The world just keeps on getting weirder. Now there is a chain of amusement parks designed like miniature cities, where children can pretend to hold jobs, buy airplane tickets, follow traffic rules, open bank accounts, and assume other adult responsibilities.
Mike Deri Smith quotes a parent on the KidZania experience:
When Kahori Roskamp’s daughter took part in a cooking class activity, Roskamp found that ‘it was about eating chicken nuggets, probably frozen, which I don’t find very healthy, educational, or interesting.’
Plus, while that is going on, the kids are surrounded by televisions playing endless commercials for the chicken nuggets of a certain fast-food corporation.
Smith tell us,
… at the heart of the concept and the business of KidZania is corporate consumerism, re-staged for children whose parents pay for them to act the role of the mature consumer and employee… When the children are learning factory work, it’s in a job bottling Coca-Cola, and when they’re working at a restaurant, that ‘restaurant’ has golden arches.
Needless to say, this is controversial for many reasons. Childhood seems too short already, with little girls being strapped into pre-training bras and so forth. On the other hand, maybe it’s good that children should start early, learning how to behave themselves when gainfully employed. Everybody has a repertoire of stories about how badly trained today’s work force is. On the third hand, kids do love to play “store.”
But on the most objectionable hand, the whole purpose is to cultivate brand loyalty in the young, which, according to critics, is the most insidious and invidious kind of brainwashing. “Edutainment” may not be such a bad thing, but “advertainment” is a more accurate description for the KidZania ethos, and don’t we have enough of that already?
Especially when the marketing doesn’t come free, over the radio or TV. Families actually travel long distances to visit KidZania, and then when they get there, pay a lot of money for the privilege of absorbing more advertising messages. If George Carlin had described this surreal notion from a comedy club stage 20 years ago, we would have laughed and laughed.
Smith quotes Dr. Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School:
Endeavors like KidZania embed these brands in children’s brains, to have them associate the brands with fun, to encourage children to nag their parents for these products.
And it seems like we have enough of that, too. But the KidZania franchise, which already operates in Mexico, Japan, Indonesia, Portugal, Korea, Malaysia, and Dubai, is coming to the USA within a couple of years. More bad news: Apparently, school officials are easily convinced that KidZania is a great venue for field trips.
By strange coincidence, some of the sponsoring corporations are the very ones that have come under heavy fire for being at the root of the childhood obesity epidemic. Namely, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.
For BusinessWeek, Dana Rubinstein wrote of the corporate connection,
Coca-Cola (KO), which is a partner with KidZania in five locations, insists it’s not marketing to children. ‘[W]e do not advertise our products in children’s programs,’ says Luis Fuentes, a company spokesman. ‘We do not target children under the age of 12 with any of our brands’ marketing messages.’ Instead, the company operates kid-size bottling plants, where, Fuentes says, children can learn ‘what it is like to be in charge of the production line.’ The process, he says, helps teach children how ‘to ensure consumers get the best experience through Coca-Cola products.’
That sounds like something a company spokesperson would say. For a radically different point of view that highlights the obesity angle, we turn to blogger named Henry and his essay, “Why Kidzania Sucks (Part 2) and Evolution-based Health”:
Obesity is now partially explained by evolutionary biology. Our body has evolved to savor sources of carbohydrates (for basic need of energy), hence our innate preference towards sweet taste. For ages nature provides carbohydrate sparingly, so our body learned to extract the most out of whatever our ancestors can ingest… Since our bodies have not evolved fast enough to digest such calorie-rich diet… we get obesity.
Exercise and work out are necessary to ‘substitute’ chasing your dinner or fleeing predators, regularly done by cavemen without complaint. Sugar limit is necessary to appreciate our body ferocious appetite for carbohydrates… Do you think pre-historic children spent their time acting like they manufacture instant noodles and playing with ATMs?
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “State of Play,” The Morning News, 05/11/11
Source: “Playing Grown-Up at KidZania,” BusinessWeek, 05/19/11
Source: “Why Kidzania Sucks (Part 2) and Evolution-based Health,” The Laughing Phoenix, 06/08/08
Image by nishioka (takaaki nishoka), used under its Creative Commons license.