||Out of the Garden: Toys and Children's
Culture in the
Age of Marketing
||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
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
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.