Rustic Provincialism—You Know, for Kids!


As Mattel recalls millions of Chinese-made toys, The New York Times wishes to remind you that childhood is dead

Could it really be that something as abstract and elemental as fun — child's play! — has been so commodified and consumerized that a handful of cutthroat manufacturers in China could cast serious doubt on whether our children will have any?

Parents are in distress, but there may be an answer that is better than despair and less expensive than a wholesale conversion to an American-made inventory. It requires a leap of faith, a basic trust in our children's rubbery and hungry minds. Might it not be possible, for a young child, anyway, to fend off her inevitable molding into a loyal consumerist, and to delay the acquisition of acute brand-recognition skills?

Forgive me (my brain has been irreversibly warped by My Little Ponies and a Cabbage Patch doll my mother had to kill someone for in 1983), but what is the alternative here? If you assume that children are just passive receptacles for Disney to stuff with consumer marching orders, you can surely assume that children are equally passive in the presence of family and peer groups. The alternative to letting children engage with the vocabulary, banalities, and prejudices of a multifaceted, shared consumer culture is… exposing them exclusively to the vocabulary, banalities, and prejudices of their parents. 

If, on the other hand, you believe small humans capable of identity formation and individuation, why not show some modicum of respect for their autonomy? 

Elsewhere in reason: Grant McCracken on multiplying cultural identities and Jim Twitchell on consumerism.