Tuesday, 3 September 2013

To what extent does ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’ contrast to America’s Capitalist Construction of Childhood?

Okay so this is my last example of my writing. This is the second chapter of my undergraduate dissertation for Central Saint Martins which I completed in Spring 2012. The dissertation focusses on the Hamas children's television programme 'Tomorrow's Pioneers', anchoring the text within wider issues surrounding childhood and propaganda. 

Chapter Two: Occupied/Occupier: Critically comparing questions of spatiality, occupation and ideology in ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’ to the West’s corporate construction of childhood

In understanding questions of spatiality and the child it is appropriate to critically consider, not just the surrounding geography of a child’s home, but the issues of territory regarding the body of the child itself. This is a concept that holds a potent resonance in the subject of the child and ideology. For the child in Palestine should not simply be seen as a child in an occupied territory. Rather it should be seen that the child is the occupied territory, subject to an ongoing tirade of ideological assault. For the child when viewed as a vessel, whether in the West or East, shall always be under occupation.The nature of territory and childhood, when in relation to ideology, possesses a singular, self serving, principle. The child is possessed so the adult may be possessed by the child. For the ideological medium of the child is, in so many cases, created for and by adults. Consider William Friedkin’s horror film ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) which tells the story of a twelve-year old girl who becomes literally possessed by a Satanic demon. It is no coincidence that this film is regarded as ‘the scariest film of all time’.[1] For the film acts as an enduring portrait of the unbridled terror felt towards any ideology that is not one’s own. For the Otherness of a ‘foreign’ ideology, whether religious or political, is regarded as nothing less than Satanic possession. The green bile the possessed girl vomits over the priest character of Father Lankester Merrin acts as a colourful illustration of this idea, presenting the abjection felt when that beloved medium of ideology, the child, is defiled by alien hands. An abjection so strongly felt by the West in the case of ‘Tomorrow Pioneers'.

This terror of the occupation of childhood by a ‘foreign’ ideology can be identified as a key theme in ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’. It is clearly illustrated in a speech given by Nahoul in episode nine. Nahoul speaks to the camera as if directly to the child, an American children’s television tradition found in such programmes as ‘Bear in the Big Blue House’. He states: “My dears Al-Aqsa is very sad. My friends, Al-Aqsa is being held prisoner and is besieged by the criminal murderers of children. We must arise in order to take revenge upon the criminal Jews, the occupying Zionists.”[2] The use of affectionate language (“my dears…my friends”) alongside the technique of addressing the child directly through the camera should be noted. This illustrates how the characters of ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’ occupy simultaneously the cultural landscape of the child, through situating themselves in a children’s television set,  and the psyche of the child, through assuming the role of a parental figure. Thus the literal question of Israeli territory is manipulated to deflect away from the true issue: Hamas’ quest for power through the psychological occupation of the child’s mind and the child’s culture. In this sense Hamas’ concern of the occupation of childhood is a mask, hiding the fact that it is Hamas occupying the Palestinian childhood. The irony is that in the case of both Hamas and the Western capitalist model, childhood is preserved in the adult mind only so that it may be destroyed in the child’s body.

In the adult’s perception the child is simultaneously the occupied and the occupier. The child’s situation as occupied has already been identified. It is seen in the case of the child’s occupied consciousness, evident in Hamas children’s propaganda, and in the targeting of children by Western advertisers.[3] Yet, in understanding questions of spatiality and the child, the child as occupier should be considered. The role of the child as occupier is established even before birth. It is found in pregnancy, for here the child first takes on their role as occupier, literally occupying the body of the adult woman.
This fear of the child as occupier from foetus, that manifests in questions of control and power for the ruling ideology, is expressed in Lionel Shriver’s Orange Prize winning novel, ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’. A critical study of high school massacres, Americanism and the terror of childhood evil, it holds a profound relevance to the topic of ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’. Consider this extract where the protagonist, Eva Khatchadourian, reflects on carrying her son Kevin (who we know carried out a violent high school massacre at the age of fifteen) during pregnancy. She states:

Ever notice how many films portray pregnancy as infestation, as colonization by stealth? ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ was just the beginning. In ‘Alien’, a foul extraterrestrial claws its way out of John Hurt’s belly. In ‘Mimic’, a woman gives birth to a two-foot maggot. Later, ‘The X-files’ turned bug-eyed aliens bursting gorily from human midsections into a running theme. In horror and sci-fi, the host is consumed or rent, reduced to residue so that some nightmare creature may survive its shell[4]

