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  • Coining for Capital: Movies, Marketing, and the Transformation of Childhood
  • Steven Mintz
Coining for Capital: Movies, Marketing, and the Transformation of Childhood. By Jyotsna Kapur ( New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2005. ix plus 196 pp.).

Movies, even the most innocuous G-rated children's films, are anything but innocent entertainment. Movies are educators with enormous power to evoke emotions and shape meanings, attitudes, and perceptions. Movies are also potent psychological documents that give expression to individual and social anxieties and desires, and sociological texts that reflect and shape shifts in behavior. Because films have multiple authors and producers, movies necessarily contain multiple and often conflicting themes.

Coining for Capital offers a sophisticated Marxist feminist perspective on Hollywood's recent children's films. It traces shifting representations of childhood—from innocent, cute and rambunctious to savvy, self-sufficient, and sophisti- cated—and links this to broader changes in family life and in marketing practices, notably the post-World War II emphasis on children as a niche market. It offers a close reading of popular children's films—including A Little Princess, Harry Potter, Home Alone, Jumanji, Matilda, Pocahontas, The Indian in the Cupboard, and Toy Story—highlighting the movies' contradictions, notably the inconsistency between a conception of children as little adults and nostalgia for a lost world of childhood innocence. The book also explores the evolving political economy of children's films, as these movies were integrated into synergistic marketing strategies involving toy manufacturers and fast food restaurants.

This book, written by a specialist in cinema studies, is more personal, theoreti- cally-informed, and polemical than a standard history monograph. No doubt, some historians will be put off, focusing attention on factual errors and overstatements (e.g. "it was not until 1954... that schools started being desegregated" (p. 5) or "children's access to health, education and care has increasingly become a chimera"'(p. 7)). Nevertheless, although the argument is not as nuanced as I would prefer, I found the book highly suggestive, and am convinced that historians can learn a great deal from it. Like Juliet B. Schor's Born to Buy and Susan Linn's Consuming Kids, it contains valuable information about current marketing practices aimed at children. In line with recent "viewer response" research, the book provides significant insights into the ways that children absorb movies and make use of themes, narratives, and characters in their play.

I especially liked the author's analyses of recent children's films, especially the discussion of Pocahontas and the commodification and "doctoring up" of history, and the demystification of childhood, adulthood, and consumerism in Toy Story. The book has much to say about shifting attitudes toward boredom in children's lives; the increasing depiction of childhood as a state of confinement rather than a period of play and pleasure; and "the trivialization of fantasy" in many [End Page 513] children's films. The author offers an insightful commentary on the arguments of such critics of children's media as David Buckingham, Stephen Kline, and Neil Postman. Above all, the book does an effective job of linking changing representations of childhood in children's films to a broader shift away from romantic and sentimental conceptions of children as the opposite of adults.

Steven Mintz
University of Houston


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pp. 513-514
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