This article was downloaded by:[Canadian Research Knowledge Network] On: 7 December 2007 Access Details: [subscription number 782980718] Publisher: Taylor & Francis Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Leisure Sciences An Interdisciplinary Journal Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713773100 Exchange Value as Pedagogy in Children's Leisure: Moral Panics in Children's Culture at Century's End Daniel Thomas Cook Online Publication Date: 01 April 2001 To cite this Article: Cook, Daniel Thomas (2001) 'Exchange Value as Pedagogy in Children's Leisure: Moral Panics in Children's Culture at Century's End', Leisure Sciences, 23:2, 81 - 98 To link to this article: DOI: 10.1080/014904001300181684 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/014904001300181684 PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdf This article maybe used for research, teaching and private study purposes. 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Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 Leisure Sciences, 23:81– 98, 2001 C 2001 Taylor & Francis Copyright ° 0149-0400 /01 $12.00 + .00 Exchange Value as Pedagogy in Children’s Leisure: Moral Panics in Children’s Culture at Century’s End DANIEL THOMAS COOK Department of Leisure Studies University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, Illinois This article examines the relatively recent emergence of a new ethos of acquisition for acquisition’s sake in the practices of collecting and trading cards and plush toys purportedly manufactured for children. I analyze public debates surrounding three fads in children’s popular culture in the late 1990s: sports “chase” cards, Beanie Baby plush toys and Pokemon trading cards. These crazes take the form of moral panics whereby sacred values are said to be threatened by the trading of these goods because of what they teach. That is, “appropriate” play and use of these goods constitutes an exercise in particular modes of seeing and relating to and in the world. Keywords children’s consumer culture, children’s leisure, consumption “No parent in America should compete with popular culture to raise their children.” —U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman at the Democratic National Convention, 8/16/00 The realm of children’s leisure has grown into a highly contested, morally loaded social arena in recent decades. Children’s popular amusements no longer unquestionably pass as innocent pastime as evidenced in, for example, organized opposition to program-length commercials on Saturday morning television beginning in the late ’60s, the establishment of children’s product safety boards, and recent debates about the rating of music, lms, video games, and internet sites for inappropriate content and access. Innocence here connotes insularity, a separation from things thought potentially polluting and perhaps dangerous like hidden advertisements, pointed objects, and sexual or violent images and words. Vulgarity, prurience, and aggressiveness, however, are nothing new to childhood. The play, lore, and games of childhood (Western childhood, at least) have for centuries been known to be fraught with ghting, profanity, and sexuality, in addition to some of it being downright harmful (see e.g., Avedon & Sutton-Smith, 1971; Fine, 1987; Opie & Opie, 1959). Popular amusements are seen as posing a threat to contemporary childhood precisely because they are popular, that is, not only due to their content, but also because of their source and reach into children’s life-worlds. Media portrayals of sexuality, violence, and profanity arise not from the playground or the peer group, rather they have their origins in lm and recording studios, in marketing boardrooms, in brainstorming Received 10 September 2000; accepted 10 December 2000. An earlier version of this article was presented at the American Sociological Association Special Session, “Commodi cation and Leisure: Trends Trajectories and Implications,” August, 2000, in Washington, DC. I thank Chris Rojek for his comments on an earlier draft. I also acknowledg e valuable research assistance given by Yu-Ling Chen. Address correspondenc e to Daniel Thomas Cook, University of Illinois. E-mail: [email protected] 81 Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 82 D. Cook sessions among young executives. Parents seem left to the options of policing their children’s viewing, consumption, and computing practices directly and/or cajoling elected of cials and government agencies to police the industries which produce the unwanted materials. Children and childhood cannot be insulated and protected from the outside because inside and outside no longer exist in terms recognizable as merely spatial. New forms of electronic media together with the ow and forces of capital have converged in the last quarter century to give rise to a postmodern version of childhood—a childhood inseparable from media use and media surveillance (see Buckingham, 2000; Hendershot, 1998; Kinder, 1999). The licensed images of sports, lm, and music personalities adorn everything from cereal boxes to pens to underwear. These, along with action gures, music videos, and video games invite preconstructed personae and prenarrativized scenes into the circle of play (Giroux, 1999; Kline, 1993). In their play, children no doubt creatively interpret these corporate images and products and make out of them meanings which were not intended by the designers and manufacturers, leading some