The New Groupthink, on Children’s TV

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As regular readers of this blog know, I am always horrified by examples of what I call “The New Groupthink” — the contemporary belief in elevating group work over individual creativity. (I believe that there’s a place for both, but that the balance in today’s schools and workplaces is currently way out of whack.)

Here’s a great post on “POV Online” from Mark Evanier, creator of many cartoon shows for kids, including a 1980s Hanna-Barbera series about six kids who were transported to a dimension filled with wizards, fire-snorting reptiles, and a despot named Venger.  This is his recollection of how he was told to include “pro-social” messages in the show, the dominant message being that “The Group is Always Right”:

“The kids were all heroic — all but a semi-heroic member of their troupe named Eric.  Eric was a whiner, a complainer, a guy who didn’t like to go along with whatever the others wanted to do.  Usually, he would grudgingly agree to participate, and it would always turn out well, and Eric would be glad he joined in.  He was the one thing I really didn’t like about the show.

So why, you may wonder, did I leave him in there?  Answer: I had to.

As you may know, there are those out there who attempt to influence the content of childrens’ television.  We call them “parents groups,” although many are not comprised of parents, or at least not of folks whose primary interest is as parents.  Study them and you’ll find a wide array of agendum at work…and I suspect that, in some cases, their stated goals are far from their real goals.

Nevertheless, they all seek to make kidvid more enriching and redeeming, at least by their definitions, and at the time, they had enough clout to cause the networks to yield.  Consultants were brought in and we, the folks who were writing cartoons, were ordered to include certain “pro-social” morals in our shows.  At the time, the dominant “pro-social” moral was as follows: The group is always right…the complainer is always wrong.

This was the message of way too many eighties’ cartoon shows.  If all your friends want to go get pizza and you want a burger, you should bow to the will of the majority and go get pizza with them.  There was even a show for one season on CBS called The Get-Along Gang, which was dedicated unabashedly to this principle.  Each week, whichever member of the gang didn’t get along with the gang learned the error of his or her ways.

We were forced to insert this “lesson,” which is why Eric was always saying, “I don’t want to do that” and paying for his social recalcitrance.  I thought it was forced and repetitive, but I especially objected to the lesson.  I don’t believe you should always go along with the group.  What about thinking for yourself?  What about developing your own personality and viewpoint?  What about doing things because you decide they’re the right thing to do, not because the majority ruled and you got outvoted?

We weren’t allowed to teach any of that.”

Question: Have you ever experienced The New Groupthink?

*Many thanks to Ginger W for alerting me to this post from Evanier.

 


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4 Comments

  1. Danielle on 16.05.2011 at 12:32 (Reply)

    Dear Susan:

    In Leadership requires solitude, Mr. William Deresiewicz spoke of the very subject of conformity and its pitfalls to West Point students. It was very interesting reading. I believe the man deserves a medal, but unfortunately he and the West Point sudents he spoke to are outnumbered and will be forced to conform instead of thinking for themselves specifically because of the field they will be working in and because it will be expected by their employer.

    I know I’m going to pick up a whole lot of flack for this, but we live in a society of sheep, as Mr. Deresiewicz so aptly said. He is absolutely correct, but that frame of mind is found the world over. We see this at work, on the news, just everywhere we look and go. I don’t see how we will ever manage to turn things around.

    I’d love to get your take on this.

  2. Luna on 16.05.2011 at 14:34 (Reply)

    Amazing…and we wonder why so many young adults just watch on the sidelines today as terrible things happen to classmates. My son never fit in in elementary school. His avid dislike of team sports caused more than one negative comment from his teachers and required patient explanation (albeit sometimes through gritted teeth) from my husband and I that downhill skiing, hiking, rock climbing and biking were as healthy as soccer and hockey. My son’s elementary school was also filled with cliques that he wanted no part of. My head almost popped off when the parting gift from his limited perspective grade 7 teacher was a note on my son’s report card that my son needed to make more effort to find a larger group of friends in High School. This was in spite of the fact he had one best friend in the school with whom he got along with very well or I guess in this guy’s eyes due to that. I was going to go into the school and try to enlighten him but did not think he had the ability to see things from our perspective so didn’t bother. Once in high school my son met many new people but still shuns groups. He prefers one on one. His friends are often at our home but my son still very much needs his alone time as do my husband and I. Personally I think it is healthy. As far as following the group goes how many times has history proven it is better to think for yourself than follow the group?

  3. Kristen on 17.05.2011 at 08:28 (Reply)

    Wow, wait - really?!?! I gre upmin the 80’s, so shocked that there was an agenda. Reminds me of how we were graded on “good citizenship” in school. I clearly remember not being clear on the concept.

  4. Paul on 27.05.2011 at 02:48 (Reply)

    Evanier makes a an excellent point about having a mind of your own and not always giving in to peer pressure that no rational person could argue with. It’s his choice of whipping boy that baffles me.

    Far from being “dedicated unabashedly to this principle”, the thing Evanier claims happened in every episode of “Get Along Gang” occurs only in one and fleetingly at that. For “pro-social moral” read perfectly valid messages about the value of teamwork, friendship, honesty, fair play, courage, compassion and generosity. For “complainer ” read bully, liar, cheat, thief, selfish, prejudiced, greedy…you get the idea.

    How sad that the article you quote and others like it,expressing the same “P.O.V.”, should prompt so much genuine “groupthink” among those who flatter themselves to be individualists. Most episodes of the show in question have been released on home video in both VHS and DVD formats. There are also at least half a dozen on YouTube, if you care to put M.S.E.’s allegation and this, usually introverted but currently rather brassed off G.A.G. groupie’s own individual Point Of View, to the test.

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