Personal histories are sometimes filled with and fed by antiquated images. American children absorb many images that nurture and define their capacity for empathy. My work questions how images and narratives shape empathy and, more importantly, distort and hamper empathy. Have we arrived at a place where our devaluation of the individual drives us to exert power over the weak? Is the power of human empathy waning in American culture?
My source material for this question is my own childhood reader, A.B. Baker’s Young Years: Best Loved Stories and Poems for Children (1971, Parents Press Magazine). Filled with insensitive imagery, antiquated terms, and unsettling archetypes, this reader was both fascinating and damaging. The peculiar quality of the illustrations and stories have deeply marked how I see, experience, and question the world around me. Odd and uncanny characters warrant further examination to expose the absurdity of their symbolic function. While addressed to children as role models, many characters reinforce unhealthy stereotypes and behaviors. In the guise of wolves, bears, and evil old women, danger lurks in the shadows to catch you off guard. I attribute my distrust and suspicion in humanity to this text where characters have evil ulterior motives. I constantly question the deeper meaning in other’s actions. This leads me to question how empathy is, more often than not, inadequately formed.