Animated films produced by children offer wide-ranging insights into how the younger generation see the world around them. This was the conclusion of an extensive project run by the "Zoom" Children's Museum in Vienna, Austria. During a number of workshops, children and young people were given the opportunity to make their own animated films. The messages these films contain have now been interpreted as part of the project, which is supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). Initial results indicate that the young generation is in two minds about technological progress and is extremely worried about our impact on the environment. The study also showed that gender stereotypes are far from being overcome.
If a picture speaks a thousand words then films surely speak volumes. Yet it is not always easy to get to grips with the real message behind a movie. The project "2D Movies as the Media of World Views of Children" explored the world through the eyes of children aged 8 to 14 years. Animated films created by the children were analysed and the children were asked about how they use technology, their expectations for the future and gender roles.
Results showed that the children have mixed feelings about the future. Whereas technical progress is regarded as both the root cause of, and solution to problems, fear and worry were the dominant feelings where man's impact on the environment and the labour market were concerned.
Hidden Messages The information contained in the children's films was not always immediately identifiable but had to be "decoded", as principal investigator Dr. Alexander Pollak explains: "Technological progress, for example, is often depicted in these films in the form of spaceships and linked to the USA. This illustrates the key significance of film consumption for how children view the world. The role of the children themselves is also unclear at first glance. They rarely appear in the films as themselves, but are often represented by animals hemmed in by the world of adult humans. Due to a lack of social standing and power, the animals have to work together, relying on courage and ingenuity to help one another out of awkward situations. In contrast, the children were explicitly critical of damage caused to the environment, which was a central theme in several films."
The roles the children assign to their own and the opposite gender are equally complex. Men are depicted either as depressed and lonely losers, or as successful go-getters. It was in films made by girls that men are most often portrayed as losers - a role that is never applied to women. According to Dr. Pollak, "What is particularly noteworthy is the scale of clichéd gender stereotyping prevalent in these children's perceptions of the world around them. The children clearly differentiate between making a man's film and a woman's film and the same applies to the characters that appear in the films."
No Morals to the Stories During the project, a total of over 50 workshops were observed and 200 animated films subjected to detailed analysis. Workshop participants included primarily young grammar school pupils, but pupils from mainstream secondary schools were also involved, all of whom worked in small groups to create their films. A specially equipped film lab and a specially developed computer animation program were made available to them.
Once the children had completed the much-enjoyed job of producing their films, project workers began the difficult task of analyzing them. This work incorporated numerous different disciplines, ranging from semiotics and sociology to film studies.
Looking at the films on the basis of narrative theory, it is particularly interesting that many of the films did not conclude by communicating a moral. As a result, the children tasked viewers with unlocking the meaning of the films for themselves - a task that was taken on enthusiastically by Vienna's Children's Museum during the FWF project. Indeed, the project succeeded in demonstrating that animated films represent a medium that enables children to broach complex issues. The task now is to ensure that children's views on the world they live in and their messages are taken as seriously as they ought to be.
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