Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Because Teenage Infidelity is TOTALLY ookay
I absolutely adore Ben 10, and Ultimate Alien has some crazy cool aliens and fights. I'm really peeved, though, because no matter how many worlds you save, or how many times Man of Action (Ben 10's producer group) tells us about forgiveness, honor, friendship, loyalty, and courage, there's this gross slimy feeling creeping up my spine about the new series. Not only does it enforce clear gendered stereotypes, it's (I hope accidentally) making preteens imbibe this idea that infidelity is just a part of any relationship. Because guys can't help it.
Kevin Levin, the anything-absorbing half-Osmosian powerhouse, has a bad attitude and a hard history that makes him the most impressionable and endearing character in the show. Like Beast Boy, the voice actor's previous role, he's generally comedic relief. However, the infidelity in our nation's relationships is no joke, and Man of Action consistently makes it funny through Kevin's ogling of women other than his girlfriend, the magical pink-mana-blasting half-Anodite Gwen Tennyson. This wasn't such a problem in "Ben 10 Alien Force," where when he did stray, he faced horrible consequences and quickly learned his lesson. In Ultimate Alien, Kevin never actually cheats on Gwen, but wow he has some serious problems keeping his gaze set on her! Almost every blonde on the show becomes an object of his wandering eyes. Kevin probably won't actually do anything, but jokes alone enforce the stereotype that men just can't help looking to other women; infidelity seems normal and funny.
As I said, Kevin may not do anything, but the season premier that came on last Friday shows that Ben might. The 16-year-old shapeshifter's had relationship troubles the entire last season, but supposedly cleared it up by saving his girlfriend's life. Well, Julie, we've got news for you, because suddenly a blonde's appeared on the scene. This time, the story's more serious and perhaps Man of Action intends to make an object lesson of it. Man of Action, this is not the way. Pre-teens want to follow what looks fun and normal. You're making it look totally normal for a guy to "girl-shop" rather than choosing to love the girl he's with. Should shows reflect reality? Yes, and infidelity is commonplace. Commonplace does not equal normal; normal implies healthy, right living, and wanderlust does not factor into that picture at all. Leading by example says way more than leading by "oooh that was bad, let's do it the right way" because your characters have amazing adventures as a result of "being bad." Yes, they suffer for their wrong--but it's exciting! So stop it right now. Just stop.
Gwen's sarcastic, correcting, and frankly really annoying responses to her cousin and her boyfriend only enforce gendered stereotypes that women have hearts and men's hearts lurk somewhere down between their legs. Crude? Yes, but honest. Setting the girl up as the defender of fidelity and the boys up as immature blonde-hungry creatures only tells boys that it's normal to be unfaithful, and tells girls to accept that as their cross to bear. Teaching girls that it's normal for men to cheat also only empowers the double standard that guys deserve whatever happens to them in a relationship. This probably doesn't reflect the nationwide statistics, but in my circle I've seen more girls mistreating (and cheating) my guy friends than vice versa, and it seems to me that saying "girls are nicer than boys" makes girls think it's okay. After all, if men have no hearts, women have the right to break them. Yes, Man of Action would never intentionally send these messages, but the unconscious gendering of the right and the wrong does not benefit women.
Finally, what's with blonde and white always equalling beautiful? Yes, there exist some lovely white blonde girls out there, but seriously, every girl set up in the show as "beautiful" is as Caucasion as Hitler and blonde as Rapunzel. Not to mention stick thin. In a world that pretends to embrace diversity and to battle anorexia, you'd think Man of Action would know better. I wanna see a chubby black girl set up as a model of beauty. Or maybe I wanna see Julie struggling with body appreciation issues, or Gwen learning a lesson every now and then rather than standing out as the judgmental lie about moral perfection we see now. (Don't even get me started on her) Man of Action, please show me something that really reflects the real world problems teens face, rather than creating new subconscious traps to screw up their lives.
(ps. I posted this review on prometheus studies.blogspot.com back when the season was just premiering. It's gotten a lot better now, and Ben 10 seems to be making some gains with his girlfriend. The last few episodes have been particularly good.)
What other families should know