Thursday, July 01, 2010

The corporatisation of childhood

A bunch of characters are rolled out of the Corporate Conveyor Belt.

They roll onto television, into films, onto story books, onto bags, tiffins, pencil boxes, note books, t-shirts, and onto every possible surface and object that can be bought and sold.

If you are a child and do not watch TV then you are surrounded by the same set of half a dozen characters that are 'in' at that point in time. There is no way you can pick up a school bag which has some flowers and butterflies.

In a book shop you have the option of going past rows and rows of shelves with the same stock characters, and then you could find a corner with Dr. Seuss, you will probably not find Julia Donaldson, or our current favourite, Shel Silverstein. There will be one miserable corner in which children's book by Indian publishers will be stacked together. Its the same five and half characters being churned out by a couple of corporates.

And then there are some enterprising and talented people in the city who can put up puppet shows at birthday parties. The characters - the same old, the same old. The tattoo artist, the birthday planner, the cake maker- same...same...same...

Its like a virtual cage in which you are trapped with the age old mickeys and minnies, or the latest Hannah Montana or Batman or whatever else there is.

Children love them, you will say. Ofcourse they do, I can watch Tom and Jerry all over again. And yes, I would readily walk into the latest Disney film. But surely our kids need an imagination that stands apart from the characters that are 'in'produced in the same mode- lavish, luscious and lust worthy (i dont mean in a sexual way but in a form that makes it all so desirable.)

I can not buy a writing desk that is not covered with cheap imitations of babrbie, pooh, or donald duck. For her birthday I got the carpenter to make a cupboard and I sat and painted a frumpy fairy falling down on it all night. She is not elegant, is messy but Sanah likes her because her silly mother with poor drawing skills made her up especially for her.

My six year old nephew watches the same characters on TV (limited time, mind you), on his computer games ( limited time and monitored), on DVD. My sister-in-law insists he is into his guns and gizmo because of them but there is no way to wean him away because they are all over, hounding her, him.

Sanah and he were squabbling in a long car ride. I got them to sit next to me and started telling a story. My nephew said he liked scary stories with blood and gore, I liberally added blood and gore to my yarn that went on for an hour. He said the stories were not scary, but they were funny and could I make some more up for the next day. I am an average story teller, this was music to my years.

Sanah loves lilkee and Chutkan. She knows that most of her friends dont know them but that does not bother her. She is willing to tell them who they are and what they do.

She knows that the tattoo artist at the birthday party will not be able to draw Tiddler and his school friends, she is happy with her mermaids and minnies. I dont care a damn if a barbie with impossible heels and cleavage is painted on her arm, because Sanah might make this barbie travel to Chutkan's village, or Lilkee's mountains, or worse, chase Phani through puddles and ponds. And moreover any batman or princess she makes up will have the insistence of the Why Why Girl she loves.


Rohini said...

The NCPA Summer Fiesta sounds lovely. Wish I'd known about it.

And Ayaan is full-on Why-Why boy. Must try and get my hands on the book. As for international authors, I have stopped shopping at Crossword and order his books from flipkart. His current favourite is Lauren Child and her Charlie and Lola series, because they are about an older brother with a pesky little sister :)

Banno said...

I feel sorry for the kids, really. Is it any wonder that they are so easily bored? Sanah is a lucky kid.

mumbai paused said...

My observation is that after an overdose of such visual information, kids tend to pick up new things just to see something different and sometimes just to be different. Overdose is good.

SUR NOTES said...

Rohini, CFSI-NCPA fest, the Prithvi Summer festival- absolutely lovely time for kids this summer.The films are available at CFSI- only Rs150!Shall look up the charlie and lola series, havent come across them.

Banno, thanks for Lilkee. Sanah's copy is completely worn out. Thats how many times she has seen it.

Mumbai paused: :)

dipali said...

The good thing is that there are now far more good Indian story books for young children than ever before. (There are also some terrible ones, unfortunately).
I also get sick of seeing the homogenous array of children's stuff available. I loved Sanah's cupboard!

Sue said...

OMG I *heart* Shel Silverstein. What do you have of his, please, Sur?

You know what Rahul is addicted to? Watching crappy dinosaur vs monster clips on Youtube with my father in the middle of the night over cream crackers and cheese. I almost wish he'd settled for Disney stuff instead!

SUR NOTES said...

Sue, we have a lovely collection. come on over and we can sit and read to the kids. its as much fun to read as dr seuss.

and watching anything with a parent as eager as the child is magic! and dinos and monsters on youtube is too cool.

Sue said...

Not that I mean to sound an ungracious note but dinosaurs and space-age monsters are distinctly uncool. Not that Mr Roy or Master Niyogy think I know anything about anything.

I really must make a trip to Bombay. I first encountered Silverstein in a fabulous book called Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls. I learnt those poems by heart for school recitations. ;)

SUR NOTES said...

yes, the roy niyogi boys have no option but to think you are uncool. next time i am in cal guess whom i will be sitting with on the comp?

and you encountered shel silversteen when you were a kid? you lucky thing. i read him when a pal gifted a book for sanah.landmark has his stuff, so every birthday i pick up something or the other( they are expensive!)he is so deliciously wicked- some of his stuff is tough for sanah to understand, but she gets that it is not goody goody and cute. the falling fairy on sanah's cupboard is inspired by one of his drawings.

Sue said...

I'm also a huge fan of the CBT stuff. And because of the way they are priced, I have no qualms in handing the books over to Rahul to make of them what he will... I paid something around Rs 150 for over a dozen books at the last Book Fair.

Fine, go sit with the boys. I'll steal the cheese and crackers while you guys are busy feeling cool.