Friday, April 05, 2002

Children's games and sex
Mark points out two flaws in my discussion of Henry Jenkin's article on games and learning.

1) nothing can be colonized by commercial interests: economy permeats everything already.
2) children's games are sexual.

I'll address those two topics particularly, although they were not the main themes of my original post, because I have opinions on both.

1) When I say that the area of play is being colonized by commercial interests, I mean that our understanding of what is playing, what is fun, is increasingly defined by marketing. With the danger of propagating nostalgia; the targeting of toys as a product to be bought for children, as well as the idolizing of childhood as a lost realm, a protected golden dream of safe happiness where the dangers and the harsh colours of adult reality does not intrude work along with the legislation defining children, defining adult's duties in respect to children and protecting children from abuse, exploitation and neglect, to define "childhood" as seperate from "adulthood" in a manner which we do not even question. We tend to forget that childhood is a social construction. Where the legal definitions of childhood were constructed in order to protect children against working in the mines until their bones grew soft from lack of sunlight or weaving rugs until their legs were crippled from sitting and they were going blind, these same definitions have been used to create target groups for "otherness" - and ugly otherness at that.

We do not permit children individuality, we stare in awe and fear at the prodigies, think it's odd and alien when the eager, flexible minds of children grasp what adults do not. It breaks with the definition and the image of children as lesser beings from a world apart - from the realm of childhood (signified through lack of experience, lack of reasoning power, naivity and helplessness). And then when the children punish those of their own who do not conform to this otherness which we have let advertising, toys, clothes, schools and organisations shape the group of humans from 0-12 into, we are shocked and try to cure this lack of tolerance through theraphy - often through treating the victim - by helping him or her to conform and thus become invisible to their persecutors.

2) Children's games are sexual. Sexuality is shaped and often expressed at an early age, the explorations of bodies, of sexual roles and of power and submission is a strong human drive, and children have not yet developed the layers of religion, shame, fear and other hang-ups which will come later and make them supress their sexual expressions in everyday lives. However: I was speaking of games adults play which they should invite the children to participate in. Even in enlightened Scandinavia, the thought of adults playing sexual games with children is sickening. The power-exchange is too absolute, the barriers of protection for the child are too weak: while children should not be raised to think sexual games among adults don't exist, that is NOT the arena of playing where children should be involved.

Scandinavians don't abhor public nudity. We can let our children run naked in the sun without worrying that the neighbours will think we are displaying them for our sexual pleasure. We don't assume that 10-year-olds are dating and should be watched in case they might display sexual behaviour, such sexual paranoia is not a Scandinavian thing. But we do draw a line somewhere, and one of them goes there - children are not supposed to be a part of the sexual games adults play. And, dear Mark, I think you agree with me there, even if it might burst your fantasy of us sexually totally liberated Norwegians.

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