LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Winnie-the-Pooh and Disney’s Influence

A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh has definitely been largely incorporated into popular culture. From television shows, films, video games, plays, and of course, the Disney adaption, millions of people around the world love Winnie and his friends of Hundred Acre Wood. Milne’s story has been translated into many languages. In fact, the Latin translation, Winnie ille Pu, became the only Latin book to have ever been placed on the New York Times Best Seller List. The work remains a very important piece of children’s literature, and Pooh really is an iconic, fictional character loved by both little kids and adults internationally.

What undoubtedly plays a huge role in the popularity and success of Winnie-the-Pooh today is Walt Disney’s adaptation to the book. Disney gained rights to Milne’s story in 1961. Disney originally produced a series of cartoon based from the Milne’s Pooh chronicles. Disney used illustrations from Stephen Slesinger, and these animations are now characterized as the “Classic Pooh.” In addition to these cartoons, Disney released multiple films and introduced the new character of Gopher. Disney has also produced multiple animated series and even aired a TV puppet show. Another movie, Winnie the Pooh, was released as recently as 2011. There are as many as eight films based on Milne’s book, and stars in five television series. Clearly, this story and Disney’s adaptations have remained a very prominent part of today’s popular culture.

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In my opinion, my most significant encounters of Winnie-the-Pooh come from Disneyworld itself. As a young girl, I remember visiting Magic Kingdom and just adoring this loveable bear. Apparently I am not alone as Pooh is the second most requested Disney character next to Mickey Mouse. He has his own park ride dedicated to him in Magic Kingdom. In 2006, Pooh even received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It very evident that Disney’s adaption of Milne’s original story has greatly influenced the presence and love of Winnie-the-Pooh in today’s society. Here is the link to the Disney website devoted to Pooh.

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Winnie-the-Pooh in Popular Culture

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Is it without second thought to realize that Winnie-the-Pooh has been a well-known piece of work for nearly a century. It has revolutionized the entire genre of children’s novels, that authors have striven to emulate and should strive to emulate. In fact, this text has had such a huge, positive impact on the world that it has had a great deal of adaptations, including: theatre, audio, radio, film, and television. I would like to expand on all of these subsections of popular culture.

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In terms of theatre, there have been two plays adapted from the original text, one called “Winnie-the-Pooh at the Guild Theatre” in 1931, and more recently one called “Bother! The Brain of Pooh” in 1986, which was a one-man show, which is pretty interesting. In terms of audio,  Pooh stories were read in different decades by many different people, including: Maurice Evans,  Peter Dennis, and, David Benedictus. In two different instances, famous celebrities, Carol Channing and Stephen Fry both were involved with Winnie-the-Pooh. In terms of radio, Winnie-the-Pooh was debuted in England almost 7 years before it was debuted in the United States.

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In terms of film, Disney has had a number of adaptations, which were divided into theatrical featurettes and full-length theatrical features, the former being short films, that had varying success. The Soviet Union also had film adaptations, and made a trilogy. The aspect that is interesting about the Soviets, is that unlike Disney, the animation team made a new look for every character, and did not base their ideas on illustrations of Shepard. They played close attention to the original work by Milne, and utilize specific characteristics representative of the characters’ personalities that Disney neglected to do. In terms of television, Winnie-the-Pooh was separated into television shows, Holiday TV specials, direct-to-video shorts, and direct-to-video features.

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Racial Tensions in Peter Pan Adaptations: Then and Now

J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan has endured in the hearts of both children and adults since he first appeared in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Though this character has served as a classic symbol for childhood and children’s literature, he also indicates a much more racist period in culture and history.

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“The Great White Father” was the working title of the original play by J.M. Barrie. This references racist elements of the story Peter Pan and Wendy and of Peter’s character. Though the play’s producer ultimately rejected this title, the term “redskin,” borrowed from United States racial jargon, was still used in the play to specify indigenous populations. The way that Barrie depicts the indigenous characters, too, denotes stereotypically savage behavior of an aggressive tribe out to wreak havoc on the Lost Boys, a group of young white children, when they think the Boys snatched the chief’s daughter.

Interestingly enough, it seems that more recent adaptations have sought to address and correct such blatantly racist implications. The 2003 film adaptation Peter Pan provides one example of this. In the original book and play (and most adaptations) the characters Wendy and Tiger Lily often stand in direct contrast. Even though they are both women, and depicted as weaker than Peter, Wendy is presented as stronger and more intelligent than Tiger Lily, her indigenous counterpart. Tiger Lily, on the other hand, is very helpless and has hardly anything (intelligent or otherwise) to say. In Peter Pan (2003), however, Tiger Lily, played by an Iroquois actress, does not play into this earlier established stereotype. Instead, she is depicted as a fiery, defiant young lady, who stands her ground against Captain Hook. She even contrasts her original damsel-in-distress depiction and actively saves John Darling from a band of pirates.