observers to see the integration of commerce and children’s culture ultimately as a benign development (Seiter 1993, 1999). Pouring chocolate syrup over a Barbie doll and feeding it to a dog (Rogers, 1999), or giving alternative interpretations to plots and characters in television shows may be signs that children are making their own meanings out of popular culture. These actions, however, do not insulate children from exposure to and in uence of corporate images and imaginings; children incorporate the materials present in the image or product into their worlds in the very act of transforming them. Children’s play, however creative it may appear, remains intertwined with the material manifestations of capital and commerce—that is, the commodities themselves. Viewed in this way, children’s popular amusements can be seen to arise from, invoke, and make use of the world rather than serving as respites from everyday preoccupations and concerns. In this article, I approach children’s leisure as activities embedded in and informed by commercial relationships from the outset rather than as something initially pure and then subsequently polluted by market incursion. Speci cally, I examine public debates surrounding three fads in children’s popular culture in the 1990s: the new sports trading cards (identi ed by the existence of “chase” cards, see below) which made their appearance in 1990; Beanie Baby plush toys manufactured by the Ty Corporation beginning in 1994; and the Pokemon card/videogame/cartoon/ lm merchandising multiplex introduced in the United States by Nintendo Corporation in 1998. These represent, I argue, an emergent ethos in the commercial construction of childhood in that they privilege the realization of economic exchange value as the goal or point of collecting the card, owning the toy, or playing the game. Unlike the numerous previous fads in the children’s toy market since the 1980s (such as Cabbage Patch Dolls, Power Rangers, and the Tickle-Me Elmo doll), public and media discourse surrounding the selling and trading of these items questioned less the moral lessons imparted by the back stories of the toys and games (i.e., the characters’ biographies and pro les found in comic books and cartoons; see Englehardt, 1986) and focused more on the acquisitive activity which they seem to have encouraged in children. Relatively large-scale and active secondary markets grew around the collecting and trading of sports and Pokemon cards and Beanie Baby toys in the ’90s. Reports of thefts, violent assault, connivery, bamboozlement, gambling addiction and downright greed surrounding these children’s goods peppered the newspapers and airwaves in the latter years of the decade. Some observers decried the fervent market activity as antithetical to the values thought immanent in play and leisure, with some protesters going as far as to le Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 Children’s Leisure 83 lawsuits charging that companies encouraged a form of gambling behavior in children. Others supported, even lauded, the “real world” lessons learned. The language of “instruction” brought to bear on this phenomenon is itself instructive. Surely, something is learned when one encounters and engages with the stories, characters, and activities sold by popular culture industries, regardless of whether these were explicitly designed to teach. Taking a cue from Henri Giroux (1999, 2000a, 2000b), I understand popular media cultural forms as essentially “instructional” or “teaching” mechanisms which offer models for ways of knowing and being. These forms of culture are central to the promotion of particular kinds of social literacy through which “people de ne themselves and their relationships to the social world” (Giroux, 2000a, p. 10). Much like fables of old (Bottinghelmer, 1986), popular characters, images, and stories encode premises about ways of acting in the world, about what is good or right, about the appropriate consequences for one’s actions, and so on (see Giroux, 1999; Kline, 1993; Seiter, 1993). Under the conditions of present-day media capitalism these “lessons” originate outside the family and outside the community, all the while taking root in children’s play, and games. The impetus is never only “building character” or “instilling conscience” in children, but capturing market share. The moral tension between children and markets drives what may become a new kind of “culture war,” this time between parents and the makers of popular culture, if Joe Lieberman has his way. A Note on Perspective and Method In this article, I examine some of the public discussion of and reaction to these fads as found in U.S. and Canadian newspapers and popular magazines in the latter half of the 1990s. The media coverage of these overlapping crazes took on the general form of a “moral panic,” a concept rst elaborated by Stanley Cohen (1972) in his study of the British Mods and Rockers con ict in 1960s. A moral panic is a uniquely media-based, media age phenomenon, whereby a threat to purportedly “common” values or interests is de ned and depicted in an easily recognizable form in the media. There ensues a rapid, even spiraling, buildup of public concern which draws out responses and solutions from authorities or opinion makers. The panic then recedes, sometimes resulting in tangible changes, such as laws, but just as often not (Cohen, 1972, pp. 9– 26; Thompson, 1998, pp. 1 – 22). The panics are moral, as Thompson (1998, p. 8) points out, because