UNST 254U: Pop Culture
Professor Daneen Bergland
Stereotype: Only Child
Just to start off as my personal story, I once heard a speech on YouTube about the thoughts we have and the identities we hold. At first I was sure that I knew where my thoughts originated from, but as the lecture went on I noticed there were infinite influences. We are constantly affected by what’s going on around us, whether it is done willingly or unwillingly. This directly relates to the discussions about how media shapes and frames our thinking. Once we notice how we became who we are now, we start to think deeply about how we can filter our daily influences. As an only child, there are largely three classifications of the stereotype. The typical spoiled rotten child, a reckless and bratty characteristic, and lastly the true personality of me who tries to overcome the stereotypes and understand the uniqueness of me although it’s rarely shown on the media. While we often see examples on the media that stereotypes only child characters, this should not be applied in real life because stereotypes aren’t serving us with the purpose of finding patterns in life, but mostly blinding us from seeing the reality. Also, there are numerous psychological studies that already prove only children are more of an opposite from the stereotypes we see. This concern applies to everyone who tries to find the reason to determine their identity amongst what they see in themselves, and what others expect them to be.
The search in understanding my only child identity started from what other people thought of me. The so-called typical only child is where I started, which was nicely portrayed in London Tipton in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.
She is an heiress of the hotel and the only child of the owner. She shows the most self-centered and spoiled characteristics in the episodes. She is unrealistically incompetent as the only heiress of the hotel, also with all the traits that perfectly corresponds to a stereotyped only child. She is very fortunate to get all the money from her parents, and because she gets endless attention for no good achievement she grow up to be a self-centered person without any consideration for others. In most episodes she tries to control people using money, and it uses that element to evoke humor out of the story. Although she believes to be smart, she is easily manipulated and persuaded by other workers at the hotel, which portrays ignorance and stupidity. This is spoiled rotten character is the stereotype that is easily shown on the media, although it’s the opposite in reality. The impression I had from this character was more of a surprise and jealousy rather than relating to it. It seemed to be a fantasized version of only children in the world, but as an actual only child it’s annoying to be seen as a rich, spoiled child when I didn’t have the same background. It was hard to relate to the character, but it was definitely an interesting element in the story. The “side effect” from it, is the strong impact of the character actually makes us think the stereotype holds true.
As I said above, stereotypes towards only children contradict the reality. This is not only through my personal experience but there are numerous studies that support this. Lily and Manny from the Modern Family are examples of an only child that portrays different stereotypes. People tend to perceive the only child influence during their development stage, and seen as another obstacle in their lives. Lily is an adopted daughter of Cam and Mitchell, who is also the youngest of the large family. She acts out a little bratty girl who loves to dress up, and adored by all. She’s also identified as the drama-queen not only because of her humor, but also because of all the costumes she wears. She often dresses up as celebrities or princesses for impromptu photo shoots, which naturally makes her a center of attention. There are dramatic scenes that happen because of her literal sayings to, but she holds a mild attitude as if nothing happened. By seeing her change from bratty to careless once trouble happens, makes us think she’s manipulative and rude. Manny, when he used to be an only child, shows a little arrogance in between his serious personality.
They both show the stereotypes that we’re aware of, bratty and arrogant, but it’s toned down due to such a dynamic family. But, it is perceived by many audiences that bratty and arrogant personality is through this development stage, and can be perceived as a form of a disability. Lauren Sandler points out that people these days view only children as if it’s a disability since it directly connects with maladjusted personality. We can be blindfolded by the humor of the story that is easily found and the fact that we tend to be more understanding if the characters are set at a younger age. Despite what we think, our unconsciousness may have already picked up the connection between rudeness and being an only child. This is where we need to filter our influences, and keep ourselves aware of the anomalies. The characters show contradicting traits, such as the mixture of being an introvert and the desire to be in the center of attention. It was elaborated in Manny by giving him an interest in poems, talking often relating himself with elders, and being a romantic. Another significant part of him is he tends to think as if he’s in the center of attention, clearly shown by his line “Ok. Everyone’s thinking it, I’m just saying it: My jacket’s a mess!” when everyone was talking about a different topic.
On a psychology lecture I once watched, it started out by advising us to find the anomaly in what we believe to be true in order to change. In other words, by not justifying or teaching myself about the stereotypes would be the way to stop judging myself by the stereotypes. In order to find the anomaly, I searched for characters that don’t portray the “typical” only child that we think of. It has characteristics that fit an only child but he overcame those stereotypes and expresses his unique personality. This example not only describes the trouble he went through, such as how the society sets standards and judges him by the stereotypes. Hiccup from How To Train Your Dragon shows a different version of the stereotypical only child.
He is born as the only son of the Chief of the tribe, under the pressure of taking over his father’s title someday. Although he doesn’t enjoy killing dragons, he lived under the pressure that he had to follow the culture in order to live up to the expectation. He thinks different than other kids in the tribe, feeling sympathetic rather than having the urge to hunt. He was shown different, strange, and an outcast of the tribe. He was under the pressure to prove himself as the son of the Chief, which makes it more relatable for the only children these days. The only child trait is an obstacle that Hiccup overcomes then gains popularity within the tribe. The message I got here after reading the interview by Lauren Sandler is that any stereotype can be an obstacle to us, but once we find that it doesn’t apply to us it could possibly be a stepping-stone to make changes. Not only in order to better ourselves, but also the changes around us like what Hiccup achieved. What I mean by bettering us doesn’t mean we have to change, but by understanding the strength in our unique personality we can focus on exercising the strengths. This could eventually free us from limiting and strangling ourselves to the stereotypes by measuring ourselves by what we call “the standards”. Like what the movie is telling us, if we see ourselves as who we are and understand our personality, we will eventually meet those who see us as how we do.
“It’s disappointing either way when people say you are or aren’t like an only child” (Lauren Sandler). This clearly tells us that people have certain expectations and others are measured against those criteria. It is not pleasing to hear that others have certain expectations that you should live up to. If we don’t want people to judge us by the stereotypes it’s a start if we see others and myself as whom we are in the inside. Becoming flexible in thinking, yielding to others, and respecting each background is another way to see the true personality without looking through the stereotypes. Many studies already prove that the only child stereotypes are closer to a complete opposite of what the media shows. One of the biggest misconception people have is that they think only children get special treatment. When we’re making this assumption, we forget that monetary support comes from the family’s economic standpoint. But once a wealthy background comes, every child will be blessed with everything they want whether or not he or she is an only child. The parents with an only child don’t necessarily have better income, nor it means that parents with two or more children suffer. There are already numerous examples that do not support the idea of stereotypes, but tend to have a strong belief in it. This stereotype we have in our minds are made to sense patterns and set standards in order to adjust better in the society. It is a type of intuitive response for efficiency and utilized as a form of measure, but it seems to lose its purpose nowadays. We tend to have a problem on seeing the truth blinded by the stereotypes, and through relating to personal experience, media examples, and articles it is suggested to filter out the daily influences to eliminate the habit of stereotyping.