While there are racial tensions that will never be able to be completely taken out of Peter Pan adaptations without changing the story, recent adaptations, such as 2003’s Peter Pan successfully combats some of the racial prejudices illustrates in Barrie’s original book and play.

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Tiger Lily

I recently read a novel by Jodi Lynn Anderson titled Tiger Lily, which as I’m sure you can guess revolves around one of the more understated characters of J.M. Barrie’s novel Peter Pan and Wendy. Much like Barrie’s story, Anderson’s is also narrated, although in this retelling it is not an omniscient unnamed voice but instead Tinker Bell herself. In many ways Tinker Bell is all knowing and removed from the main action of the story. Anderson has made her mute, and for the most part an unrecognized character that follows Peter and Tiger Lily around. In fact, Peter himself never acknowledges her presence, and for much of the time neither does Tiger Lily.

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The novel revolves around Tiger Lily, her village, and her relationship with Peter Pan. Barrie’s novel is often critiqued (and likewise so is Disney’s movie) for the two-dimensional portrayal of the Piccaninny tribe. In this way I think Anderson pursued a wonderful opportunity; she chose to follow a path Barrie had not explored and added depth and background to the characters of Neverland.

There is a certain romantic quality of Peter Pan and his inability to remember much from one adventure to the next. His short-term memory fits well with the Darling children’s flight to Neverland and their time there. Nothing existed before their arrival and nothing after. But because Anderson’s novel centers on Tiger Lily, she gets to give us more background and depth to Neverland and its inhabitants. We are given information about Tiger Lily, her family, her customs, and how she meets and falls in love with Peter Pan. Also, this Neverland is connected to the outside world. The pirates who come to Neverland are actual Englishman coming to port on an island. There is a certain loss that takes place as Tiger Lily goes on, and it is the loss of innocence. Outsiders discover Neverland and there is the feeling that Neverland will never really be the same. Soon Neverland will become just another island under a crown, the mermaids will disappear with the rest of the fairies and magic, and the house under the ground will collapse without a sound. This feeling mirrors the loss of innocence and childhood that the Peter Pan stories so clearly represent.

I would absolutely recommend reading this book. Although at times the inevitability of what would be the ending was depressing, Anderson gave a heartbreakingly cruel and compassionate story that spoke to the world and children Barrie created in the original Peter Pan and Wendy. Anderson presented the sad realities of Neverland without the breaks of clever dialogue that Barrie gave his audience. Anderson did not attempt to make any character more likeable; instead she gave them to you as if to say, ‘Here they are, take them or leave them, they aren’t perfect.’ Although her writing style and the tone of narration was much different than Barrie’s, her message and her depictions of the characters were very familiar. However, there is one character that Anderson treats differently. There is a judgment aimed towards Wendy that Anderson does not use against her other characters. I think in many ways Anderson is mirroring many of our own reactions when reading Peter Pan and Wendy (STOP DARNING SOCKS! PICK UP A SWORD OR SOMETHING!). I found this particularly interesting, and very telling of the modern times that Anderson’s story has been written in. The author and her audience applaud Tiger Lily’s refusal to bend her will to societal restrictions and expectations and we turn up our noses at Wendy’s refusal to want anything more.

Overall, Tiger Lily did a wonderful job at adding to a story we already love without tarnishing it. The novel is geared toward young adults, but it does not by any means get caught up in romantic or love-triangle pit falls or traps. The writing is superb and it really makes you think about childhood, moving on, and growing up.

