Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Yes, yes I do worry about "Phineas and Ferb"

We should look at the irony in the messages we send young girls compared to the messages older girls sing. 

Over a year ago I discussed what Mickey Mouse directly and indirectly teaches children.  I remarked that even though I strive to limit my children's television viewing, they inevitably see some. Mickey Mouse is a favorite. I allow it, even though I worry its messages muddle the lessons my children's parents teach them.

See these costumes? Should I have done this? Mom guilt riddles me.

As Ty gets older, he naturally moves onto other shows. "Phineas and Ferb" is his new favorite. The show focuses on Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher, who are step-brothers. Phineas is boisterous, which smartly offsets Ferb's reserved personality. They have a pet platypus, Perry, who is also an underground secret agent. The boys and the platypus' antics engage my son.

Every day Phineas and Ferb build outlandish buildings, computers, airplanes, and roller-coasters while Perry saves the area from an evil doctor. The plots occur separately, but typically intertwine at the end. The boys have friends (with minor roles) and parents (with even more minor roles).

My son relates to the creativity on the show.

Aside from the mom, female characters are limited. The boys have a sister, Candace Flynn. Candace's best friend is Stacy. Isabella crushes on Phineas, and she is leader of a the Fireside Girls, which is much like Girl Scouts.

Sometimes I laugh at the show. Phineas pulls ingenious stunts while his British brother says little but pulls solutions out of his hat. Perry the Platypus sneaks around. The mom gets her hair done thirty times a month. We have no idea where the dad is. Phineas shows no knowledge that Isabella likes him, which leaves me wondering the same way I did while Niles liked Daphne on "Frasier." The show has advanced themes that play on a kid's level, but a higher level for adults.

I enjoy the show, which is why it is strange that it simultaneously makes me want to puke and pull my hair out. "Phineas and Ferb" sends messages to young children that are inappropriate and perhaps even dangerous - and I am not talking about what Phineas and Ferb build.

I hope my daughter fails to relate to the female characters on the show.

I've complained before about Minnie and Daisy's lack of character development compared to their male costars. "The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse", a show directed at preschool students, unfortunately sends a simplistic message about females. "Phineas and Ferb," a show directed at elementary students, sends a complex one. Females no longer have bland and simplistic personalities; they have male-centered personalities. "Phineas and Ferb" is anachronistic in its portrayal of girls.  

Every action from Candace is male-focused. Largely, Candace spends her days "busting" her brothers, or trying to rat them out to her mother for their misbehavior. She never succeeds. She instead traps herself in shemozzles striving to tattle. Her mom then sighs at her, and Candace leaves, defeated, wondering why she failed. The men (even Perry) stultify her attempts, every, single, time.

When not worrying about her brothers, Candace is waiting for her boyfriend's phone call, waiting for him to call her his "girlfriend," or preparing for a date. Candace is a maven at disguising her true personality for Jeremy, her love interest. Take the time Jeremy participates in a pet wash. As Candace complains at Perry for being a "meat-brick," Jeremy explains how you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat animals. Candace immediately changes her demeanor and attitude toward Perry, and takes him to the pet wash to continue the front that she loves her pet. When not focusing on her brothers, Candace sedulously works to change herself to please her boyfriend.

The female characters on "Phineas and Ferb" are obsessed with males - whether it be a boyfriend or brother. They are not gormless, but their worlds focus on pleasing men through their actions, sincere or not. Even the minor characters, such as Isabella, strive to gain the affections of males through lies. (How many Fireside Girl badges does Isabella have connected to helping Phineas?) Young girls mimic these female characters, and these characters do not focus on themselves like the males do. Everyone concentrates on males. 

What are these shows teaching our youth? The direct messages seem safe, but the indirect messages scare me. Are they mimicking society? Are they dictating society? Impressing these roles on young children is dangerous: males build and create, females concern themselves with males. This must influences girls who grow up watching such situations play out. What characters will my daughter see in the coming years?

As I travel this parenting road, I worry what shows my children will face as they grow. From viewing a few clips directed at older children ("Good Luck Charlie" and "Ant Farm"), the obvious demeaning qualities in females seem to be gone, but maybe they are present and just less obvious. My infrequent viewing of them may be at fault too, as I only have a four and two year-old and have not watched them in-depth. I have, however, seen the Selena Gomez video "Who Says" shown during breaks of "Phineas and Ferb":

You made me insecure
Told me I wasn't good enough...
Who says you're not perfect
Who says you're not worth it
Who says you're not pretty
Who says you're not beautiful

Older girls watching that video, wondering "who says"? I know who told you that you were inferior. Now you know too.