What Are We Teaching the Next Generation?


Lately I have been watching a lot of Dragon Ball. Dragon Ball Z was my favorite show as a child, and it was on pretty much every channel. On New Years Eve I used to spend the day watching all of the DBZ movies, which played back to back on one of the kids channels. I’ve seen every episode of DB and DBZ multiple times. I was feeling a bit nostalgic, so I decided to watch all of the episodes from the beginning of DB to the end of DBZ. Right now I’m at the point where Krillin and Goku meet.

As I’ve been watching DB, I’ve been quite disturbed by the sheer amount of problems with the show that I didn’t notice as a child. It’s kind of a running joke that there is a lot of sexism in the show, but I never realized just how pervasive it is. And I’m surprised that the obvious racism doesn’t get the same attention that the sexism does.

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To begin with the sexism, every major male character either sexually assaults or objectifies Bulma throughout the show. Goku, who is absolutely naive and has the intelligence of a three year old, takes Bulma’s panties off while she’s sleeping. That is beyond disturbing. Oolong and Master Roshi are constantly trying to get Bulma to sleep with them. Oolong even went so far as to offer to turn into underwear for Bulma to wear, and Master Roshi tries to exchange things for sexual favours. And they try to teach Goku to objectify women. Oolong tries to convince Goku that he should want a harem of women, and Master Roshi considers teaching Goku that fat women are ugly Goku’s first lesson in Martial Arts. Yamcha doesn’t sexually assault Bulma, but he does do some very creepy things in the name of curing his fear of women.

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Bulma is often considered a slut because she is willing to show her underwear to get things, but, given how all the men she meets treat her, who can blame her? She’s very clearly learned that her looks matter more than her brains. She clearly doesn’t like being sexually objectified, but she appears not to have the language necessary to express why she doesn’t like the treatment. After all, she never explains to Goku why he shouldn’t feel people up or take off their underwear. In fact, in the DB universe, it seems as though consent doesn’t really exist.

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The shows racism doesn’t appear to be caused by the characters, but it is obviously there. In the DB universe, people of all racial backgrounds live together, and nobody really seems to notice the obvious differences that exist between people. But a number of the characters are problematic. The one that is pointed out the most is Mr. Popo. He looks like he’s wearing black-face. And even his name is problematic.But a lot of the village people are racial stereotypes too. For example, in the village that Goku saves from Oolong, the people are meant to be Native American. All of the people look white, and most of them dress in the same type of clothes that everyone else in the universe wears, but a few of them wear traditional Native American celebratory garb. And the girl being saved is named Pochawampa.

107480-vlcsnap_314355               black-face

A lot of these problems are taken to be a joke. People find them funny. But DB and DBZ are children’s shows. So what are they teaching the children who watch them (not that many children watch them anymore). When I was a kid, I didn’t realize that anything in the show was problematic, I just thought it as funny. So what did I internalize? How much of what I learned still affects me today without my realizing it? What did the largely male audience of that show internalize? And how much of what was internalized has stuck around because they never learned how and why that stuff is problematic? We live in a world where consent isn’t taught, and racial issues are brushed under the rug. We live in a world where sexuality is something to be ashamed of and masculinity equals power. I can see it being very easy to hang on to DB’s sexist and racist messages.

So what are the shows kids watch teaching them? And how are we teaching them that those messages are alright by never teaching them otherwise?

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11 responses to “What Are We Teaching the Next Generation?

  • mitchteemley

    Haven’t watched a ton of anime (though I have a daughter who’s a virtual aficionado on the subject), but, yes, have noticed a great deal of exploitative sex and racial stereotyping. There’s a disturbing amount of pedophilia and borderline pedophilia in the anime and manga world too.

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  • Tonia

    My daughter, who is 16, has a love of all things anime and manga, and has discovered for herself that the sexism is pervasive throughout both mediums. It’s fueled her existing anger at the way “the whole world thinks it has a right to comment on a woman’s body” (her words).
    There is absolutely no way I’d have allowed her near them when she was younger. Now she’s old enough to watch, read and analyse the messages being put across herself, discussing them with me when she wants to. At 16, they are far less likely to take something at face value providing you give them a space to discuss it.

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  • D.T. Nova

    It’s worth noting that Mr. Popo is apparently a djinn, and that the few black humans in the series don’t look anything like him. (Though they do still have big lips.) Though that’s not good enough and at least one of the most recent airings on American television changed Mr. Popo’s color to blue.