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There’s a New Crib in Town

In the chapter of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens entitled “Lock-Out Time,”  Peter Pan remembers that once upon a time he had a mother who loved him very much, and he longs to go back to her.  But when he finally makes the decision to return to his mother forever and be “her boy,” it is too late; she has moved on and replaced him with another child.  Peter is devastated, and returns to his new home in Kensington Gardens, where he is happy, but forever haunted by the experience of being replaced.  During his encounter with Maimie, Peter feels guilty when asking her to stay with him in the gardens forever because she thinks she will be able to go back to her mother whenever she pleases and her mother will be waiting there for her, but Peter is finally forced to admit that, in his experience, this is not the case.  Maimie, terrified that her mother has already found a replacement for her, hurriedly leaves the gardens and Peter behind, in order to avoid the trauma of Peter’s life.
Although the extent to which Peter Pan is replaced is not experienced by most children and Maimie’s fears of immediate replacement are a bit irrational, the narrator acknowledges that many of us are familiar with the unsettling experience of a new addition to the family.  In the story, this is explained as “in fairy families, the youngest is always chief person, and usually becomes a prince or princess; and children remember this, and think it must be so among humans also, and that is why they are often made uneasy when they come upon their mother furtively putting new frills on the bassinet” (Barrie 33).  Children like to be special.  They like to be the center of attention, and enjoy being a novelty.  When their position is threatened, kids tend to get nervous.
This theme, or fact of life, has been taken on by many writers since Barrie.  Many modern books for young children take on this conundrum in a very straightforward, didactic manner, such as in Stan and Jan Berenstain’s The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby, one of many in the popular Berenstain Bears series.  Marc Brown’s Arthur the Aardvark, another popular children’s book character, also goes through this life adjustment in Arthur’s Baby.  In both of these books, the only child, who is soon to become a big brother, becomes both inquisitive and apprehensive about the arrival of their new baby sister.  In the end, however, this authors assuage the child’s fears and present the addition of the new baby as a new and exciting thing.

                   
It’s not just young children who have to adjust to a new baby in the family.  In today’s culture, many parents have to deal with their pets’ reactions to tiny humans.  Walt Disney explored this idea in the feature film, Lady and the Tramp. When Lady, a spoiled cocker spaniel, learns that her masters are expecting a baby, she’s curious, but excited.  However, her other dog pals expose her to what a new baby will really mean- she’ll be chained out in the yard for the rest of her days, with no more naps by the fire and no more curling up at the foot of the bed.  (See video below)

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As popular culture testifies, the addition of a new baby to the family is a timeless issue, which generation after generation of children (and pets) must come to terms with.

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Peter Pan in Popular Culture: An Icon for Children and Adults

Though many children and adults may not be familiar with the exact story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, most are definitely aware of the character of Peter Pan. Regardless of what inspired J. M. Barrie to create this ageless boy, it is clear that Peter Pan has become a popular figure worldwide.

However, a comparison between how the original character is described with how he is depicted in popular culture today suggests that Peter Pan has taken a completely different role in modern society. Barrie writes that the original Peter “escaped from being a human when he was seven days old” and that the reason he stopped being able to fly was because “he had lost faith.”  This is quite different from modern depictions of Peter Pan, who is famously seen in the 1953 Disney movie Peter Pan as forever twelve, wearing the hallmark green outfit, and being able to fly thanks to his trusty fairy sidekick, Tinkerbell. Though these are considerable differences, the real question to answer is how Disney’s Peter Pan has become a completely different character with different meanings in modern society.

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Though the increased popularity of the Peter Pan clad in green may be attributed to the availability and novelty of the animated film, I believe that his role as an icon can be credited to several other factors. The infant Peter Pan in Barrie’s novel was a realistic portrayal of the devilish side of children that the Victorian era denied. Being a rough and rowdy boy with the only intention of playing, having fun, and staying young forever was a testament to how real young boys acted. However, the Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens can be most favorably directed to exact that: young boys.

The modern day idea of Peter Pan taken from popular culture’s Disney film encompasses a much broader audience with present day themes. Specifically, both children and adults, male and female, find themselves associating with this Peter Pan icon. First of all, most can agree that it is easier to relate to a twelve year old on the brink of puberty than an infant of seven days. Second, he is actively portrayed as a lovable boy and a symbol of the younger years where adult responsibilities had not yet taken over. He is used as an icon of the freedom of childhood, and even commercialized for children. This can be seen in the popular brand of peanut butter named after this character. Furthermore, while Barrie’s original story contains themes of gender roles, popular culture expresses the character of Peter Pan with more acceptance to all children. These features are what make the modern character of Peter Pan more available to everyone, and also the icon of childhood.

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Altogether, Barrie’s character Peter Pan has become an icon of childhood in the modern day. His portrayal is often linked to freedom, fun, and a nostalgic glimpse of childhood but is definitely remembered for these positive elements and not for the truth behind Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens where Peter would have liked to become a real boy again but was replaced and so was exiled to childhood forever. While some could argue if the modern day Peter Pan icon is a sign of disrespect to the author, the only concrete truth is that Peter Pan is kept alive in the minds of young and old as the boy who will never grow up.

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“Are people really born Wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?”

