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Coining for Capital

Movies, Marketing, and the Transformation of Childhood

Jyotsna Kapur

Publication Year: 2005

"This book is a welcome addition to the literature on children and the media, and a most stimulating application of social theory to questions of the child in contemporary film and consumer culture."—Ellen Seiter, author of The Internet Playground: Children's Access, Entertainment and Mis-Education

Since the 1980s, a peculiar paradox has evolved in American film. Hollywood’s children have grown up, and the adults are looking and behaving more and more like children. In popular films such as Harry Potter, Toy Story, Pocahantas, Home Alone, and Jumanji, it is the children who are clever, savvy, and self-sufficient while the adults are often portrayed as bumbling and ineffective.

Is this transformation of children into "little adults" an invention of Hollywood or a product of changing cultural definitions more broadly? In Coining for Capital, Jyostna Kapur explores the evolution of the concept of childhood from its portrayal in the eighteenth century as a pure, innocent, and idyllic state—the opposite of adulthood—to its expression today as a mere variation of adulthood, complete with characteristics of sophistication, temptation, and corruption. Kapur argues that this change in definition is not a media effect, but rather a structural feature of a deeply consumer-driven society.

Providing a new and timely perspective on the current widespread alarm over the loss of childhood, Coining for Capital concludes that our present moment is in fact one of hope and despair. As children are fortunately shedding false definitions of proscribed innocence both in film and in life, they must now also learn to navigate a deeply inequitable, antagonistic, and consumer-driven society of which they are both a part and a target.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

This book owes its existence to my two children, Suhaila and Nilim, who have shared with me endless hours of watching children’s films and television, reading “Made in” labels in stores, and, most of all, helped bring home in a visceral sense the vulnerability of all children. In the first few quiet...

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Introduction: Without Training Wheels: The Ride into Another Century of Capital

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pp. 1-19

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley’s nice and normal suburban bourgeois life is shattered the day they find their nephew, Harry Potter, on their doorstep. The day itself starts off ominously. A large tawny owl flutters by their window while they eat breakfast. On his way to work, Mr....

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Chapter 1: Cradle to Grave: Children’s Marketing and the Deconstruction of Childhood

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pp. 20-43

In a print advertisement for a wireless home network sold by Symphony, we see a family engaged in a tug-of-war over their single computer. “Stop the war, cut the cord,” advises the copy, asking parents to buy the wireless service so as to have several connections at the same time...

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Chapter 2: Lost Kingdoms: Little Girls, Empire, and the Uses of Nostalgia

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pp. 44-72

When Alice stumbles into Wonderland, she finds herself in a self-enclosed world that appears wildly illogical from a child’s point of view. Its inhabitants are obsessed with time, which they see as an autonomous, overwhelming presence that they have to struggle with. Some, like the Hatter, have simply given up the effort. The Hatter’s clocks never turn...

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Chapter 3: Of Cowboys and Indians Hollywood’s Games with History and Childhood

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pp. 73-92

When Alice stumbles into Wonderland, she finds herself in a self-enclosed world that appears wildly illogical from a child’s point of view. Its inhabitants are obsessed with time, which they see as an autonomous, overwhelming presence that they have to struggle with. Some, like the Hatter, have simply given up the effort. The Hatter’s clocks never turn...

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Chapter 4: Obsolescence and Other Playroom Anxieties: Toy Stories over a Century of Capital

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pp. 93-110

Here are three narratives “for children,” the first from the early twentieth century and the latter two from the last decade, each imagining a scenario in which toys come to life. From Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real: Only when a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then...

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Chapter 5: The Children Who Need No Parents

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pp. 111-126

Powerful science fiction, like good theory, defamiliarizes our present moment and makes us look at it as an unstable contingent condition from which a break with the past is possible. Challenging us to think of what the future might be if certain tendencies in the present are taken to their extreme although logical conclusion, science fiction makes...

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Chapter 6: The Burdens of Time in the Bourgeois Playroom

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pp. 127-145

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland opens by telling us: “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do” (1). Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji, written almost eight decades later, describes the game Jumanji as “a young people’s jungle-adventure especially designed for the bored and the restless.”...

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Chapter 7: Free Market, Branded Imagination: Harry Potter and the Commercialization of Children’s Culture

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pp. 146-162

Just when it seemed that magic had become passé even in its last home, children’s culture, along came J. K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the 2001 film made from the book and directed by Chris Columbus.1 After all, children’s mass culture in the late twentieth century derived a great deal of merriment from ridiculing the idea...

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Conclusion: All That is Solid Melts into Air

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pp. 163-168

Childhood was the final frontier, the final niche market to be captured by capital’s incessant drive to turn every aspect of our lives into a source of profit. I have argued in this book that the invention of children as consumers brought down the walls between childhood and adulthood. Its results are a growing up of children as they are granted a certain...

Filmography

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pp. 169-170

Notes

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pp. 171-176

Bibliography

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pp. 177-184

Index

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pp. 185-196

About the Author

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pp. 197-


E-ISBN-13: 9780813537689
E-ISBN-10: 0813537681
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813535920

Page Count: 212
Publication Year: 2005