saving our sons from superheroes, slackers, and other media stereotypes

About the Book

Packaging Boyhood explores how media and marketing target boys as they grow up and how media messages and stereotypes affect boys' identities, choices, and expectations about what it means to be a boy and a man. There are five main chapters in the book: What they watch; What they wear; What they read; What they hear; and What they do. Since we want parents to help their sons critique media images and messages, we also offer a final chapter with a good bit of at-home media literacy advice that encourages conversations between you and your son. Check out the topics and a short excerpt from each chapter below: Chapter 1: Big, Bold, and Branded: What Boys Wear Clothes Make The (Little) Man Special Forces Jungle Fighter Child Fashion With Attitude All Boy, All The Time: Graphic Tees and Jerseys Smells Like Teen Spirit Keepin’ It Real: Hip Hop Fashion Sneaker Lifestyle Image and Self From Special Forces Jungle Fighter Child

Surf the web, flip through the many catalogs, or walk through department stores beginning in early September to look for a Halloween costume and Boyhood (that’s with a capital B) will assault you at every turn.  Take him to any big box store like Walmart or Target and your little boy can pour over a dizzying array of costumes.  When boiled down, his choices include scary characters, fighters, and heroes – either in super form, like Spiderman or Batman, or the real life version, like police officers, military personnel, or sports stars.  For the youngest boys there’s the occasional Pooh Bear or SpongeBob, even a cute puppy or lion, but they are buried in an avalanche of ninjas, special Delta force soldiers, and Transformers.

Chapter 2:  Super Size Me: What Boys Watch So Hyper So Soon: Boys and TV Saturday Morning Mayhem No Girls Allowed!  Saturday Morning Commercials Me TV WWE TV Boy Vs. Discovery Channel  Slacker Satire and Offensive TV Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed From Superman to Superbad: Boys and Movies Bros Before Does With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility Men Will Be Boys Last Girl Standing? Horror Flicks One Man Alone: Heroes and Anti-Heroes There’s No “I” in TEAM? What to Watch and How to Respond From Bros Before Does

Buddy relationships in these movies provide a special opportunity to define what’s okay to do and say between male friends and to show what “normal” friendship between guys looks and sounds like.  Shaming and teasing are okay.  Physical closeness isn’t. When one night by the fire Sid the Sloth from Ice Age says, “how ‘bout a goodnight kiss?” Manny the mammoth is speechless and uncomfortable, which maybe we could understand.  But the reason Sid asks is to underscore a neediness he’ll be shamed for throughout the film. In Surf’s Up, when mentor Z saves surfer Cody’s life and Cody tries to hug him, Z says, “Hey, hey, man, none of that” and calls him a loser.  It’s a joke, but we get the picture.  In Open Season a pair of macho beavers (manly laborers that they are) call Boog a diva and tease the buddies about their closeness: “Keep on prancing you panty-waistin’ cow.”  Maybe adults can distinguish the kind of cruel bullying the beavers deliver from the buddy to buddy warnings, but to little boys they all say loud and clear that physical closeness between boys is a no-no. It’s hard to support your son’s emotional needs at home when almost any expression of feelings and physical closeness in his favorite movies is edged with discomfort, shame, and a surprising level of cruelty.

Chapter 3:  It’s a Guy Thing: What Boys Read Books Boys who Dare…to be Different: Little Boys and Reading We Know “Everyone Poops”, But… Real Boys In Fantasy Battle School Fighting the Battle Within: Loneliness, Vulnerability, and Cruelty Read A Book, Read A Book, Read A Mutha Bleepin’ Book: Race and Reading Action Books: A Contradiction in Terms? Magazines The Short Trip From Earth to Mars Big, Bigger, Biggest: Teen Boy Magazines The Amazing Captain-Super-Iron-Man-of-Steel Reading Between Those Lines: Why Boys Don’t Read From We Know “Everyone Poops”, But…

Sure kids of all ages get the giggles over farts and burps and underpants – that’s not something marketers have to instill in them.  But there’s something about the sheer volume of these books and the influx of this genre of children’s book into the lives of very young children that we find somewhat suspicious.  It’s as if the sarcasm, sense of irony, celebration of mischief, destruction, and disruption must all begin at once; that no matter your son’s age, marketers are picturing him as a “cool”, rebellious teenager.  It’s as if before a librarian can even say “shush” or a teacher can remind him to take turns, a boy has to be taught to express his right to be a troublemaker.  This seems like a double bind for these teachers too – they’re encouraged to give boys books that equate boyness with disruptive and gross and then when they need to control them they’re criticized for suppressing natural boyhood. Boys can’t and mustn’t be repressed.  Politeness is for goody goodies. Order is for wusses.  And at the expense of teachers and boys, it has to be good for marketers if a boy learns early to shrug off a parent’s choice or sees that pestering and a healthy case of the gimmes will net something fun.

