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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 5: Digital Games for Children


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Digital Games for Children

Moral Panics, Videogames and Modernity

The history of children and modern media might be written as a narrative of repeating moral panics regarding new screen technologies’ potential impact on vulnerable minds and bodies. This is evident in histories of children attending cinema, as part of a mass audience watching Hollywood films, and as spectators of weekend matinees watching imported adventure serials. Paralleling current concerns about the dangers of the internet, a dual anxiety existed in cinema’s early years that children might be doubly exposed, to dangerously adult media content, and to dangerous predatory adults within the dark and unregulated space of the public auditorium. Further down the years a range of ills have been associated with children watching television, from damaged teeth to attention deficit disorder. Messenger Davies writes of the enduring influence of the ‘Bobo doll’ experiment, a 1963 study seeking to explore connections between aggression in children and violent imagery on television. The study has subsequently ‘almost become folkloric in its own right’, being broadly cited by uninformed students and commentators alike as evidence of the negative impact of media on children.1 This is despite the fact that details of the exercise are barely known, as are criticisms the methodology of this small experiment has attracted. The arrival of video technologies, as detailed by Julian Petley, caused concern about ‘video nasties’ entering the home, films which were, according to the tabloid press,...

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