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ARTICLES THE MANUFACTURE AND CONSUMPTION OF CHILDREN James KiNCAID University of Southern California This essay is much like one of those moments we have all come to hate in academic meetings we hate even more: someone makes a motion to form a committee which will call a later meeting which will be devoted to a discussion of whether we would not like, at some future date, to begin exploring an issue, that issue for now remaining free of worrisome specificity. It ' s preliminary, is this essay, a wave at studying how we go about formulating our cultural needs into images and actions. I am especially interested in some of the ways we have formed what we like to call "the child," that "child" being understood not so much as a thing in itself as a cultural necessity, an historical and social growth cieated out of complex forms of cultural desire. Pedophilia, ordinarily seen as marginal and monstrous, I can thus (easily) deconstruct into something central and normative, a condition of prescribed health and not disease. We go to cultural doctors, in other words, not to cure ourselves of the desire for "the child" but to be invested with it. That ' s just an annoying way of saying that the child can only be seen in fields of desire, that we haven ' t any choice, since the child has no being outside of desire. I will argue this offensive case in reference to Victorian culture and to ours, discussing two popular and related ways in which the child has been manufactured: the gentle line and the naughty line, and two corresponding consumer attitudes, adoration and resentment, both of which I will claim are inevitably erotic positions. This thing we call the child is not a natural product. The child is concocted, bearing the same relation to nature that Cheez Whiz does to a cow. This is my first point, that the child is an invention. It ' s a very good point, but of course it ' s neither original nor what you would call a Victorian Review 17.1 (Summer 1991) Victorian Review fact. It's a story—a provocative, transgressive story in the form of historical romance.1 The rich tale ofthe child ' s invention provides a good starting point for what I want to investigate: the stories the Victorians and we have told ourselves in our culture about the child, the stories of attraction and denial. These are stories or cultural myths that are perhaps no better than lies, but wonderfully operative lies all the same, lies about the child's purity, about the child's naughtiness, about how the child needs to be gentled, about how the child needs to be hammered at, about how inescapably desirable the child is, about how repulsive, unthinkable such desire must be. We have invented children in the shape they now occupy and we have proceeded, collectively, to abuse this invention, abuse it by proclaiming it both innocent and corrupted, something we need to protect and be protected from, something we must certainly find alluring and must not, above all things, find alluring. Most of all, we need to tell over and over the stories of how u/ialluring children are to normal people. Such stories have become cultural necessities. Where these tales come from and why we must tell them is a complex matter I will explore a bit. One thing is certain, though: these stories are not themselves innocent, nor is it clear that they have ever been designed to change the situation they abhor. Such stories do not exist to block complex forms of cultural desire but to keep it alive. We inherit from the Victorians stories that are never-ending because we have accepted obediently the instructions on how to perpetuate them. My general thesis is that the child has entered into modern culture as part of a story, a story in which gentling, loving, despising, desiring, repulsion, longing, abusing, hitting are, sadly, all the same. This is a story we have to tell but can only tell in displaced or disguised form, and so we tell it through endless and highly publicized criminal trials and made-forTV movies...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 1-17
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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