Unlike classical folktale structures and themes — behave or die, prince charming will rescue you, or stay away from adventures or die — the modern kid lit texts seems to have developed into its own beast.
It seems safe to assume that everyone has been exposed to the Star Wars stories, and the generation of children that followed the original three films, the 90’s kids, were exposed to TV shows like Power Rangers, Dragon Ball Z, and Batman: The Animated Series, all of which have a few things in common with Star Wars. Within these texts, there is a resounding presence of light vs. dark, good vs. evil, confronting inner demons, and being reintroduced into a sacred space with “kick-ass” powers, and of course, how can we forget, the special “chosen one.” So when exposed to the new hit TV show Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu recently, we must stop to think, what is it about these Star Wars themes that are taking over children’s texts lately?
Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu is an animated series that airs on Cartoon Network and is currently in its sixth season. This extremely popular TV program, created by the Lego Corporation, is about five, pubescent male characters who discover that they are the ones who must fight for good in their world and maintain the sanctified balance for everyone else. Of course, there is one who is the “true chosen one,” Lloyd, whose father Lord Garmadon (wait can you guess?) turned evil and is bringing evil into the world. Lloyd, along with his friends Jay, Cole, Zane, and Kai, train under Sensei Wu, Lord Garmadon’s brother, and learn about patience and how to fight the evil forces. Ok… so not only does this story follow a semi-Star-Wars-esque theme, but it also hones in to the 90’s popular TV shows, like Power Rangers, where each character contains their own unique power but when combined with their friends, will always create the most awesomely powerful weapon.
While this may sound like a show that is positively influencing the younger generation to continue the wise lessons Master Yoda embodies, the use of Legos for the animation holds an opposing connotation. Here, Sarah Banet-Weiser’s definition of “brand-culture” in American society can be explored through how it continuously maintains the illusion of childhood imagination and personification of “goodness,” but also how it simultaneously supports a capitalistic society. As in the 2014 Lego Movie’s implied didactic message arguably attempting to inspire children to express themselves in imaginative ways, it also promotes the belief of individuality through the concept of “special-ness,” like being chosen for “Ninjahood.” While The Lego Movie is very explicit in its anti-corporation message, the characters that prevail in both the movie and these TV shows are the ones that think outside the box and learn to work with others. Once labeled as one who will “bring balance to the universe,” it appears that “goodness” is used as a selling strategy. The movie itself tricks the audience into acquiring a false sense of empowerment through the exaggeration of paying for a $12 coffee or still loving the song that repeats on the radio every hour; yet, this paradox only hides the truth that branching away from this corporate control only introduces new methods of control. “Goodness” or being trained on the “good side” can be seen as a super power, which exposes the continuation of brand-culture because it is the corporation that ultimately contains this power. Through self-discovery, these characters encompass more that just perfect citizenship (“valuable ideology”), perhaps mirroring a story that may have intended to truly inspire “goodness” but instead perpetuates new children’s text with the theme that good will always prevail over evil.
So in a world where the Disney Corporation owns the rights to Star Wars and Lego™ suggests childhood dreams should be built in blocks, the commodification of “goodness” is resoundingly present in the texts created for the current generation’s children.
- Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Authentic TM: The Politics and Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York, N.Y.: New York University Press, 2012.
- Ninjago Information from Lego Wiki: http://lego.wikia.com/wiki/Ninjago