Many studies have explored how influential popular media images and icons can be on the development of personal identity. I have read none of them. Nonetheless I feel I can use myself and my experiences as a case study to examine this question, and hopefully come up with a conclusive answer.
My conclusive answer is yes by the way. Media images and icons are very influential.
Now let me tell you why. I grew up in the 90′s, a time saturated with media and images targeted at all age brackets. But hidden among the multitude of messages I believe there were some very positive ones designed specifically for the youth. Messages that have influenced my development into the person that I am today with the qualities (I’m talking about the good qualities) that I exhibit, and some would say, exemplify *wink*. There are actually many I can think about but I only want to focus on a few.
SUPER MARIO: Super Mario was by far the largest video game influencer in my youth. Super Mario World was also, coincidentally, the only game I knew how to play. But in all honesty, it was the only game I needed. Super Mario World was, and still is, an inspirational game. It is about the courage of an everyday working-class plumber on a journey to a completely new land braving unbelievable risks, challenges, and adversaries to save the woman he loves. Mario never knew what was on the other side of that pipe; a room of gold coins or of koopas, but he traveled it anyway. Every time Mario walked up in front of a ghost house and looked at it, knowing that it was ill advised to enter, my heart melted a little. Faced with the same scenario there is no doubt in my mind I would have turned and run back to the secret zone and done nothing but eat mushrooms and ride Yoshi for the rest of my depressing life. True we now know that Super Mario World is a very sexist game and from playing both Mariokart 64 and Super Smash Brothers Melee we understand that Peach is a much stronger all-around person than Mario and was more than capable of saving herself. Still the idea that a short, heavyset, blue collar man could embark on such a profound and amazing adventure and journey of self discovery still conjures up a courage within me that cannot be squelched.
POKEMON: What can I even say about Pokemon. One of the most inspiring epics chronicling a young village boy’s quest to righteously become the best. Ash’s determination, passion, commitment and courage led him through incredible adventures. He knew his goal and he knew how he wanted to reach is. But he also showed incredible moral grounding. How many times did we watch Ash stray from his path to glory to help a citizen or pokemon in need? How many times did we watch Ash not capture a pokemon he could of because he had formed a meaningful and understanding bond with the creature? He was ok with Bulbasaur not evolving, he showed infinite patience with Charazard when he wouldn’t behave, and I think it’s safe to say that his relationship with Pikachu is of a level I have yet to reach with anyone or anything, a fact that, to this day, provokes a longing for deeper connections in my personal life. Everyone was team Ash. We all watched as Ash overcame the obstacles, made new friends and pursued his dream. The whole time, however, we also realized that even if Ash didn’t make it, it would somehow be OK. Ash was already a champion without the title. He showed all the qualities in his daily life that we wanted to see in a champion in the arena. So even when he lost, we knew he was a winner – because he did the best he could and he always had consideration and compassion for those he encountered. We knew it wasn’t really about becoming the very best, the best there ever was. We also know that catching them all wasn’t his real quest, just as training them wasn’t his cause. Ash was a champion through the way he lived his life, not his victories in the gym.
No matter who we are, or what we’re pursuing I think it’s important to remember the values instilled in us from the icons of our youth. That ANYONE can be a hero. That ANYTHING can be an adventure. That you should NEVER give up when times get hard or scary. And that being a champion is not always reflected in measurable gains.
Now go forth and be the very best!