they give the “suggestion that the threat is to something held sacred by or fundamental to society.” Youth and children, most often understood as vulnerable and thus susceptible to threat, are unsurprisingly also most often the focus of such media panics, currently and historically (see Springhall, 1998). Drotner (1992) suggests that moral panics work to reestablish a generational status quo which is undermined by the socially transgressive actions of children and youth (e.g., sexual behavior, violence, hyperconsumption, and ostentation). A golden age of previous harmonious times tends to be invoked in media reports by participants, thereby highlighting the deviance or unacceptability of the behavior in question (McRobbie and Thompson, 1995). In many ways, moral panics and the deviance they highlight have now become more or less institutionalized as part of the news cycle and as the staple of many talk shows (see Gamson, 1998). Examining media discourses surrounding particular events and activities, such as trading sports cards, Beanie Babies, and Pokemon cards, does not imply or suggest that the behavior under scrutiny is somehow representative of everyday life. Quite the contrary, something rises to the level of a moral concern precisely because it is seen as posing a threat that is out-of-the-ordinary and therefore requires special scrutiny. The issue here rests less on the frequency or some statistical representatives of the behavior in question and more on Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 84 D. Cook how those actions come to be framed rhetorically as worthy of concern, that is, how certain behavior becomes a public symbol for threatened values.1 What “lessons” are the trading, collecting, and selling of cards (sports and Pokemon) and, to a different extent, Beanie Babies seen to impart? What values and posture toward the world are these activities said to encourage? We will see that a profound ambivalence toward the core values of capitalism emerges from this inquiry as it is expressed through discourses about the market activity of children—white, middle-class children in particular. What is unique about the cases discussed here is that it is money-making itself, the acquisitive attitude, which is under re. Yet, it is this attitude which is often heralded as the basis of capitalism, democracy and freedom itself. Rather than interpreting the trading and acquiring of these items as an exception outside the realm of children’s leisure, I present a perspective and approach which locates these activities along a continuum of the ongoing commodi cation of childhood. Before proceeding to address the speci c cases at hand, it is necessary to present a brief discussion examining the moral and analytical context of the relationship between children and markets. Children and the Moral Constitution of Markets Market exchange, in the neoclassical conception, exists as an essentially neutral mechanism enabling free individuals to satisfy preexistent needs, constrained only by their resources and by the “rules” of the market itself. The foundational image, the key metaphor, for this conception is Adam Smith’s notion of the “invisible hand” (1976/1776 ) of the market which subtly and imperceptibly guides both personal decision-making (based on unfailing personal self-interest) and the extraindividual process of creating value. The market appears as something of a deity—all-encompassing, inescapable, and ever present whether or not one acknowledges its presence. Unlike a god, this dominant paradigm recognizes no value except exchange value; morality, culture, history, ethnicity, and gender all ultimately become subsumed in a cost-bene t, supply-demand calculus (see Carrier, 1997; Carruthers & Babb, 2000). Alternatives to the economistic model of social action take a number of familiar forms in the works of early sociologists. Marx (1978) based historical materialism on the critique that self-interested motivation was not universal human nature, but an ideology created in and by capitalism that effectively legitimized a system of inequalities. Weber (1958) understood that culture and cultural values, such as religion, guide and give social shape to economic activity. Simmel (1978/1900 ) identi ed the double-edged aspects of the money economy which, at once, enhance human values by enabling expressions of individuality and freedom and also degrade these by its tendency to level all value to comparable, exchangeable dimensions. More recently, scholars have brought a number of perspectives to bear on the free market model to question its universality and neutrality. Anthropologists offer several critiques, questioning the extent to which a commodity logic can unilaterally impose itself on nonmarket-based societies and social forms. Gift exchange (Parry & Bloch, 1989) and nonmonetary forms of currency such as cattle (Comaroff & Comaroff, 1997) are but two ways that commodity and noncommodity intermix and can be said to have “biographies” and a “social life” (Appadurai 1986; Kopytoff, 1986) beyond the con nes of rational calculation. For economic sociologists, markets are embedded in social relations, not the other way around. Market activity takes place in the midst of social ties, both preexistent and emergent, not despite them; social relations inform every economic decision and action at every point (see Carruthers & Babb, 2000; Granovetter, 1985). A feminist critique of the neoclassical approach also criticizes the