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Children’s Media and Modernity

Film, Television and Digital Games

Ewan Kirkland

Throughout the modern era the figure of the child has consistently reflected adult concerns about industrialisation, urbanisation, technology, consumerism and capitalism. Children represent a symbolic retreat from modern life, culturally aligned with fairy tales, medievalism, animals and nature. Yet children also embody the future and are often identified with the most contemporary forms of popular culture.

This book explores how products for children navigate such contradictions by investigating the history and textuality of three major forms of modern media: cinema, television and digital games. Case studies – including Wallace and Gromit, Teletubbies, Horrible Histories, Little Big Planet and Disney Infinity – are used to illustrate the complex intersections between children’s culture and modernity.

Cinema – so closely associated with the emergence of modernity and mass popular culture – has had to negotiate its relationship with child audiences and depictions of childhood, often concealing its connection with modernity in the process. In contrast, television’s incorporation into family home-centred, post-war modernity resulted in children being clearly positioned as the audience for this domestic entertainment. The latter decades of the twentieth century saw the promotion of home computers as educational tools for training future generations, capitalising on positive alignments between children and technologies, while digital games’ narrative references, aesthetics and merchandise established the new medium as a form of children’s culture.


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Chapter 6: Conclusion


Chapter 6 Conclusion This study has explored relations between modernity, screen media and children’s culture. The fact that film, television and digital games are, in various ways, products of modernity is largely uncontested. These are cul- tural forms which emerged within the modern era; they are the product of modern technologies, they are controlled by capitalist institutions, mass produced, mass marketed and integrated into the experience of modern citizenship. That the textual experiences these media generate for spectators, viewers and players are reflections of or engagements with the experiences of modernity is an uncontentious proposition. Cinema’s fascination with spectacle, transportation, the city; television’s preoccupation with the family home and suburban ways of living; and digital games’ concern with science fiction themes of body augmentation, technological weaponry and displays of pyrotechnics suggest modernity continues to be a recurring theme within contemporary media. More contentious is the claim that childhood is also a modern invention. However, histories suggest modernity not only gave rise to our current concepts of childhood, as well as the institutions through which children are positioned, but produced a childhood which in many ways stands in opposition to modernity itself. Children were removed from the factory and city-based workforce. Children were excluded from pro- cesses of enfranchisement. Children were relegated to the non-vocational schoolroom. Symbolically, children came to be associated with animals and nature, with irrationality and religion, with past times, traditions and cultures. Like the family home in which children were located, childhood came to represent a refuge...

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