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Breaking old storyteling steroetypes research study
Scris de mihaiela lazar   
Duminică, 08 Mai 2016 20:25



Profesor limba engleză Cristina Lungan

Școala Gimnazială ,,Sfânta Vineri” Ploiești, Prahova

The consuming society has left its marks upon children’s way of thinking and behaving and has changed their lifestyle dramatically. Being a consumer is an indisputable part of modern life – for children, too. The market economy influences everything. Today, it is almost impossible to imagine a society without consumption or, for that matter, a society with falling consumption. Some naturally consume more than others, but everyone consumes. Economic conditions set their limits exactly as does our age. The oldest have a different consumer culture than the youngest. The oldest did not grow up as consumers, and so depend far less on consumption and the codes and symbols that are attached to consumption. However, when we look at youth, it is different. The younger people are, the more they are marked by consumerism, and the more normal it is to be a consumer and, for better or worse, navigate as one through life.

The children are eager to recreate modern versions of well known fairy tales because they have three reasons to enjoy this activity: firstly, children are always fond of stories (it is in their nature); secondly, 21st century children are interested in television, computers, science fiction and everything that has to do with technology and thirdly they enjoy speaking English as long as they do it to communicate for fun, without having to worry about the mistakes they make or the marks they will have to get. Despite the fact that the word cliché has been used fairly freely lately I have come to the conclusion that in general clichés and stereotypes have both advantages and disadvantages as far as communication is concerned. Regarding their usage by our “cybernetic” children they represent meaningful and easily recognizable expressions of thinking, behaving patterns and values. Thus, children can differentiate themselves not only from each other, but also from their parents and grandparents. Even if this way of approaching things has its drawbacks, as well, we cannot deny its overall positive effect. Children are the first who want to change or “break” stereotypes and clichés as they immediately sense something boring and overused. They only keep the old ones which help them be introduced in the universe of fairy tales and their childhood, as well.

In English story making, I have noticed the influence of surrounding/external world: high technology, latest fancy cars, luxurious villas, supermarkets, fast food restaurant, businesspeople, etc, irrespective of their ultimate goal. The students create original stories for various reasons: either to develop their oral/writing skills, enrich their vocabulary or learn particular English structures, useful to them in speaking it as fluently as possible. The characters have undergone major changes: Little Red Riding Hood is pink or orange like the world the little girls live in; she is in a serious competition with the so-called negative character. Moreover, the wolf gets the leading role and thus the plot alters according to changes he has to go through. However, he must be punished and consequently the stereotype is preserved.

I have carried out a study to evaluate the 4th graders’ perception of them using new stereotypes in their modern versions of Little Red Riding Hood. The group consisted of 18 students from class 4B who were very fond of English storytelling and in order to show how efficient stories are in teaching English I asked them to create modern versions of the well-known fairy story “Little Red Riding Hood”. I wanted to see how many of them used old formulas of “Once upon a time” and “They lived happily ever after”. I consider them clichés, although lacking the negative connotations this term implies. Paradoxically many clichés have turned out to be the starting point in learning English faster and helped them remember the stories better. I also tried to see what new stereotypes they have created and how much our consuming society has influenced them.

The opening formula is kept in most of the children’s stories because it needs to lead us in a magic universe, in their childhood world, so different from ours. In this fantastic world their imagination plays an important role and fulfils all their wishes: the child can fly, talk to the animals; therefore he is in charge of this world and can turn everything to stone or give life just by clapping his hand or by touching the magic wand.

Comparatively, the closing formula is changed up to a certain point (the means of transport suffer a few modifications). For example the writer does not ride a horse anymore, but a genuine Harley Davidson, the cheerfulness of the old weddings which used to last for three days and three nights turned into a nice family picnic in the forest. Each and every original ending means returning to the real world, to their own understanding and perception of reality.

Analysing the stories the students recreated I realised that what they tried to do was to create more credible stories in order to make older children fall asleep and consequently they have come up with up-to-date facts. For example they started with the title and used different names for Little Red Riding Hood to fit the modern world she lives in now. For example she is called Little Pink Riding Hood (like in Barbie dolls), Little Black Roller Skater (like in the latest crazes children use nowadays to have fun), Little Red Riding Hood in the Year 2200.

