Archive for October 12th, 2007

Toy Stories

There was a fellow round at our house a couple of weeks back for dinner, and he was talking about how he used to play his child music while the child was in the womb. Using the headphones of his iPod he would pipe Mozart through his wife’s bellybutton. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, apart from the deliberate choice of Mozart. He certainly didn’t strike me as the type who was big into his Don Giovannis. So I asked him why, and he said that it was ‘soothing’.

Given that the newborn often find the sound of vacuum cleaners, extractor fans and car engines soothing, why would an unborn -with no aesthetic experience to speak of- require the sound of Mozart to be soothed? And even for an adult is Mozart particularly soothing? Maybe it is if he’s had to listen to vacuum cleaners all day.

But then I found out -via my visits to baby shops- that playing Mozart to babies is something of an industry. This seems to be part of a wider concern with having your child brought into contact with symbols of achievement and progress. The last time I was in Mothercare (some sentences you never imagine yourself writing) there was a stand devoted to Baby Einstein, which is part of Disney, and lots of other stuff on how to raise your baby’s IQ. It is as though the whole point to having a baby were to transform it into an adult of stature,  renown and acclaim.

Toys and children’s ‘educational products’ alike tend to reflect dominant characteristics and concerns of the society in which they are produced. I remember, as a three year old, coveting my neighbour’s ride-on Massey Ferguson pedal tractor. I doubt that my contemporaries in New York City were captivated by the same form of toy.  That said, we may have had in common a Starsky and Hutch model car, or holster and pistol, since it was important to teach children in both societies that the police are heroes, and that big cars and guns were good.

For ‘Baby Einstein’ or ‘Baby Mozart’ in today’s culture, what parents seem compelled to want for their children, via these products, is accomplishment, status and recognition. Conversely, what they fear is failure, insignificance and anonymity. When the development of IQ comes into it, as it often does, it is with the purpose of making the child capable of serving a purpose. This is of particular importance in societies where you are measured in accordance with your ability to interpret and manipulate symbols. IQ becomes a notional indicator of market value, in keeping with the baby’s status as a potential commodity.

I was watching a breastfeeding promotion video at the hospital recently, and although the video appeared to have been made in the 1980s, its title seemed rather contemporary: No Finer Investment. To convince mothers to breast feed, it had seemed a good idea to represent breast milk as a form of capital.

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