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The children’s classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum, is timeless and the subject of constant revivals that test the ability of the book’s star power by revamping the story line to appeal to a different generation. As a student who grew up in the theatre, my love for the Wizard of Oz did not come when I was a child reading this book, but when the Broadway musical Wicked came to stage. I was officially spellbound by the story of Elphaba, also known as the Wicked Witch of the West, the girl who as a result of her mother’s mistake, took on a greenish hue and was ostracized for looking different. Her whole life all she wanted was to feel normal, which speaks to many young women who are growing into themselves and just want to fit in. While I will save you from the full plot, the bottom line is that the Wicked Witch of the West was no longer portrayed as an evil witch, but as a misunderstood woman who lost the love of her life in a tragic ending that resulted in her subsequent lack of faith for the power of good.

The Wicked Witch of the West is the most hated character in Baum’s story, especially as she relentlessly tried to kill Dorothy and her friends, and ultimately made them hostages in her country. I believe that the play was attempting to shed a different and more empathetic view on this character. The reason why this play is continuing to tour today and still considered a huge success is not only because it is visually and aesthetically pleasing to the audience, but also because people want to see the good in Elphaba, to understand why she became the way she is, and to justify her evil nature. In Wicked, Elphaba is the victim, a green girl who simply wants to be normal, and ultimately as her attempts at love and happiness kept failing, resorts to evil because she saw no point in trying to be good when all it did was create more pain. Unlike Baum’s book, the musical incorporates themes that are more tailored towards adults, but regardless, it is extremely relatable for those who are having difficulty accepting failure and loving themselves for who they are, rather than what the they think they need to become. This is not to say that anyone who loses love and cannot fit in must become an evil villain, but it does help others conceptualize that wickedness is not always such a clear-cut category, for more often than not, judgment is a result of misunderstanding.

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Phoebe in Wonderland

Phoebe in Wonderland is a movie from 2008 about a young girl who is in love with Alice in Wonderland. Her mother, a writer, is working on a dissertation on the novel, and their house is a magical place, where Phoebe and her sister are entertained with imaginative projects. In school, Phoebe has trouble adjusting to class and her peers, because she has a bad habit of mimicking the teacher, speaking out of turn, and occasionally spitting at her classmates when they distress her. In one of the first scenes of the movie, Phoebe sits in class after class as they go over the classroom rules. It is quite obvious that she is tired of following the prescript set before her.


Suddenly, the new drama teacher shows up, and quotes Alice in Wonderland, advertising the school play. Due to Phoebe’s love for Alice’s world, she manages to find the courage to sign up for auditions. The rest of the film focuses on the preparation for the play, where Phoebe plays the part of Alice, and her anxieties about making the audition and ‘getting fired’ after being cast as the main part.

It is quite clear, early on, that something is not quite right with Phoebe. In order to quell her anxiety, she washes her hands to the point of them becoming raw, has to jump a certain number of steps on the stairs, over and over, and will perform a difficult hopping and clapping game that involves not stepping on cracks. Her parents quickly become concerned, and her behaviors seem to worsen, until her misbehavior in the classroom gets her kicked out of the play. In the end, it becomes clear that Phoebe suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, a psychological disorder where she cannot control her compulsion to break rules, nor can she control her ritualistic actions despite the distress they cause her.

Through out the film, there are various allusions to the world on Wonderland. Phoebe often imagines the characters appearing before her, talking to her. In this manner, she attempts to derive advice from them about her life problems. The scenes of the play include direct quotes from the book, and costumes that seem fitting for the world of Wonderland. Overall, the message that is pushed, in regards to Alice in Wonderland, is the idea that it is an imaginary world with a different set of rules. It is a place where everything is essentially upside down. In this sense, the world of Alice in Wonderland seems ideal to Phoebe, who would like to be free from the omnipresent rules about what one should and should not do. She dreams of following Alice to a place where she can be free. As a result, the theatre serves as a release for her, where she can become Alice, and do as she pleases. While this movie is not a direct adaptation of the book Alice in Wonderland, it contains accurate allusions to the play, and is a heartwarming film about a unique young girl discovering a place where she feels secure in a world that seems to be against her.

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Pinocchio: Characterizations in Book and Disney Film

The original poster to the Disney film.

The original poster to the Disney film.

When the media behemoth known as Disney decides to adapt a story for modern audiences, the staff involved usually edits the material to make it more accessible and child-friendly. In the case of the classic book The Adventures of Pinocchio, Walt Disney and his crew changed the presentations of the characters in a number of ways. Although many people may take these changes at face value, I find it more interesting to analyze the reasons why certain changes in particular characters exist, most notably in our titular protagonist.

Disney: making odd children's books more accessible since the early 1900's!

Disney: making odd children’s books more accessible since the early 1900’s!

