Unseen Text: Children Playing
Text Type: Satirical Cartoon
Guiding Question: Analyse the methods used by the writer of this text to convey a message.
According to the IB Subject Guide for Language and Literature, of the two texts presented to you in your Paper 1 examination, one will be predominately verbal (meaning it will have comparatively more text) and one will be visual in nature (meaning the image or images will dominate). If you are an SL student you will have a choice and, while you shouldn’t go into the exam determined to consider only one type of text, you can follow your own strengths in regard to your choice of which text to analyse. HL students will have to analyse both, which reflects the greater amount of class time you are given to explore and learn various text types. In this sample, the text is one single image, which is a common way for satirical cartoonists to present their work. Take some time to work on this text yourself, then read the sample answer below for an idea of how you might analyse this kind of text. As ever, this response is only one of many possible responses; alternative ideas and approaches can be equally valid.
In this text, a satirical cartoon by Gary Varvel, a group of children stare at their devices in front of an empty playground. A sign, warning drivers to be careful of children while they play, stands redundantly in the foreground. Nobody is paying any attention, instead they are captivated by their devices. Through his cartoon, Varvel is commenting on the way ‘playing’ has changed definition for today’s younger generation. They would rather stare at their screens than run about in the traditional sense of the word ‘play’. The image makes a pointed comment about screen addiction and the way young people rely on social media rather than interact with each other and the world around them. Published in 2015, this issue is very topical and likely to be targeted at a wide audience. However, there is some bias in the image; because Varvel only draws children, they become the sole target for his criticism. Therefore, while his image is humorous it may appeal more to members of the older generation, who might share this biased opinion of younger people today.
As a satirical cartoon, irony is employed as the primary feature of the text. The signpost that states ‘Caution, Children Playing’ creates irony as the words of the sign contradict the image. In the background a sad-looking playground lies empty, no one is on the seesaw, swings, or playing basketball. In the foreground, five children are presented, all of them using an electronic device. Through this ironic juxtaposition, Varvel comments that the notion of ‘playing’ has changed between the older generation and the younger. Now, all children want to do is stare at their devices. Actually, the irony of the sign is double-edged. The two children on the right of the image are drawn as if they are walking into each other and will collide in the next few seconds. The writer is commenting on the way that children can be hypnotised by screens to such an extent that they don’t notice what is happening in the world around them, which is arguably more dangerous than if they were playing on the equipment in the background. Therefore, while the sign is meant to be aimed at passing drivers, ironically it is the children themselves who need to show more ‘caution’.
Complimenting the irony of the signpost is the use of caricature in the drawings of the children themselves. Whether standing or sitting, all the children have their heads down and one finger extended, pointing towards their screens. Their eyes are also downcast, and the reader of the image cannot see past their droopy eyelids, almost as if they are asleep. Again, Varvel is implying that electronic devices can cast a powerful hypnotic spell over young people today. The children’s faces are either expressionless or openly sad; mouths are drawn curving downwards, as if the children are getting no fun from their chosen activity. While illustrated sitting or standing close together, there is no interaction between them. All gazes are fixed firmly on the screens clutched by each child. Therefore, through his caricatured drawings, Varvel suggests that electronic screens and, by extension, ‘social’ media has the opposite effect of isolating children in their own little worlds and depriving them of healthy, face-to-face interactions with other kids.
Varvel heightens these messages using other elements of visual communication such as layout and contrast. The image is split into two: a background and a foreground. The background features a deserted playground, an empty basketball court and an abandoned seesaw. The complete lack of people contrasts with the foreground in which the five little children sit clutching their screens. Negative space is used effectively here; to represent the freedom that the children voluntarily sacrifice. Much of the background, including the grass and sky, is empty. Varvel is suggesting that, given so much space to play in, today’s children would rather confine themselves into little screens instead. the lines of the pavement also suggest this ‘trapping’ effect, as they visually match the little box shapes of the screens.
Colour is a symbolic element of this contrast: the field is bright green, suggesting the joy and fun that the children are opting out of by sitting on the bench. The foreground, by contrast, is pale and grey, suggesting the lifelessness of the digital world. The yellow signpost stands out, purportedly as it’s a warning sign for passing drivers, but also to draw the reader’s attention to the irony and humour of the useless signpost. Are the red and blue hats worn by the children symbolic? Perhaps. In the adult world these colours often stand for opposing political parties. There’s actually a wide diversity of colours in the children’s clothing: blue, red, pink, yellow. Their hair is different in style and colour. This use of colour could be a subtle suggestion that whoever these children are, whatever their backgrounds and persuasions, in the end they are all susceptible to the allure of the electronic screen, which is erasing their individuality.
In conclusion, Varvel’s humorous cartoon makes a serious point about screen addiction in young people and he clearly feels that young people are easy victims for the magic of screens and social media. In this regard, the text is bias, as the text generalises all young people to have this bad habit. There are no older people depicted in the image, which might bring some balance to the criticism. After all, is it only young people who have a problem with screen addiction? Are these kids’ parents also staring at screens? Who gave them these devices in the first place? All these are fair questions to ask about young people’s addiction to the digital world.
Categories:Paper 1 Analysis