I’ve been throwing this term around in my posts a LOT and I’ve just realized: If you don’t understand the concept how are you going to make a choice to accept or reject it? Let me show you a picture, a screenshot I took on Tuesday, July 2 2013.
Beverly Lyon Clark explains it in Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children’s Literature in America by using examples: “We value childhood. But we also dismiss it. We value the image even as we ignore the reality. We love the Gerber babies, the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Michelin-tire kids, to whom we can condescend, preferably in falsetto. Advertisers foreground images of babies even when their product has little to do with children (automobile tires? interior painting? nursing homes?) Every package of toilet paper in my local supermarket features the head of an adorable baby.” (Clark, 1) To follow the example, I’d like to bring in an explanation: We use these images because they have what I like to call the “Aw” factor. It’s cute; something that just seems so sickeningly sweet- to see a baby in a commercial- it’s one of the ways to appeal to emotions and sell that automobile tire/interior painting/nursing home product. However, trying to associate babies with objects dehumanizes children themselves. Trying to associate the “Aw” Factor with objects, and forgetting about children as people is incredibly unfair.
At the same time we worship children by objectifying them; we dehumanize them as well. This fact makes it easier to deal with child actors, cases of child abuse, and segregating children’s lives from that of adults. If they are a “thing” or a “product” they’re meant to be used- that’s what objects were put on this earth for, right? They’re created to be of use to the community or the individual.
I think this describes it perfectly. In this scene there has just been a court case over what the mother is entitled to in the circumstance of divorce and adultery. She then goes on to ask for sole custody of the kids. Even though he’s a “wonderful father” she wants to “hit him where it hurts”. She doesn’t really care about the kids, but she gets more money in child support payments if she gets custody. The man who goes up to the lawyer after the case even says that the children are “leverage”-meant to be used, bargained, and have a value placed upon them.
We put a price tag on objects, not people. Throughout history we’ve done just the opposite: put price tags on people, not objects. Just thinking about how much a life is worth sends shivers down my spine. It makes me feel sick. It’s easier to dehumanize those that don’t have a voice in society. What’s important about children’s literature is the attempt it makes to re-humanize that which has been dehumanized. The field of English studies is very much about literature, but also about social justice. The cult of the child is not an English term used in books, like irony and allusion; or periods of literature like the Romantic period: It is about the way that children have been viewed, and it is still important to think about the way that this mentality shapes literature, movies, the news, education, and so on. We should always ask Why– even if we don’t get an answer- asking is the first step to changing this warped view.
Author’s Note: I may be posting biweekly instead of weekly for the rest of the summer- don’t worry, I’m still alive, thinking, and (as always) asking “Why”
IMAGES: (In order of appearance, everything else in alphabetical order)
- It’s mine.
- Clark, Beverly Lyon. Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children’s Literature in America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2005. Print.
- Liar, Liar. “I hold myself in contempt!”[HD] Prod. WhosAbigBoy95 Youtube. February 18 2013, Web. July 18, 2013