- Relentless Progress: The Reconfiguration of Children's Literature, Fairy Tales, and Storytelling
This brilliantly argued book is about the hidden hope in stories and storytelling, yet like a glass slipper, hope is terribly difficult to find. Jack Zipes calls the seven articles in this collection "interventions," all previously given as university or conference papers; his goal is "to negate. . . to critique the present state of affairs in sociopolitical context, to examine my own perspective self-critically, and to offer alternative ways of thinking about culture that will keep alive the hopes of the past that have not been fulfilled" (p. x).
Although the themes Zipes wrestles with are familiar to those who have read his earlier books, such as Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion (1983), Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children, and the Culture Industry (1997), or Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre (2006), he approaches the complicated intersection of children's culture and storytelling with new verve and new lenses. Drawing heavily on the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, he invites us to see children's literature as a "field of cultural production," to use Bourdieu's words, a place of struggle where the story is a microcosm of the dynamics of power.
The prologue, "Singing the Song of Globalized Futurism," reproduces the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's 1909 "The Futurist Manifesto," an eleven-point list of anarchist beauty praising "love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness," "courage, audacity and revolt," and "the beauty of speed." Zipes offers instead a warning about speed and spectacle, equating Marinetti's call with a call for "globalization and relentless progress." Zipes writes: "Marinetti's celebration of velocity has become our dilemma" (p. xv). Here lies the paradox of the book itself: art and complexity are to be celebrated, but speed, and with it spectacle, demonized. The nuances of dialectical performances are worried away. But I ask, what is a fine tale without courage, audacity, and revolt? [End Page 506]
The first chapter, "The Reconfiguration of Children and Children's Literature in the Culture Industry," grounds us with Zipes's astute observation that when children encounter a book, it is first mediated or presented by a grownup, and "the relationship with the book is no longer the young reader and the text, but young consumer and a myriad of products" (p. 1). He states:
In my opinion, the crucial question with regard to children's culture is not whether the literature, films, television programs, toys, clothing, computer games, and such like are harmful to children. This has always been a false or misleading question that diverts attention from a more significant issue—how children are now confronted within the culture industry of the civilizing process to consume products indiscriminately and at high speeds to assume functions within a socioeconomic system.(p. 3)
Zipes asserts that childhood itself has been radically changed. Citing a host of well-respected scholars, from Philippe Aries, to Daniel T.Cook, to Juliet Schor, his emphasis is on the child as object. Although he acknowledges that "children are not passive victims, but they are also not free creative individuals" (p. 5), he nonetheless is concerned with cultural production for children, rather than children's folklore, their creative responses to such pressures.
Zipes calls for the teaching of reading as "a subversive act" so that children can avoid regarding themselves as "commodities" (p. 14). In this way, I wish the book had been titled "Relentless Critique," instead of "Relentless Progress." Surely, as Zipes notes, the culturally contained notion of what literacy means is changing. Children's sophistication when it comes to video or musical literacy suggests that these genres are fields ripe for children's own cultural critique. His counter-argument suggests that the media-driven consumer market discourages critical thinking. Yet many public schools do as poorly.
The second chapter, "Misreading Children and the Fate of the Book," offers a beautiful counter-argument to his first chapter. The book is, and...