It is always interesting to me to see how psychological theories play out in real life, as well as in the media. I am curious as to whether these occurances are purely mapping an academic concept onto a convenient pop culture item or whether the creators of the content are intentionally trying to teach lessons in an attempt to build a more tolerant future. One such example came to mind, an episode of The Fairly Oddparents, a cartoon that I used to watch as an elementary schooler. The main character, Timmy, is sick of getting teased for having ‘buck teeth’ and makes a wish that everybody would just look the same. But, Timmy realizes he has to be careful what he wishes for, when everyone becomes identical grey blobs. This exaggerated example causes a lot of issues for Timmy and the Fairly Oddparents world, and he tries to reclaim his identity by recreating his signature pink cap, much to the chagrin of his fellow grey blobs.
This episode is a fairly perfect illustration of the optimal distinctiveness theory, which posits that every individual wants to be similar enough to fit in yet distinct enough to maintain individual identity. There is an ideal balance that exists between wanting to belong to a group and have the support of that group while still keeping your uniqueness in tact. What is particularly interesting to me is that this complex psychological theory is applied in a way that makes sense to young children, and can even serve to teach a lesson at such a young age. This brings to light a question of education – if it is possible to teach lessons of identity and inclusiveness, among many other important topics, at such a young age, then why aren’t we doing more?
Lessons about self-identification, group belonging, and basic kindness are lessons that we try to learn in college, and figure out the complexities of these concepts in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, and other deeply personal topics. Do you agree it illustrates the concept? Do you think kids would understand the concept from the episode? Do you think kids might be able to generalize from the episode to categories of race/prejudice?
In case you are interested, find The Fairly Oddparents episode “The Same Game” here.