    Japanese animation styles are, visually, influenced by older Western animation, including visual stereotypes that have a history of racism here that might not be known to everyone who copies them there.

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  • ejwinner

    Japanese manga and its animated version, anime, were never for kids.

    The confusion arose because these art forms began attracting an audience in the West roughly the same time comic books became ‘illustrated novels,’ their audience considerably older than that for the classic comic book. But manga/anime were always intended for adults and young adults, they have long been violent, sexy, with varying – sometimes extreme – political views expressed. That anime received broadcast in time-slots available to children – without parental warning – only shows how cynical the programmers were.

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  • siriusbizinus

    Personally I never watched any of the franchise, mostly because I felt the stories were horrendous. That there is rampant discriminatory depiction of race and women is merely another bad mark against it.

    I think it is most disturbing to have the phenomenon of people forgiving this sort of thing as a “joke” when there is no clear intention of satire. What I mean is that a show like “South Park” is clearly satirical, and they’ll make fun of anything (including feminism, anti-feminism, and anything else). The difference here is that “South Park” is trying to get people to see how ridiculous some things are, while DBZ is just trying to capitalize on it.

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  • AthenaC

    I think you’re definitely on to something. I noticed a few years ago that certain types of villains in sci-fi TV shows and movies were almost invariably black – the most brutal and vicious ones that couldn’t be reasoned with because they wouldn’t understand / listen to speech. The ones that were meant to be the most feared. For example a particular Klingon or Jem’Hadar in Star Trek comes to mind.

    Not that you could see their skin tone because they were in alien and in heavy makeup, but the Negroid skull structure (yes that’s the technical term) was pretty obvious if you knew what to look for.

    It made me wonder how much stuff like that was reinforcing our stereotypes of black people as big, scary villains or criminals in real life.

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  • Marija

    I honestly thing you are digging way too deep into this show. I honestly can’t disagree per say, because your blogpost also opened my eyes to things I never in my life saw in Dragon Ball. I’ve never paid attention to the stated facts, besides that Bulma was attractive and everybody wanted her.

    Dragon Ball is quite an old show. It was around my dad’s child years, and I think you have to ask yourself what are we teaching newer generations in many other newer forms of entertainment. But not Dragon Ball. You won’t find one person that watched this show from episode one, that will tell you they learned about descrimination of any kind, unless they dug for evidence like yourself.

    It’s like the comments I see that are addressed to all of the Disney movies. People want to find flaws in them and all of a sudden, find all of these hidden sexual terms and distasteful jokes, making it seem like Walt Disney was ploting something bad to show and teach children.

    I think Dragon Ball is the least of anyone’s worries. If there is anything remotely distasteful in this show, triple that wit the amount of the good things you can learn from it, about friendship and family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dontaskformyname

      But if we don’t analyze and consider the subtle (not obvious, but subversive) sexist/racist messages in older movies and tv shows then how can we expect to improve upon those we create in the future? Of course people won’t ‘tell you they learned about discrimination of any kind’ but that doesn’t mean they didn’t. It’s possible to discriminate without realizing it. In fact, many of the really difficult fights we’re fighting now are subconscious, culturally pervasive issues that most people are not aware of, but still contribute to. Take, for instance, the study that showed women are less likely to be hired/promoted/paid well/and even mentored in STEM fields. The study involved providing fake applications to a variety of labs, some with a male name and some with a female name, and then examining the results. Both men and women favored the ‘applicant’ with the male name in every situation, but none thought of themselves as sexist, per say. What that suggests is that we grow up in, and interact with, a culture where sexism manages to gets its claws into us even if we think we’re above it or somehow able to avoid it. Taking a hard, sometimes uncomfortable, look at anything potentially damaging in a culture, especially things that impact children, is necessary if we want to improve upon things in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

    • MommyChickadee

      You might also consider the recent events in Ferguson, MO, as an example of how “under the radar” racism can turn into real problems for real people. The officer wasn’t necessarily a racist, and the black man made mistakes that made trusting much harder, *however* the officer had ideas about black people that influenced his gut reaction toward violence. Too much exposure to images of young violent black men will influence the way that they are perceived by others. My kids started to believe that people with dark skin were “scary” until I started actively counteracting it by giving them more positive examples in real-life relationships as well as in books and movies.

      Liked by 1 person

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