- Kinderculture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood
Hopscotch, jacks, hide-and-seek, tag: once upon a time, simple, communal games such as these were the markers of childhood. However, in the postmodern world, traditional pastimes no longer define a child's world. Conventional education and even parents have forfeited centrality in the life of the postmodern child. Instead, into the void it both created and seeks to fill steps the corporation, the new constant in the life of the child. So argue editors Shirley R. Steinberg and Joe L. Kincheloe; they assert: "Using pleasure as its ultimate weapon, the corporate children's consumer culture, which we label 'kinderculture,' commodifies cultural objects and turns them into things to purchase rather than objects to contemplate" (11). The book incorporates essays from ten authors who critically examine various facets of the purchase options corporations offer the postmodern child.
While the book certainly encompasses critical discussions of aspects of (largely pop) culture, is that sufficient to situate it in the ever-evolving, somewhat amorphous "canon" of cultural studies? Editors Steinberg and Kincheloe attempt to answer that question explicitly, contending that, "the book resides at the intersection of educational/childhood studies and cultural studies" (18). Throughout the selected essays, readers will uncover much that connects the book directly to cultural studies.
In their introduction, Steinberg and Kincheloe explain that corporations, recognizing children's potential as both current and future consumers, target young customers' interests in technology, toys, food, and fantasy (11). [End Page 212] Corporations exploit the differences between children's tastes and their parents', creating and enforcing a generation gap. Meanwhile, because children play with many tools of adult livelihoods, such as computers, the inscrutability of the adult world disappears, and children lose a sense of adult culture as mysterious and powerful (30). With adults—whether as parents or teachers—no longer able to command authority by the maintenance of a closely guarded culture to which children are admitted in discreet steps (6), a breakdown in family and traditional pedagogy occurs. This void furthers the power interests of the corporation, which steps in with its own agenda.
Several of the essays dissect corporations which, in their quest for profit and political objectives, view children as a primary target audience. Most notably, Kincheloe's study of McDonald's and Henry A. Giroux's examination of Disney fit this mold. In the former, Kincheloe argues that McDonald's attempts, with distressing success, to present itself "not simply as an American institution but as America itself" (123), using flags and eagles. Patriotic images notwithstanding, Kincheloe asserts, McDonald's plays a role in separating children and parents both by its commercials and by offering youngsters toys and prizes considered "inappropriate" by their elders (127). Some of the toys Kincheloe cites include "Ugly Stickers, Wacky Packs, Toxic High stickers, Garbage Pail Kids, [and] Mass Murderer cards" (127). McDonald's is not alone in desiring to portray itself as the U.S. writ small. In terms of instant recognition, mouse ears are every bit as powerful as golden arches.
Giroux asks: "Are Disney Movies Good for Your Kids?" (164). His answer suggests that the movies are more about preserving patriarchal stereotypes than promoting positive, pluralistic values. For example, many Disney movies end with a happily-ever-after involving physically attractive females "catching and loving handsome men" (171). Marrying female ambition to an antiquated definition of success is not Disney's only troubling aspect, however. Giroux refers to Disney's prototype community, Celebration, as "less a lesson in new urbanism than a community for largely privileged whites" (166). He argues that Disney films build and perpetuate racial stereotypes by giving villains non-dominant accents and facial features. For instance, while Aladdin looks and sounds like a sun-tanned white boy, his pursuers have heavy, bulbous noses and thick Arabic accents (174). If neither happy meals nor the happiest place on earth offer children redemption, where can it be found?
For Greg Dimitriadis, a possible answer would be hip-hop music, which he calls...