Comparing Nicholas Sammond’s Babes in Tomorrowland and Stephen Kline’s Out of the Garden: Alternative Takes on the Concept of the Child and Child History
At first glance, Nicholas Sammond’s Babes in Tomorrowland and Kline’s Out of the Garden appear to be works offering analogous, if not parallel, thematic perspectives and methodological approaches to the evolution of the concept of childhood in America up to the mid-twentieth century. However, a more in-depth examination of these two works reveals that while they bear similar themes, they diverge significantly in purpose, methodology and, to a lesser extent, in their temporality and geographical scope. While Sammond’s intention is to map out epistemic shifts in the notion of childhood and how companies such as Walt Disney capitalized upon them, Kline’s intention is one step further, as he seeks to demonstrate how television and other mass marketing media serve as invisible child socializers, but are limited in their societal benefit. While, as other scholarly book reviews reveal, Sammond’s success in achieving his objectives is debatable, his study is thought-provoking and, as Lassonde notes, it “evinces the increasing appeal of the field [of child history] to scholars across an array of intellectual concerns.”1 The work of Kline lacks a strong conclusion and seems to fulfill Sammond’s objective of mapping epistemic shifts more so than effectively instilling a desire in his reader to advocate for limiting marketers’ role in child socialization. Studied together, both works provide a comprehensive survey of the concurrent evolution of marketing strategies, the childhood question, and anxiety concerning media effects. In Babes in Tomorrowland, Nicholas Sammond states his two objectives at the outset, the first of which rests in understanding how Walt Disney benefitted from arguments surrounding the regulation of media deemed harmful to American child development and societal integration.2 His secondary objective lies in “examining the origins” of what he titles the “generic child”3 – a term for which Sammond accumulates a detailed definition over the course of his hefty discussion of and the conceptualization and socialization of children and childhood in America and its relation to the unprecedented success of Disney’s promotional tactics in the nascent child market. Sammond traces American “conceptions of the child across different discursive domains, charting continuities and discontinuities in the meanings and uses of the term over time.”4 Chapter 1 examines the relationship between the emerging anxiety concerning movies’ effects on children and the pragmatic timing of Disney’s disseminating hagiography. Initially celebrated as a symbol of true ‘Americanness’ – an average, self-created, middle-class, Fordist industrial thinker from the Mid-West, and later truncated as Walt the scientific and similarly anxious parent, Sammond demonstrates how Walt Disney Productions gained monetarily through fashioning his avuncular public persona to reflect the perpetually morphing social anxiety directed towards children. Sammond provides a reading of Pinocchio (1940), suggesting its condemnation of working class indulgence and promotion of middle-class values of deferred gratification effectively harnessed the anxiety associated with the questionable morals of immigrant Hollywood writers and producers, as seen in the Payne Fund Studies. Chapter 2 examines the “stabilization and professionalization of the study of childhood,”5 from Moore’s “The Mental Development of the Child” (1896) to the 1928 First Berkeley Growth Study, and how Disney benefited from the normalization and dissemination of the conceptual generic child. Chapter 3 stresses the importance of this trend to normalize and standardize in his analyses of the Lynds’ Middletown (1929) and Gilbreth’s industrial home-management manuals for housewives, as Disney’s practical ancillary products fit perfectly in the...
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Sammond, Nicholas. Babes in Tomorrowland: Walt Disney and the Making of the American Child, 1930-1960. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.
"The Power of Suggestion." The Economist 339, no. 7966 (May 18, 1996): 2-S4. http://search.proquest.com/docview/224123284?accountid=6180.
Walsh, Margaret. “Book Reviews.” Business History 37, no. 2, (1995): 162-164. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00076799500000078.
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