She lives in a villa or in a luxurious flat or hotel and she travels in black BMW, planes, limos, motorbikes or jeeps. LRRH talks on a mobile phone to her mother who is a business woman and, together they organise parties. Sometimes LRRH meets grandma at the Mall or at MacDonald’s. In some modern versions the wolf is tricked by LRRH and he never gets to grandma’s house. Grandma can also trick the wolf because she looks younger as she uses face cream and goes to a beauty parlour. As a result the wolf falls in love with Grandma. In almost all the stories LRRH buys the things she needs for her grandmother from supermarkets or MacDonald’s, but sometimes she makes sure that the food has no cholesterol because grandma is very old. Little Red Riding Hood is not afraid of walking by herself in the deep dark forest. Moreover she considers them clichés. Not even LRRH believes in stereotypes and chooses to continue her way to Grandma.

I think the wolf is a victim of those people who consider him an outlaw of the community he lives in. The fact that the wolf must be the bad character is a stereotype and the children wanted to change that. In their stories he is a very modern character. An argument in favour of the wolf modernity is the fact that even in the old story he has no problems in wearing Grandma’s clothes. However the bad character is not always the wolf; it can also be a fugitive or a robot and thus breaking the unfair stereotype according to which the wolf is always the bad character responsible for all the terrifying experiences the main character has to undergo. Therefore I can even say that the children’s stories demolish the old stereotypes and clichés. Everybody encounters or uses clichés every day.

There are also patterns of behaviour that they have come I might call them “positive clichés” in stories as they do not lead us to an unfair or biased judgement of a situation or of a place. The stories children have created are even educational as they have a message to convey. The bad guys are always caught, for example the fugitive is caught by the police is not killed (as it happens in the original version). On the contrary he goes to jail to pay for the bad things he has done (and thus another stereotype is demolished).

Using their perception, understanding and interpretation, children create new clichés: granny goes to beauty parlours and changes so much that the wolf can hardly recognise her; Little Red Riding Hood’s mother is a successful businesswoman who has no time to look after her daughter properly, the psychosis of nowadays diseases makes the wolf not eat up a sick old woman, LRRH is a naughty girl who travels by modern means of transport (roller-skates, limo, motorbike, plane), and the basket is full of goodies from MacDonald’s.

Children learn from age 9-11 to save up, spend, and make consumer choices. The 9 year-olds’ vocabulary consists of product names. Children’s Christmas wishes mention specific brand names. A doll is no longer an anonymous doll, but a concept doll that is already equipped with name and identity. Are consumer children a natural part of the society of the future? Parents buy on their behalf as never before, and they have their own money at an early age. Children have become consumers, whether we like it or not. Not only are companies and “evil” market forces responsible; to a great degree, parents are, too.

Sometimes what we imagine to be a child’s fantasy world is influenced by stereotypes which come from cartoons and films. For instance when one thinks of LRRH, one may picture a girl wearing pink clothes, roller-skates and long blond hair. This is the description of a Barbie doll, the children see everywhere: on TV, supermarkets, in the park. In the original story LRRH is all dressed in red, but the child wanted to change the old stereotype and replaced it with a new one, because he/she borrowed it from the consuming society around him. The old stereotype has survived partly because children are still told fairy tales by their grandmothers or go to Disneyland, which has also been adjusted to answer the needs of today’s consuming society; it still preserves the magic of what is now out of fashion. The same thing happens in all domains of life: for example if one thinks of a typical English businessman, one may picture a man wearing a pinstriped suit and a bowler hat, and carrying an umbrella. In reality, one rarely sees men dressed like this in London today. The explanation is that Europeans are still watching TV series made in the 1960s in which the main character dresses like a typical City gentleman. Nowadays, because of American influence, most children in Europe prefer wearing jeans and T-shirts and eat in fast food restaurants. Perhaps future generations will think that Little Barbie Riding Hoods are the original fairy tale girls based on what they hear from their parents, but let us hope that our grandmothers or great grandmothers will still be around to tell them the real fairy tales.

In conclusion, this study has started from the assumption that communication is an issue which has been widely spread lately, due to its efficiency in solving the problems that arise among speakers. I have understood the fact that the students really enjoy storytelling and I should make use of it as much as possible during my English classes. The method has surely proved to be a tool for my self-development since it allows me to analyse myself and my teaching.

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