IPT Book Reviews

Title: Out of the Garden: Toys and Children's

 Culture in the Age of Marketing  Positive Review Positive Review

Author: Stephen Kline
Publisher: Verso 1993

29 W. 35th St.
New York, NY 10001-2291


In ten chapters and a conclusion, Professor Kline presents a persuasive case for his view that children's play is markedly affected by the marketing of toys and the meaning of play is largely determined by the surrounding culture.  The introduction and first two chapters set the history of the development of a concept of childhood and child play.  Prior to the development of industrialized cultures, children were not separated from adults and there was no distinct and set aside period of childhood.  However, with the industrial revolution, the ideology of the marketplace, and the emergence of democratic states, children became the focus of specific marketing programs.  The next three chapters describe the development of modern marketing media which are the avenue for marketing consumer goods to children.  This includes books and comics in chapter 3, movies and TV in chapter 4, and the overall strategies of marketing toys to children in chapter 5.  Chapters 6 and 7 document the importance of market research in determining what toys were marketed and how they were presented to children.  The ostensible aim of marketing toys needed to become positive and so character building and the apparent support of creativity emerge as accepted goals.  Chapters 8 and 9 and the conclusion sum up the case Professor Kline makes.


In the child abuse system, what children do in play is very often interpreted as providing valid and reliable information about alleged prior events.  It is also used extensively as a source of knowledge about the internal states of a child and the personality of a child.  This reviewer has personal knowledge of a case in which a four-year-old boy was removed from his parents' care, and placed in foster care.  Then he was subsequently placed in play therapy as treatment for abuse.  Finally, parental rights were terminated and the lad remained in foster care.  He may well be adopted now.  This was done on the basis of an interpretation of the child's play with the then popular Transformers and a character named Voltan as overly aggressive which meant he had been sexually abused by his father and was headed for delinquency and a life in prison unless the state intervened.  Kline's analysis of the influence of media, marketing, and toys on what the play of children actually is makes it clear that such interpretations and such uses of children's play are at best ignorant and ill informed and at worst deliberate distortions of compassion for children to serve personal agendas.

The marketing of toys through the media provide children with many, many stereotyped archetypal figures that channel imagination and creativity.  However, Kline sees this as the impact of marketing forces on children and not a production of children themselves.  The culture of media marketing is aimed at selling products, not transmitting cultural values.  So Kline sees children as exposed to forces that are basically inimical to the development of independent thought and values.  He regards this as a significant social issue.

Anyone who is involved in a responsibility where the play of children is used as a source of information should be intimately familiar with this book, the main thesis of the author, and the marketing strategies used to sell toys to children.  If a social worker, educator, therapist, judge, law enforcement official, or attorney encounters decisions in which children's play may be offered as a part of the decision-making process does not know this book and its argument, the only outcome is increased error and mistaken judgments.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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