The Medium Is The Message = No Kids?
Random thought concerning the (maybe) reproduction crisis. Does mass media have representative amounts of children anymore? I vaguely recall media of the 80s/early 90s showing a lot of children around everywhere.
Somewhere in the 90s most of the kids disappeared. I think it started with the downfall of the 80s family sitcoms, which were supplanted by Seinfeld and Friends, two extremely child-lacking shows. This isn’t a bad thing, there’s a lot of target demographics out there.
But when I think of children in media now, they seem to be almost gone? It’s not just a few shows or movies, it’s the vast majority. No one has time for children. They are a distraction from whatever is actually important in life. Children are very costly in terms of time and energy, and portraying children realistically would necessitate including them in the structure of a narrative. Most narratives don’t want to bother, they have other stories to tell.
Importantly, people who are portrayed doing anything interesting or meaningful in life also either don’t have children, or have the children shuffled off to the side. Adults have no rewarding interaction with children on-screen that shows them as something that enriches the adult’s lives and their work.
Even WandaVision… wait, is it too soon? Spoilers incoming.
(spoilers for WandVision in this offset paragraph)
WandaVision—which is ostensibly about Wanda’s desire for a family and the joys of home life with loving children—even WandaVision had basically 0 minutes of interaction between Wanda and her children, and instead focused on her relationship with Vision, her struggles with accepting reality, not abusing her power, and shooting light beams at bad guys.
In fact, in most of the media I do see, children are primarily a way to motivate the main character either by being threatened, kidnapped, or outright killed. Children are a liability, a weakness that can be used against you, with no upside to justify that weakness. Obviously real parents of real children understand the upside, which is why the threat is compelling for them… but for people without children, what exactly is our motivation to create such a soft underbelly for our enemies to exploit?
Maybe this is just my particular media bubble? But compared to older works that had children stuffed willy-nilly into the world, newer works are stripped bare of children. People live happy, exciting, amazing lives without the burden of children. Those that do have children don’t get little out of it aside from complications and heartache. When most of our relationships are parasocial, and most of our interaction with the world is through a screen, how are our views of what a normal life looks like altered by a deficit like this? I suppose it varies by the person, but I suspect it has to have some effect.
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I've noticed this for a while now in fantasy fiction.
Even though they are supposed to portray a pre-modern world (+magic), most of them don't contain any children (or at least very few), even in scenes where you'd expect them. All the characters whose family situation we know, have a single child or were an only child themselves. At most they had one sibling. At the same time they live in a terribly dangerous world with extremely high death rates where large amounts of children would be needed just to keep the population stable.
Our group of cool heroes rolls into a small town/village, being the most interesting thing this place has seen in years, and no kids swarm around them asking questions or at least watching everything they do? Just very unbelievable and apparently completely unnoticed by the author.
I think people just forgot to an extent what it's like when kids are all around. To a young childless adult in a big city, children are pretty invisible in real life as well. There are much less of them proportionally than in the past (demographic crisis) and those that are around, are hidden away either in school, daycare or at home. Not just running around outside anymore.
I wonder how much of this is just the kind of shows people consume as adults. Or if it’s the fact that TV has become less focused on family-friendliness in the last couple of decades. Even shows that have lots of kid focus (eg Stranger Things) aren’t exactly suitable for children.
I like the observation and I’ll keep my eyes open for examples of positive child representation in media. :)