One of the best aspects of my job as a freelance writer is the diversity of material that I get to research and discover on a daily and weekly basis. As an education blogger, I have the honor of looking at a lot of the issues that affect me personally as a teacher and a mother and most of this material is positive, or at least geared towards a positive outcome – bully education, anyone?
However, my work for other firms also allows me the ability to delve into other aspects of society and pop culture. These jobs at worst make me feel hopelessly out of touch and at best contribute to me becoming a better informed parent and teacher. It is through this research that some of the very good and very bad aspects of teen and tween-targeted media cross my desk. Lately, their connection to both bully prevention and normalization has had me both worried and intrigued.
Today, I want to take a look at two pieces of media that I have stumbled upon. The first reveals that as much as we *think* we may have a handle on all the media our students and children consume, we may be mistaken. The second piece, by contrast, gives me hope that properly monitored media usage can have a positive total impact on our kids as role models take the opportunity to step up and call out bullying in all forms.
Case 1: Alloy TV
Have you heard of Alloy TV? Yeah, me neither, and don’t think that searching your local listings will yield any hits. Alloy TV is a subset of the larger website Alloy.com which bills itself as a “Top teen site for fashion, celebrities, horoscopes & quizzes” – it’s basically an online version of Seventeen magazine complete with slang-packed headlines written by women in their 20s and 30s who would rather die than use that language in real conversation, but I digress. Alloy itself began as an online store for teen fashion that then branched into a larger “community” dedicated to bringing teens together to talk about what matters most to them.
Unto itself, the website’s model is harmless and may provide some much-needed companionship for isolated teen girls. However, one of its side projects, Alloy TV, and the philosophy of its marketing plan has a decidedly different undertone. Much of this began with Alloy’s mainstream TV and movie hits like Gossip Girl andSisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But in an increasingly digital society, the movement towards internet-only programming was far too alluring for Alloy execs to pass up. Enter Josh Bank, the 42 year-old president of Alloy Entertainment.
The original web series Hollywood Is Like High School with Money was a brainchild of Bank who saw an opening in the digital market for programming geared to teenage girls and their not-much-older counterparts, 18-34 year-old females. The web series, sponsored by L’Oreal, chronicles the 16-year-old “Queen Bee” and daughter of Hollywood studio exec, Quinn. She decides to “tutor” a one of her mother’s young assistants, Taylor, in the ways of maneuvering and inching up on competition with the show’s name serving as her mantra. Though Bank identifies Quinn as a “study in the Machiavellian teen,” her clear connection to the Mean Girls notion so ripe in cases of female high school bullies presents a problem. For the average teenage viewer, the level of analysis required to “get” the study may be too much.
I watched the series and, as a lit major with a penchant for over-analyzing everything I view or read, I can say that the “humor” of the situation is greatly masked by the very real notion that life really is all about manipulating your way to the top and not giving a riff about who you offend on the way there. Is this a fact? Maybe, but it’s still not one that we need to be drilling into teens thanks to a corporate sponsor. However, the real issue here is a bit more complex.
While Hollywood Is Like High School unto itself is harmless, its 14 million hits cannot compete with more established media, the idea that our teens and tweens are being exposed to these same characters and conflicting messages in yet another medium should be cause for alarm. With corporate sponsors and a lack of ratings, who is policing these “webisodes” and what messages can delicate teens glean from the notion that high school is only replicated over and over again in “real” life?
Case 2: Advocacy in a Song
On the flip side to this equation, some of the more established media outlets are making an effort to get into the bullying conversation from the right side. This was brought to my attention recently when my new dalliances into Twitter revealed that one ABC Family teen star, Daren Kagasoff, and his friend George Murphy have made a small step in addressing bullying in a format that teens and tweens are likely to understand: music.
The song “Bully” was released last month on YouTube by Kagasoff and Murphy and has thus far been promoted solely via Twitter and social media. Its tagline that “you mean nothing to me” is a rally call to the victims of bullying that they can fight back against their bullies by being the bigger person. While this is oversimplifying the issue, the idea that words cannot change who a person is inside and that the power of a bully is derived from the feelings of inadequacy that they place onto their victim are important for teens to hear from their peers.
Simple, clear and a little bit catchy – my kids immediately started dancing to the song and I’m a bit ashamed to admit that it’s been stuck in my head for days – the lyrics here take on a different perspective in the anti-bullying movement: victim support. The idea that Kagasoff, co-star of the ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and his friend present is that we may not be able to “stop” bullying in all of its forms, but we can empower its victims and prevent lifelong struggle through support and, dare I say it, song.
This is not a PSA; it’s a message that bully victims are not alone. Perhaps better titled “Dear, Bully” Kagasoff and Murphy’s song may help more than one teen see the forest for the trees in their life, a far cry from Hollywood Is Like High School’scontention that the trees are all there’ll ever be.
Media Is Everywhere
The lesson that I hope my cases here provide is the importance of media monitoring from all angles. Each day as I scour some of the less-traveled corners of the web I am struck by the amount of information we don’t know. As a mom, as a teacher and as an advocate for bullying prevention from all angles, I hope that the messages, both good and bad, being spread here are catalysts for the most powerful bullying prevention tool we all possess: communication.