Author Archives: Phil Bowermaster

No Good Disney Role Models for Boys?

TarzanWriting at The Federalist, Allison Hull has a bone to pick with Disney: Why Does Disney Hate Boys So Much? All Their Male Characters Are Losers. There is much here that I agree with, especially the Disney Channel’s overwhelming preference for girls over boys. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if they could find a way to encourage CHILDREN to dream big, rather than just girls? (I’m sure Uncle Walt would approve.)

The argument, of course, is that boys get that message from everywhere, all the time. I kind of doubt that’s true in this day and age. The message boys get over and over today is that girls can be anything they want. Maybe this makes up for many years of the message going the other way, but I’m not sure how punishing today’s boys makes things better for girls of the past.

Still, Hull’s argument that there are no good role models to be found on the Disney Channel or in Disney movies, even recent ones, is wrong.

For example, her notion that Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates somehow doesn’t count as a strong male lead because he’s a pirate is silly. Jake is a good kid, in context. My children, who love that show, don’t really get that “pirate” means “bad guy.” In Neverland, there are good pirates and bad pirates. Jake and his friends are good ones.

Also, what about Miles from Tomorrowland? Miles is a strong male lead in a show that highlights the importance of a family working together. A good show for boys and girls.

And she gets it wrong about the Disney movies, too. Aladdin is a boy of exceptional character — he foregoes his own (stolen) meal to feed two younger, hungrier kids. He is the only one worthy of entering the cave of wonders. He finally learns to stop being afraid that he’s not good enough and do what’s right for everyone — even the genie. It’s a great story, and the fact that he starts out as a thief on the streets with “poor personal hygiene” (um, who cares?) doesn’t detract from any of that.

Likewise, Kristoff in Frozen is a good, reliable guy. He works hard and he does what’s right. He’s kind to animals and he has a good sense of humor. This is a good role model. The fact that he is a bit of a loner is a good thing. He is the very John Wayne character the author is looking for. Once again she makes a big deal about personal hygiene. I wonder if Hull lets her sons watch old westerns, or is she put off by how smelly those guys must have been?

Finally, no mention of Disney’s Tarzan. My five year-old boy loves that movie. Tarzan is brave, strong, kindhearted, smart, and he finds a way to bridge two very different worlds. I’m guessing the author disapproves based on the lack of shower facilities in the jungle.

Anyway, I think the bias Hull describes is real. But her case would be more convincing if she didn’t attempt to sweep all contrary examples under the rug.

UPDATE: I went looking for a picture of Tarzan to use and I stumbled upon this amazing story. So Anna, Elsa, and Tarzan are all siblings? That can’t be right. Tarzan is English, not Scandinavian. I don’t care who plays him!


AsianLadyiPadOccasionally on Facebook I get to point out that anything I post without comment is likely something I intend to read later because it strikes me as potentially interesting. These posts often result in comments, which then remind me that I meant to read the thing. It’s a way of outsourcing a reminder to read something to my friends and family. But it does lead to the occasional fun when somebody gets all bent of shape and admonishes me to stop deceiving the public with my pernicious lies or whatever.

I got some feedback along those lines for linking to this piece: A Japanese technique for overcoming laziness.

I’m interested in Kaizen (with a capital K) because I used to manage the total quality program for the product engineering and development group within the telecom company where I was employed. In the 1980′s and early 90′s, many American companies discovered and began implementing Japanese management practices in an effort to become competitive. The irony is that one of the pillars of those practices was the statistical quality control introduced into Japan by the U.S. after the war. W. Edwards Deming was an American; interesting that the prize named after him is awarded in Japan!

One of the early adopters of statistical process control was Toyota, whose management saw an immediate fit with their continuous, incremental, team-based production improvement process — what they called their “kaizen” process. It was built on simple principles geared to foster continuous improvement.

Toyota didn’t invent that word. It’s an everyday Japanese word that means “change for the better” or more simply “improvement.” On its own, it doesn’t mean continuous improvement or working in teams or practicing statistical process control or spending a minute every day on something — which is apparently what the confused author of the piece linked above seems to think — or any of the rest of that stuff. However, it has become associated with  those things in the minds of many western managers and consultants who understand Kaizen (with a capital K) to be a Japanese management philosophy. Books by Masaaki Imai — who did not “invent” Kaizen, as the linked piece erroneously states — and others have contributed heavily to this understanding of what Kaizen is.

I haven’t worked in quality management for many years now, but the idea of continuous improvement has stuck with me. I come up with elaborate formulations like The Human Imperative to try to explain why this principle is so important. But I have always loved the elegant simplicity of Kaizen.

For all its flaws, the piece linked  provides some pretty good advice. Spend one minute, every day at the same time, trying to work on one area of potential improvement. For example, the author of the linked piece might work on his or her research / fact-checking processes. I would add that it doesn’t have to be a minute, and you don’t have to just work on one thing, and you don’t need to do it at the same time every day.

And, for that matter, you don’t have to call it Kaizen. But you can if you want to. As long as you are talking about making something better, that word works.