Collodi’s and Disney’s characterizations of Pinocchio differ in subtle ways. In the classic novel, Pinocchio can be see as the quintessential  petulant child in that he constantly makes mistakes, diverges from his instructions, and treats his authority figures with indirect contempt. Even though he affirms to himself that he will follow the instructions of his father and the blue fairy, he almost always gives into temptation and disobeys them. This character trait parallels the Disney version of Pinocchio, who succumbs to the same temptations; however, the Disney Pinocchio displays much more innocence than the book version. Disney’s Pinocchio lacks basic knowledge of human nature and is fooled repeatedly by the fox and the cat, which can be attributed to his naivety. Collodi’s Pinocchio, although also lacking knowledge, disobeys his superiors much more often than the Disney Pinocchio and even treats his father badly at time. When Pinocchio first meets his father in the book, he insults him and gives little respect for the fact that he created him. This lack of respect becomes a recurring theme early in the book, especially when Pinocchio sells the ABC book his father gave to him, which he paid for by selling off his only coat. The Disney Pinocchio loves his father tremendously and never purposely insults him nor abuses him, which adds more to Disney’s characterization of an innocent but naive Pinocchio. On a more aesthetic level, the book Pinocchio is often presented in a creepy, realistic fashion in illustrations, while the Disney Pinocchio is much more anthropomorphized and looks almost like a normal little boy.

The illustrations of the book Pinocchio are a tad creepy…

Why does Disney characterize Pinocchio as an innocent, naive boy while the original character displays much more insensitivity? I think the answer lies in a cultural shift. When the book was published, nearly almost all of books for children were created primarily to teach lessons and give children examples of morality. Although Disney’s film still recognizes and demonstrates the same basic lessons, the idea of entertaining the audience is much more prevalent. If Pinocchio had remained as rude as he was in the novel, audiences probably would not have responded well and ignored the film. By giving Pinocchio a more child-like innocence and cuteness, Disney has not only given children a character to relate to but also one that parents can sympathize with and adore. Although Collodi’s message may be subdued, Disney’s adaptation reflects a much better understanding of what appeals to both parents and children.

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Perpetuation of the Canon Today

The term “literary canon” is widely used in reference to a group of literary texts that are considered the finest or most important representations of a particular place or time period. A literary canon can be comprised of works written in the same country or region or within a specific time period; in this way, a canon establishes a collection of related literary texts. While literary works can of course be classified in many different ways (i.e. by theme, region, time period, topic, etc.), inclusion in the literary canon seems to apply a certain legitimacy or authority to a literary work.

As we saw in Kelly Hager’s article, the canon is largely a product of our literary upbringing, or what we read as children. We are told by our parents, our librarians, and our teachers to read the “classics,” and we do so, therefore perpetuating both their validity and popularity and securing their place in the literary canon. However, with the increased use of technology and media in the 20th century, we have seen a shift in literary influence, now coming not only from books but from television and cinema, as well, though the same end is still met.

For example, Hager describes an instance during which Betsy of Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books is encouraged to spend a “splendid” day exploring the library. This sentiment is one that is encouraged in many children’s television programs today, as well. One distinct memory I have from my childhood is the song  sang during the episode “Arthur’s Almost Live Not Real Music Festival” of the popular children’s show Arthur that encourages that encourages kids to explore the classics at their public library, mentioning authors such as Jules Verne, H.G Wells, and Ray Bradbury.

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The popular children’s television series Wishbone encouraged children to read the classics, as well. This show featured a talking dog by the same name that often daydreamed that he was the lead character in a classic literary work. Each episode portrayed a different text, and the show drew parallels between the stories’ events and the lives of Wishbone, his owner Joe, and Joe’s friends, making the classics interesting and relatable to Wishbone’s audience.
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While the two examples I have provided are specifically targeted toward children, television as a vesicle of canon perpetuation can be seen in shows geared toward adolescents, as well. The clearest example of this I think is the popular show Gilmore Girls that ran from 2000 through 2007. This show was a drama-comedy series about the close relationship between a single woman and her extremely bright daughter Rory, living in the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Each episode featured Yale-bound Rory living her life, always with at least one book on hand. From Little Women to Don Quixote, Crime and Punishment to The Bell Jar, she was constantly shown reading in a corner, on a bus, at the park, wherever she may find herself. This show developed somewhat of a cult following. Soon after, “Rory Gilmore Reading Challenges”  began surfacing all over the Internet, and many girls took Rory’s literary lead and began working through the list.

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While the influence of teachers, parents, and librarians on what children and adolescence read has continued and will continue to perpetuate the state of the literary canon(s), it is clear that popular entertainment and media have begun to take on some of this responsibility, as well. I think it will be interesting to see how the dynamics of this continues to shift and change as our culture becomes more and more entrenched in entertainment and media.

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