This illustrates how powers of abjection are already present in influencing the adult reaction to the child.[5] The child is dehumanised as “foul” and monstrous, drawing a parallel to the dehumanising epitaphs of the anti-Semitic content of ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’. This indicates that the child is not an age bracket but more of a perpetual state of threat to the adult body and the adult’s ideology. As power is key to questions of ideology this is a threat that is worthy of containment. For Hamas it is contained through propaganda which promotes glory in death; a parallel to the young men who came of age from 1914 to 1918.[6]The interpretation of childhood as a threatening state is relevant when understanding the psychology of cultural stereotyping and racism towards both the Arab world and Jewish people in relation to ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’. The theory that the programme is a propaganda tool not just for Hamas, but also for Israeli groups such as MEMRI should be remembered.[7] This exposes one of the many damaging elements of ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’. For the existing feelings of repulsion that the adult fears towards the child as occupier can be seen to deflect from the crisis of child martyrdom in Palestine. In this sense the viewing of the programme is not an exposure to the damaging influence of a select group in Palestinian politics, for it is crucial throughout this study to remember that ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’ is not a reflection of the ideology of Palestine. Rather it operates as a conceptual portrait of the fear of both the child (a fear that transcends questions of 'Eastern' and 'Western' beliefs) and the un-white Other (a concept concentrated to Israel and the West) as would be occupier. This strongly supports Theodor Adorno’s criticisms of mass media in his work ‘The Culture Industry’. He argues that television “distances from any real social issues but also enforces the psychologically extremely dangerous division of the world into black (the outgroup) and white (we, the ingroup).”[8] The scholar of critical pedagogy and kinderculture, Joe L. Kincheloe, expands on this point, bringing together previous critical comparisons of popular horror films, childhood and racism, explaining:

The abundance of these evil children films points to a social tendency of parents to view their children as alien intruders. This child based xenophobia positions children as foreigners whose presence marks the end of the family’s configuration as a couple.[9]

Kincheloe’s interpretation of the child as foreigner to the adult is key, bringing together previously identified fears of the state of childhood and the fear of the Arab world as Other. This idea takes on a profound resonance when considering the choice to locate ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’ within an American style television set.  For in situating the child presenter, Saraa Barhoum, within this Western style set, her status as foreigner or Other is immediately established in the minds of the West.[10] For the television set locates the child within the abstract rather than the actual, the ideological rather than the practical. It is crucial that a hate figure stays in the dream world of the television set, for hatred may multiply more readily in the world of ideas.[11] This can be identified in both the hate figure of the Jew in ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’, and the hate figures that the cast of ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’ became in the eyes of Zionist Israelis, American conservatives and the Disney Corporation. The Jewish person and the Palestinian person, much like the child, is a malleable object in the minds of many and is manipulated and appropriated to house any number of ills.[12] This can, in part, explain why both the child, the Palestinian and the Jew remain a potent topic for propaganda. All are perpetually rendered Other, homeless or foreign to the outside world. The world did not truly provide them with a home thus it seems that they must live in the world of propaganda.[13]

It is appropriate to return to Shriver’s work to deepen our understanding of the power of the ideological over the practical in childhood. She considers that, “in the particular dwells the tawdry. In the conceptual dwells the grand, the transcendent, the everlasting. Earthly countries and single malignant boys can go to hell; the idea of countries and the ideas of sons triumph for eternity.”[14] This is vital, for the choice to locate ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’ outside of the “particular” is key in understanding its propagandist power. This holds particular weight in relation to its chosen topic of address: control over childhood. For the power of childhood gains power more readily when housed in photo albums or John Lewis commercials than in reality.[15] Childhood does not exist in the homes of the children of Palestine any more than it exists in the homes of the children of America. Childhood exists in the mind, a concept that Hamas exploit. There is a mortal danger to this. For through this powerful technique the conceptual home of the children’s television set is manipulated to house the real question of the child martyr. In this sense ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’ does not critically address questions of death any more than the West’s ‘consumption as immortality’ model.[16] Instead, it manipulates the Western model of childhood commercialism to offer death as the fetishised commodity of choice. Thus the television transforms the real issue of death into a conceptual fantasy, becoming a fairy tale home that the dislocated body of the Palestinian child craves as their own.[17] 

The ideological occupation of the child and the profound fear of the child as occupier are not exclusive to ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’. Instead it has been identified that these concepts are already present in the visual culture surrounding childhood. The seemingly diverse selection of texts, which range from ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ to ‘The Exorcist’, illustrate that the ideology of childhood extends outside of work directly aimed for children, extending to all mediums. For, questions of youth and childhood have permeated into the collective imagination to such a degree that to isolate these questions to simply children’s picture books and cartoon characters would be short sighted. Consequently, it is crucial that the occupation of the child should not be limited to ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’. Rather it should be seen that the work is a particularly damaging manifestation of a much wider issue.

