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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 1: Thinking of the Children


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Thinking of the Children

Childhood, Time and Modernity

For all adults – including writers, producers, consumers and academics of media for children – childhood is largely located in the past. Even for those with children in their lives, the most intimate encounter with childhood an adult is likely to have is with their own. This retrospective experience of being a child is bound to be characterised by elements of uncertainty, ambiguity, fictionality. Adult childhood is a complex reconstruction based on clearly recalled events, false or uncertain memories, mementoes in the form of photographs and other surviving childhood relics, books, toys and games. It is a childhood depicted in black and white or faded colours. It is populated by people with strange haircuts, clad in unfashionable clothing. It is represented by stories, activities and culture which, from the vantage of the present, appear at best quaint, outdated, superseded, at worst unenlightened, ideologically incorrect and insensitive. In our childhood, be it real or imagined, there were fewer cars on the road, fewer consumer goods in the shops, less bureaucracy regulating our actions. When it comes to media, films were more rudimentary in their special and visual effects. Television shows were less slick and glossy. Computers and telephones were larger and less portable. The internet, if it existed at all, was slower, its content less expansive and multi-media. Videogames were more simplistic in their graphics and gameplay. Being an adult often involves coming...

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