Thursday, October 26, 2006

Media Myths and Uniformity

Here is a picture of four of our five Chinese exchange students with some of the kids from the host families. As you can see, the kids all pretty much dress the same. I recently ran across an Alberto VO5 commercial that has been airing where two students at a Maoist-looking institution use hair gel to rebel against the system.

I showed this video to our guest and he seemed more perplexed than offended. He's pretty sure the actors aren't even speaking Chinese since he couldn't understand a word of the commercial. We asked if uniforms were required at his school. We had to explain the concept of uniforms by describing soldiers and doctors. He wasn't aware of any schools where kids wore uniforms.

Uniforms are the current faddish panacea for discipline problems in both urban and suburban areas. I'm not sure dressing alike solves the problems. My son wears a steady rotation of black tee shirts with jeans. If that's not a uniform I don't know what is.

One supposed advantage of school uniforms is that it avoids the cost of kids demanding expensive designer clothes. Have you priced school uniforms? Hello? A closet full of khakis and monochrome polo shirts is still clothes that have to be bought and laundered and replaced when they wear out. My wife gave our son the tee shirt she got from the local AppleStore grand opening. Cost to us: free. He gets all his baggy shorts and cargo pants at Kohls and if you ever pay full price there, you're getting ripped off.

If a kid won't go to school without the latest Amercrombie & Fitch or American Eagle (I'm old-school enough to remember when AE was business attire) that is a decision between parents and their children. School uniforms, like teen driving curfews and license restrictions, just allow parents to shrug their shoulders and abdicate their authority to The Man.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Dealers choice: Is the hair gel commercial trafficking in offensive stereotypes or just some clever social satire? Or: Do school uniforms make a difference? If China has abandoned them, why are we eager to adopt them?


Jeff and Charli Lee said...

My daughter's school has uniforms. We like it because they're easy and there's never any arguing about what's appropriate to wear to school. The school likes it because it levels the playing field and neutralizes the "class warfare" and doesn't allow one kid's economic level to outdress another.

The kids have no complaints about wearing them whatsoever so I guess it's all good here.

2fs said...

I dunno - they don't seem any more "dressed alike" than a random collection of 20-year-olds (I teach college students). Occasionally I'll amuse myself, when students are writing or something, by inventorying the pants they're wearing: typically, 90% are wearing blue jeans, a couple more are wearing some variety of sweats, and only one or two are wearing pants (or a skirt or dress) that aren't jeans or sweats.

Anonymous said...

A lot of schools (in BCPSS, anyway), when they call themselves "uniform" schools, mean only that you have to wear certain colors. For instance, Cecil Elementary has navy or black bottom, yellow or white top. They don't care if you go to a store that sells school uniforms, or whether you buy the clothes at Kohls, Wal-Mart or Goodwill for that matter. Oh, and the principal is a nut about the boys wearing belts on their pants.

Many schools sell polo shirts with a school logo on it at a pretty reasonable price, and regardless of the color it's considered "uniform."

The VO5 commercial, I think, looks like a lighter-hearted version of the "1984" Macintosh commercial. I've seen many pictures of students (and adults) who all seem to be dressed alike (especially those Mao jackets), so I imagine it's more of an outdated image which has turned into a stereotype.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine works at an inner-city Baltimore public high school with a "soft uniform" -- i.e. you don't have to buy a specific uniform, but everyone has to wear khaki pants and a blue polo shirt. She says some of girls are so resentful that they actually buy enormously oversized khaki pants and then wear blue jeans UNDER THEM in such a way that everyone can see that they're "really" wearing blue jeans. You can't stop teenage rebellion, man!

yellojkt said...

That was the point I was making. They all dress similarly, even when no one is making them. Peer pressure is a powerful subtle force.

I often drive by Baltimore City schools at dismissal time and while all the kids are wearing the blue pants and white golf shirt, they definitely make the style their own.

Marc said...

I believe you meant "abercrombie" but maybe I'm too dumb enough to pick up on your subtle wit?

yellojkt said...

Nope, purely my illiteracy. I would like to think it was some sort of Fruedian snark, but it doesn't work at that level either. I do find the homoerotic murals rather disturbing. I feel like Mark Foley if I just walk into the place.

paula said...

I've seen the commercial - I chalk it up to "uniforms are the easiest marketing ploy to make the hair stand out"

... maybe I'm over-simplifying though ;)

Jennine said...

Home school uniforms are the best: pajamas and slippers. Actually, slippers were optional. Class warfare never occured at my kitchen table and I loved it.

We give our school kids alot of rules to follow. I think it's nice to let them express themselves with their appearance.

Mooselet said...

I did a post a while back on this very topic!!! Whaddya know. I agree with Harmonica Man - taking out who has the "better" labels let's the kids focus on why they're there. And just because they wear a uniform doesn't mean they don't express themselves. It becomes more of a personality thing. I also avoid the arguments of "your not wearing THAT to school"!! Because everyone here wears them, they don't feel different. I think they're brilliant and allows them to express themselves in other, even better, ways than a clothing label.

Anonymous said...

i just want to confirm that that is comercial is indeed chinese and the students probably didn't understand due to the fact that they speak a different dialect. secondly, my parents were students during the mao era and they did face some conformist treatment at times, but that was in the past and right now that commercial is just satirical comedy. i do not believe that it traffics any stereotypes. if anything, you're the one spreading them by assuming China is so supressive. personally, i am somewhat insulted.

Anonymous said...

During 1960-1976, as far as I know Chinese students were wearing the "uniform" shown in this commerical. Poor Chinese. At that time most people are as poor as church mouse. But that's a long time ago. Maybe not long enough to let me forget (in fact I learned this from movies and my parents).
Any way, I like the uniform if they look good as those hot Japanese school girls.

Anonymous said...

You might be interested in the discussion of this commercial here:

Stephen M. Levinson said...

You see, I don't think this video is suppose to be depicting now a day china. Clearly the kids and their uniforms represent the Red Guard in china during the 60's-70's when Mao was in control.

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