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Coining for Capital

Coining for Capital: Movies, Marketing, and the Transformation of Childhood

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Coining for Capital
    Book Description:

    Since the 1980s, a peculiar paradox has evolved in American film. Hollywood's children have grown up, and the adults are looking and behaving more and more like children. In popular films such as Harry Potter, Toy Story, Pocahantas, Home Alone, and Jumanji, it is the children who are clever, savvy, and self-sufficient while the adults are often portrayed as bumbling and ineffective.

    Is this transformation of children into "little adults" an invention of Hollywood or a product of changing cultural definitions more broadly? In Coining for Capital, Jyostna Kapur explores the evolution of the concept of childhood from its portrayal in the eighteenth century as a pure, innocent, and idyllic state-the opposite of adulthood-to its expression today as a mere variation of adulthood, complete with characteristics of sophistication, temptation, and corruption. Kapur argues that this change in definition is not a media effect, but rather a structural feature of a deeply consumer-driven society.

    Providing a new and timely perspective on the current widespread alarm over the loss of childhood, Coining for Capital concludes that our present moment is in fact one of hope and despair. As children are fortunately shedding false definitions of proscribed innocence both in film and in life, they must now also learn to navigate a deeply inequitable, antagonistic, and consumer-driven society of which they are both a part and a target.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-3768-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Without Training Wheels: The Ride into Another Century of Capital
    (pp. 1-19)

    Mr. and Mrs. Dursley’s nice and normal suburban bourgeois life is shattered the day they find their nephew, Harry Potter, on their doorstep. The day itself starts off ominously. A large tawny owl flutters by their window while they eat breakfast. On his way to work, Mr. Dursley spots a cat reading a map and people in cloaks gathered in bunches whispering the name Potter. Harry, now only a baby, will eventually turn out to be more powerful than the Dursleys. He is a wizard who will soon discover his ability to live by magic, while his aunt and uncle...

  5. 1 Cradle to Grave: Children’s Marketing and the Deconstruction of Childhood
    (pp. 20-43)

    In a print advertisement for a wireless home network sold by Symphony, we see a family engaged in a tug-of-war over their single computer. “Stop the war, cut the cord,” advises the copy, asking parents to buy the wireless service so as to have several connections at the same time and end the family tussles over access to the Internet. The choice of words is tongue-in-cheek, speaking of a new and changed family environment in which family peace is established by freeing children from parental control. The cord is not umbilical but technological and the child’s autonomy achieved by buying...

  6. 2 Lost Kingdoms: Little Girls, Empire, and the Uses of Nostalgia
    (pp. 44-72)

    When Alice stumbles into Wonderland, she finds herself in a self-enclosed world that appears wildly illogical from a child’s point of view. Its inhabitants are obsessed with time, which they see as an autonomous, overwhelming presence that they have to struggle with. Some, like the Hatter, have simply given up the effort. The Hatter’s clocks never turn from six and he is always having tea. In contrast to his surrender to time is the queen’s frenzied tyranny, bent to the effort of ensuring that things stay on time. She punishes the Hatter for “murdering time” with his rendition of “Twinkle...

  7. 3 Of Cowboys and Indians: Hollywood’s Games with History and Childhood
    (pp. 73-92)

    While there is a great deal of alarm over children’s loss of innocence as it relates to adult secrets of sex, violence, and commerce, there is yet another, more crucial, element of the idea of childhood innocence that is being deconstructed almost without notice: the notion that children are innocent of history. In the classic conception of childhood as the empty space or the tabula rasa between the past and the future, children were imagined as simply inheriting the world they were born into with no responsibility for its inequities. For instance, we do not hold a white child responsible...

  8. 4 Obsolescence and Other Playroom Anxieties: Toy Stories over a Century of Capital
    (pp. 93-110)

    Here are three narratives “for children,” the first from the early twentieth century and the latter two from the last decade, each imagining a scenario in which toys come to life. From Margery Williams’sThe Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real:

    Only when a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”

    From the official Beanie Babies web page, July 10, 1996:

    Newsflash … newsflash!!!

    Following are the Beanie Babies that are retiring this Mother’s Day. Please take a few minutes to thank them for their...

  9. 5 The Children Who Need No Parents
    (pp. 111-126)

    Powerful science fiction, like good theory, defamiliarizes our present moment and makes us look at it as an unstable contingent condition from which a break with the past is possible. Challenging us to think of what the future might be if certain tendencies in the present are taken to their extreme although logical conclusion, science fiction makes us confront the present as a contested space for action.

    In Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 novelChildhood’s End, the parents faced a terror and threat of separation from their children unprecedented in human history because their children were poised to evolve into a...

  10. 6 The Burdens of Time in the Bourgeois Playroom
    (pp. 127-145)

    Lewis Carroll’sAlice in Wonderlandopens by telling us: “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do” (1). Chris Van Allsburg’sJumanji, written almost eight decades later, describes the game Jumanji as “a young people’s jungle-adventure especially designed for the bored and the restless.” Many a modern children’s tale begins as a way to alleviate the heaviness of frozen time as it hangs over the isolated child in the bourgeois playroom. Boredom—the dread of having absolutely nothing to do, which is experienced both as a failure...

  11. 7 Free Market, Branded Imagination: Harry Potter and the Commercialization of Children’s Culture
    (pp. 146-162)

    Just when it seemed that magic had become passé even in its last home, children’s culture, along came J. K Rowling’sHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stoneand the 2001 film made from the book and directed by Chris Columbus.¹ After all, children’s mass culture in the late twentieth century derived a great deal of merriment from ridiculing the idea of magic as the old-fashioned ingredient of nineteenth-century children’s tales, now simply too tame—and should we say, childish?—for a generation that cut its teeth on video games and marketing campaigns designed to address them as a niche market....

  12. Conclusion: All That is Solid Melts into Air
    (pp. 163-168)

    Childhood was the final frontier, the final niche market to be captured by capital’s incessant drive to turn every aspect of our lives into a source of profit. I have argued in this book that the invention of children as consumers brought down the walls between childhood and adulthood. Its results are a growing up of children as they are granted a certain recognition and autonomy as consumers; a growing down of adults as they are promised youth through the consumption of market-produced commodities; and the commodification of childhood as it is no longer considered an inalienable attribute of children...

  13. Filmography
    (pp. 169-170)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 171-176)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-184)
  16. Index
    (pp. 185-196)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-198)