment, he or she may develop a sense of negativism, stormy self-will, lack of confidence as well as destructive stubbornness affecting throughout the life (Heintz 2009). The next psychological stage spanning from 3½ years to the entry into formal school, known as initiative vs. guilt: purpose, is equally important, especially implementing the social interaction and broadening the social boundaries of a child. In this phase, a healthy developing child becomes able to participate in both imaginary and social play, becomes able to cooperate with others in various activities, whereas, a child immobilized with the influence of guilt becomes fearful, overtly dependent on adult figure, not being able either to participate or to participate in a distorted fashion in both the imaginative and social play.

At the root of the enterprise level the unquestioned idea of the universal person; a notion that gives rise to the idea that children are culturally neutral. Lopatka, Chairman of the UNCRC drafting committee, has stated, 'the physical and mental nature of a child is identical everywhere...the process of growth and adolescence takes a similar course in children. Their physical and mental needs are also similar' (cited in Heintz 2009, p. 89). This a view reflected in much expert opinion, in which 'culture produces only minor variations' (Penn 2003, p. 124). Of course, such understandings render the universal implementation of values and procedures unproblematic, and the principle of the 'best interest of the child' need not be debated.

The Africans are critical of what they regard as the failure of the UNCRC to perceive children as constituted through their relationship with others: their parents and members of the wider kin group. In other words, an extreme individualistic understanding of personhood is not accepted by the African delegates (Howell 2007, p. 176). In order to balance the emphasis upon the rights of the child, the Charter places these within a discourse of obligations and duties, putting children and their significant others partners in reciprocal relationships that extend beyond the family to the nation, and even to the African content (cited in Howell 2007, p. 176). These provisions are indeed different from those contained in both the UNDHR and UNCRC (p. 177). As such, they demonstrate attempts to resist global enforcement of ideas and values concerning family, kinship and childhood.

Because large sections of the Indian elite are highly ambivalent about their relationship with the West, India is a particularly interesting donor country. The 'psychological' discourse has been influential, giving rise to the various professions of Indian psycho-technocrats (Howell 2006, p. 190). There is a large body of Indian literature on the psychology of children, and more books on adoption, whether domestic or transnational, have been published in India than in any other donor country. At the same time, there is a noticeable ideological resistance to what is perceived as Western encroachment in Indian intellectual life as well as in its social and economic affairs. India expresses the most clearly formulated anti-transnational adoption sentiments. Senior staff of the national organization that provides federal guidelines and grants final permission for adoption (CARA) wish to see the end of transnational adoption and the growth of domestic adoption (p. 190).

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The situation in Ethiopia is very different from that in India (Howell 2006, p. 191). The country has been torn apart by civil wars and famine for several decades. Given these facts, the room for maneuver by the state is limited. Most commentators, whether local or foreign, agree that Ethiopia would barely survive as a modern nation state was it not for the foreign aid that the country receives (p. 191). In recent years, a large portion of the aid has been directed at children and the plight of women. This renders the country extremely vulnerable, and, in other words of a prominent journalist, 'what poverty does is to discourage debate about Western values being imposed' (p. 192).

A common issue, oft-raised in connection with claims made for democracy, particularly in the realm of international trade and foreign assistance, is that of human rights. Now for a human being the most important right is that to remain alive. That right may be extended to one's near relatives or to a much broader group for whom one bears responsibility. In the Western world this right seems to be considered so self-evident that it is hardly worth mentioning. Western people, under normal conditions, live in societies where for the great majority of the people subsistence is guaranteed. In common parlance 'hungry' is a term used in the sense that one has appetite.

In cases of war, civil war or natural catastrophes, does the question of starvation become a matter of life or death? In recent times, in Bosnian cities such as Sarayevo and Gorazde, hunger on a mass scale had become a horrific reality (Wertheim 1997, p. 111). Normally in Western countries real hunger also exists, but remains limited to social groups that are living 'at the bottom of society', principally in big cities (p. 112).

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In many parts of the Third World the situation is quite different. There large groups within the society, both rural and urban, commonly experience real hunger, so that many poor peasants or landless laborers, as well as many people living in urban slums, are uncertain as to whether, tomorrow they and their relatives will have anything to eat (Heintz 2009).

While the danger of misrepresentation of children could be somewhat lessened by improvements in methods and standards of reporting within Western media organizations, the fundamental issue of misconceptions of the causes of such crises will only be addressed through fundamental change. The western community and western media have been more directly critical of child policies and provisions of many countries in the South than they have been of other policies that might be regarded as equally worthy of criticism. The most important mechanism for this change will be the support, financial or symbolic, of the Third World media.

The development of Third World media can play a crucial role in the evolution of a deeper understanding of Third World culture and issues internationally, as well as having an important impact at the national level while addressing children issues. Access to, and production of, more and better quality information and comment within the Third World would work to empower local populations at a number of levels. Their own understanding of the issues faced in their societies, and their ability to express this understanding in the international arena, would greatly benefit from the development of local discussion.


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