One of our favourite items of vintage that we love to sell are anything that has a reference to pop culture. Band t-shirts, old movie posters, you know the drill right?
But our favourite pieces are always the ones with cartoon characters splashed all over them. Think vintage Looney Tunes, Warner Brothers and Tom and Jerry pieces just to name a few.
Oh babe, the nostalgia!
And do you know what's interesting? As a society, we have become more and more reliant on both nostalgia and pop culture as we become a more segregated society. Technology enters the chat and pop culture and nostalgia swoop in and acts as a collective comfort blanket and campfire for us all. If you also happen to be from a marginalised community, it's likely you're gravitating to nostalgia for an element of safety too.
But the question we are asking today is; when we arrive at vintage cartoon character pieces, does they actually see us?
This five part series is dedicated to answering the following questions: how has vintage clothing shown up in the world today, why has it shown up like that & how can we fill in the gaps for a better, brighter and more inclusive future.
THE RISE OF NOSTALGIA
So yes babe, nostalgia is on the rise. But why?
Well, recent research has shown that people turn to nostalgia, childhood cartoons for example, when they are experiencing negative emotions and mood states such as loneliness. It acts as an effective coping mechanism, safe space and self soother and as technology invades our life, these needs for nostalgia are likely to increase.
As the need for nostalgia increases or becomes more mainstream, this has a direct link with the increased importance of pop culture within our modern lives.
AND WHAT ABOUT POP CULTURE?
When we say pop culture, we're referring to things going on in the music, art, dance, literature, fashion, film, metaverse, television and radio spaces that help us make sense of the world and undress what society believes about itself.
As we’ve become more lonely and isolated, pop culture has became the modern-day campfire that allows us to universally identify with things collectively. It’s become a way for us to manufacture belonging and community in an increasingly ephemeral world; to keep ourselves engaged through social lives built around entertainment rather than real life relationships. So actually, media and pop culture have one big job on their hands.
Before pop culture began exploding in the 1950s alongside the rise of more media in the homes (hi TV babe, miss you), pop culture was formed within local communities and villages & there was less of a stage to perform on. The more pop culture we are exposed to and the more ways we can expose ourselves, the more we rely on artificial communities and the more we need simpler ways to communicate. Cartoon characters really fit that bill because they can often tell people about our creativity, our age, the type of media we consume and what we believe in without having to say a single word.
So when the time comes for us to get our cartoon nostalgia game on, are we comforted by somebody we relate to?
Lets not get it twisted, diversity in Cartoons and characters that eventually make it onto our baby tees, XL sweatshirts and thongs has improved quite drastically in recent years but the stats are still pretty shocking.
REPRESENTATION: THE FACTS
Based on US cartoon TV shows:
- In 2019, sixty five percent of cartoon characters were white and female characters were more likely to be non-white or racially ambiguous than male characters. This is almost representative of the racial make-up of the U.S., as about 60% of the population is White, Non-hispanic and Non-latinx. Another study found that 5.6% of characters were black compared to 13% of the population and only 1.4% hispanic or latino, compared to 13% of the population
- Only 38% of characters were women or girls, while almost 51% of the US population is female
- The majority of characters were thin, and more females than males were portrayed this way. Research shows that women are vulnerable to images of thinness in media and that exposure can be harmful
- One percent of characters had any sign of physical disability or chronic disease, while 20% of the population lives with a disability.
Fireman Sam and How to Train Your Dragon feature the only disabled characters currently on long-running children’s television franchises
- Two percent of characters were portrayed as having lower socioeconomic status, when about 20% of children in the U.S. live below the poverty line.
These stats don't effect vintage clothing (clothing pre 2000), so what are the stats related to era's before this?
- In 1970s, for every 6 male cartoon characters you would see on your TV screens, you would only see one female. In the 1990s this gap shortened to a 1:4 ratio.
- From the 1960s - 1990s, Black, African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans were either underrepresented or symbolically anihalated from children's tv.
- In 1950 - 1960, elderly characters were proportionally represented in relation to population, but in 1940 - 1950 and 1960 - 1996, elderly characters were symbolically anialated
- Of 603 characters between 1930s and 1990s, only two of them were homosexual representing 0.3% of representation. There was not a singular bisexual, lesbian or trans character during this period.
And what about stereotypes?
When our faves are finally seen on our tv screens and eventually on our vintage goodies, they are packed with all of the stereotypes in all of the land.
Stereotypes do get a bad name for themselves however, but It's important to note that stereotypes do exist because there is some truth in them. Stereotypes are created as survival instincts and they kind of represent what an 'average' person from a certain demographic is like. They serve as evolutionary guiders and they help us to make decisions quickly, perfect for when a lion is on route to eat you. You don’t ask a toddler for directions and you don’t ask a very old person to help you move a sofa, and that’s because you stereotype.
However, it's important we address those areas outside of stereotypes, or the average, in order to paint a full picture of the types of people you are likely to see.
Research covering the period 1930 - 1999 found:
- Female characters were twice as likely to solve problems using magic while males were more likely to solve problems using science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) or their physicality.
- Fifty percent of female characters were shown to be wearing revealing clothing and had other physical traits that symbolize “sexiness.” This is twice the number of males that were sexualized.
- From the period 1930 - 1995, women were shown to be 6x more attractive than men
- On average, men depicted 50% more anti social behaviour than women
- Male characters are depicted as strong, emotionally restrained, risk-taking leaders (who also get to be funny), while females are agreeable, virtuous, demure, and primarily concerned with their physical appearance (and much more likely to be shown crying),
20% of moms in family movies have jobs
What does that mean for vintage clothing?
What it means is that basically, cartoons are iconic, we were bought up on them and reconnecting with them allows us to disconnect from reality, travel back in time and reconnect with old memories and we love to see it.
But for marginalised communities specifically, what we are connecting too may have more links to the memories surrounding the era we were watching and not necessarily how inspiring that cartoon character is and how much we see ourselves in them. That, or the character we've connected with speaks to us on a deep and spiritual level because you had been deprived of that representation up until that point. It means the characters we see on our vintage clothing have gaps that are important to us and must be addressed.
These characters can still be celebrated (we are already emotionally invested babe honestly) but the gaps that have been missed out on over generations of media must be addressed because yes, the lack of representation situation is still happening today. If you look at the top streetwear brands of 2021 who have mascots, the vast majority of them are male characters. The Ralph Lauren bear, the BBC astronaut, the monkey from BAPE, Adam Bomb from The Hundreds. It's crazy because we can't think of a single female one. Why?
Don't get it twisted, it's not every single cartoon character and show. Sesame Street is a great example of inclusive cartoons. We had the Powerpuff Girls in the 90s. The problem is there just isn't enough representation as presented in the facts above and the stereotypes that exist outweigh other experiences for groups and this needs to be addressed if we're to have vintage that's more inclusive in 30 years. Babe, we're ready for drag tots. We're ready for new perspectives, we're ready for bi and trans visibility and we're ready for the nurturing side of men to pop right on out.
Because so many of our customers come from marginalised backgrounds, it is so so important that they feel seen and heard. Vintage as a broad product is incredible for differentiation, for self identity, even for nostalgia and comfort, but when you start peeling back the layers, there are some alarming things that need to be addressed, as this series has bought to light. It's time they are.
Until next time,