Chapter 4:  Do You Hear What I Hear:  What Boys Listen To Creating Identities Through Music Playing Like A Boy Band of Brothers Practice Makes Perfect Rock and Roll, Anger and Angst Rebels With A Cause: Alternative Music Mixing It Up:  Hip Hop and Rap I’m Still A Guy: Country Music From Raffi to Rap: Listen and Sing From Mixing It Up: Hip Hop and Rap

[I]t’s important to appreciate the complexity of hip hop and rap.  Some say that hip hop is a lifestyle and rap is the music of that lifestyle; some associate hip hop music with MCs and DJs, grafitti and beat-boxing, all with more positive rhymes, vs. rap, which is more gangsta or commercialized.  No matter.  Either way, if your son is into hip hop what you need to know is 1) he’s engaging with a wide range of messages, images, and products, and the music is central to all of it; 2) many of the artists your son may be a huge fan of like Nelly, 50 Cent, and Lil Wayne, offer some of the most sexually degrading and violent verse and videos in the music scene today; 3) your son is participating in a public conversation about who’s most authentic, which means he is helping to define the culture of masculinity through his choice of music; and 4) hip hop and rap are in constant motion; it’s all about changing things up.  The songs and artists we write about today will be different by the time you read this--but we suspect the general themes won’t be.

Chapter 5:  Wanna Play?  What Boys Do Put the Pedal to the Metal: Greeting Cards for Little Boys Planes, Trains, Automobiles…and Guns:  Boys’ Toys Super Strong, Super Cool:  Action Figures Extreme Performance! Even on Training Wheels “Gro to Pro”: Sports Stuff Getting His Game On The Fastest Man Wins: NASCAR Full Throttle Drinking Big Guys, Big Guns The Need for Speed Boys Will Be Players: Sex Acts and Media Pornification of Boyhood Blood, Guts, and Glory: Just Another Day at the Screen Your Place or MySpace To Do Is To Be From Planes, Trains, Automobiles…and Guns:  Boys’ Toys

. . . What happens, though, when a whole generation of boys have fantasies of violence imposed on them? When they’re told that this is what boys love to do, what boys need to work on? When they’re given detailed story lines based on PG-13 movies?   No, guns per se aren’t the problem. It’s that other kinds of toys are excluded, guns have become a part of all kinds of toys, and the philosophy of excessive violence is inherent to these toys.

For example, what the heck happened to NERF?  Wasn’t NERF supposed to be the soft alternative to toy guns?  Last we checked, you could pop orange foam balls in the air and catch them in rugby-like rackets.  Nope.  Not anymore. Couldn’t find those.  NERF is, however, ominously still present in toy stores throughout the US.  There is the NERF N-Strike Tech Target, the N-Strike Rapid Fire AS-20 (machine gun type blaster), a gun called the Buzzsaw, another called the Hornet AS-6.  There is the Attack Unit, the Recon CS-6, Firefly REV-8, and an election favorite, we guess, the Maverick.  These were gun like contraptions with soft orange bullet like projectiles that emerge in groups, somewhat akin, we conjecture, to semi-automatics.  Not “dangerous”, per se… but lethal.

Chapter 6:  Rebel, Resist, and Refuse: Conversations With Our Sons Reality-Based Parenting Talking With Your Little Boy Introducing the S Word Buy Me That! Boys vs. Girls Talking With Your Preteen Father Knows Squat: Media Dads (And Missing Moms) Stinky Boys and Disrespectful Teens The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat Talking With Your Middle Schooler School and Smarts Shoot ‘Em Up The F Word Talking With Your High Schooler Risk Taking and Self-Harm Talking Sex: You vs. The Media Power and Privilege From Talking With Your Preteen

Father Knows Squat:  Media Dads (and Missing Moms)

So why are there so many of these dorky dads?  What purpose do they serve? These are great conversations to have with your preteen son because, while stupid dads are not just a “tween” TV phenomenon, it’s where your son gets his first big dose of this message.  That’s because it’s more than just an easy, cheap laugh – you know, the guy who’s supposed to be in charge and who thinks he’s in charge, but who isn’t really?  It’s also part of what makes TV for this age group work:  make the dads god-awful dorks or get rid of moms altogether so the tween stars can shine in a smart, independent weirdly over-mature sort of way.  It says to the seven to twelve year olds watching, you are no longer children, you’re cool teenagers.  It’s a calculated move designed to hurry kids along the road to independent consumerism because of course the shows are there to sell the commercial products. What better way to get a share of that multi-billion dollar market than to teach kids to ditch parental concerns?  This is why the tweens in these shows hang out in cool teen-like bedrooms and enjoy the pseudo drinking party scenes with hot girls at dance clubs and on the beach.  It’s also why parents are lame-brained.  Attentive parents would just ask annoying questions, like, “Is there an adult home to supervise the party?”, “Is this gadget a good investment?”, or “What about saving for college?”  Bumbling dads, however, can be fooled or played.  And missing moms?  Heck, yeah!