[1] Entertainment Weekly, on selecting ‘The Exorcist as the scariest film of all time, writes: “Controversial and profane, The Exorcist remains the most viscerally harrowing movie ever made not only because it dares to question the existence of God but because it has the cojones to put Satan in the body of a 12-year-old girl.”
From: Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Steve Daly, Daniel Fierman, Dave Karger, Chris Nashawaty, ‘The Top 25 Scariest Movies of All Time’, Entertainment Weekly (July 23 1999)
Available at: www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,272478,00.html [last accessed 01/02/2012]

[2]Tomorrow’s Pioneers’, Episode Nine, Al-Aqsa TV, August 10th 2007, 60 mins

[3] For more information see: ‘Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood’, DVD, directed by Adriana Barbaro and Jeremy Earp  (2008 Media Education Foundation)

[4] Lionel Shriver, ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ (Serpent’s Tale 2003) p.69-70

[5] See Chapter One for further information on abjection and ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’.

[6] My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
 To children ardent for some desperate glory
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
Pro patria mori.
-Wilfred Owen, Dulce Et Decorum Est
In: I. M. Parsons, ‘Men who March Away: Poems of the First World War’ (Book Club Associates 1978) p.64

[7] See introduction chapter for more information on this

[8] Theodor Adorno, ‘The Culture Industry’ (Routledge Classic 2001) p.173

[9]  Joe L. Kincheloe, ‘Home Alone and “Bad to the Bone”: The Advent of a Postmodern Childhood’, In: Ed. Shirley R. Steinberg and Joe L. Kincheloe, ‘Kinderculture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood’ (Westview Press 1998) p.37

[10] Remember again the point cited in chapter one that “the notion of the Other cannot lie purely in difference”
From: Sundar Sarukkai, ‘The Other in Anthropology and Philosophy’, Economic and Political Weekly (June 14th 1997)
Available at: www.jstor.org/pss/4405512 [Accessed on 4/12/10]

[11] A literary example of this hatred through separation model can be found in Erich Maria Remarque’s World War One novel ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. The protagonist, Paul Baumer, trapped in a shell hole, is forced to watch the French soldier he killed in combat slowly die beside him. Still trapped, with the corpse of the beside him, he cries:
“I didn’t mean to kill you mate. If you were to jump in here again I wouldn’t do it…but earlier on you were just an idea to me, a concept in my mind that called up an automatic response-it was that concept that I stabbed. It is only now that I can see you are a human being like me.”
Erich Maria Remarque, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (Vintage Books 1996) p.152

[12]The web of racism, cultural stereotypes, political imperialism, dehumanizing ideology holding in the Arab or the Muslim is very strong indeed, and it is this web which every Palestinian has come to feel as his uniquely punishing destiny.”                                     

Edward Said, ‘Orientalism’ In: David A Hollinger, Charles Capper, ‘The American Intellectual Tradition: Volume II 1865 to the Present’ (Oxford University Press 2006) p.474

[13] A critical parallel to this can be found in the writings of African American intellectuals in the mid 1950s. The work ‘Many Thousands Gone’ by the African American writer and social critic James Baldwin is a particularly strong example of this. Baldwin argues, “one may say that the negro in America does not really exist except in the darkness of our minds.” From: James Baldwin, ‘Many Thousands Gone’ (1951) in: David A Hollinger, Charles Capper, ‘The American Intellectual Tradition: Volume II 1865 to the Present’ (Oxford University Press 2006) p.315

[14] Lionel Shriver, ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ (Serpent’s Tale 2003) p.104

[15] As Susan Sontag argues in ‘On Photography’ “one can’t possess reality, one can possess (and by possessed by) images” From: Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’ (Penguin 1979) p.163
The inclusion of John Lewis commercials is a reference to the ‘tear jerking’ quality that the 2011 John Lewis commercial was attributed by the British press.

[16] See chapter one for more information on the ‘consumption as immortality’ model

[17] This is evident in a phone in section where a child calls the programme to sing a song about the liberation of Palestine. The child sings:
“When we get martyred we will got paradise/No don’t say we are too small life has made us grown ups/I am willing to sacrifice my blood for this country/Without Palestine our childhood means nothing.”

From: ‘Tomorrow’s Pioneers’, Al Aqsa TV, April 2 2010

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