prevailing model of the economic actor, the “separative self,” for fostering a disconnected, disembedded posture toward social relations. This Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 Children’s Leisure 85 version of self, argues England (1993), reinforces the existing system of gender relations in the way it favors personal autonomy to the exclusion of community; it is a self that performs market transactions as if unencumbered by emotional attachment to others, as if home and family were epiphenomenal. These exceptions and caveats to homo economicus underscore the point that a market is, at base, a social formation—rather than a neutral medium of exchange—which interpolates value in quite speci c ways. Children present another opportunity to question market ideology. When children become involved in market relations, moral considerations come into play in ways not encountered in other instances. The selling of babies or embryos, for example, strikes one as more brutal than the buying and selling of adults (Kopytoff, 1986). Child labor is regarded as similarly brutal, while the same work performed by adults may be merely alienating or arduous. Other kinds of issues come to the fore when it comes to children as consumers. Concerns about how and whether children should be targets of marketing recently made news as a number of psychologists publicly decried the use of psychological research to market to children. Ethical and political concerns abound regarding advertising to children, especially when it comes to young children’s ability to discern and understand the persuasive intent of commercials and advertisements (Kunkel & Roberts, 1991). Children’s goods are often subject to safety tests and scrutiny by governmental agencies for reasons of a different magnitude than things designed for adult use (note consumer product and safety commissions and ammability standards in children’s sleepwear). An aura of sanctity tends to accompany most any activity or thing modi ed as children’s. The moralistic conception of childhood has long historical roots in the philosophy of Rousseau and his conception of childhood as a virtuous, distinct time of life to be shielded from the evil wrought by the larger, adult world (see James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998, pp. 13 – 15; Lears, 1981). Traces and transformations of the innocent, protected child abound and will not be repeated here (but see Corsaro, 1997; Giroux, 2000a; Higonnet, 1998; James, Jenks, & Prout 1998; Pollock, 1983). More to the point is the way in which childhood serves as a key repository of moral sentiments, especially regarding the economic sphere. In this vein, Zelizer (1985) discusses the transformation of the social value of children, taking place roughly between the 1880s and 1930s in U.S. culture. She argues that middleclass conceptions of children changed from being considered economically useful during a period of child industrial labor, to being economically useless, but emotionally priceless and sacred. The rede nition of children’s worth in sentimental terms, as antithetical to monetary measurement as well as monetary expression (as in, say, child insurance, see Zelizer, pp. 113 – 137), may have justi ed children’s removal from the labor force; it clearly did not extricate them from economic consideration completely. Commerce, of course, did not keep its hands off children, and childhood did not outright resist the advance of the market. Tensions between the sentimental value of children and the monetary worth of their goods and pursuits have not dissolved completely, but rather have found resolution in two basic, interconnected ways. One way reaf rms the sacredness and innocence of childhood by making, selling, advertising, or buying things for children that are framed as being “good,” or “bene cial” for them. Mothers most often stand at the gate of children’s consumption, charged with monitoring intake and output and armed with various theories, and beliefs about child development, health, and the value of play (Seiter, 1993). Consumption that can be crowded under the rubric of being functional or bene cial for children often survives moral scrutiny. The other way to circumvent the incompatibility of monetary and sentimental value is to “give kids what they want.” Here, children are framed more or less as persons who have desire—usually naturalized, preexistent desire—and who have the social, perhaps nancial, wherewithal and even the right to consume (Cook 2000a, 2000b). Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 86 D. Cook These frictions and interactions between commodity and person in the commodi cation of childhood encode a fundamental tension in the commodi cation of leisure—namely, the con ict between intrinsic and extrinsic value. Leisure purists, like childhood purists, approach extrinsic or monetary value as an imposition which corrupts or destroys some true essence of the activity. Mainstream views of both the nature of leisure and the nature of childhood continue to de ne each in terms of a preexistent, unquali ed goodness susceptible to corruption or pollution by outside forces—that is, by forces such as the workings of the money economy or the exigencies of adulthood or both. The “best” leisure, in this view (like the “best” kind of childhood), is that which has no goal or value outside of itself; it is, in the words of Csikzenthmihalyi (1975), autotelic. The homology between childhood and leisure, in their pure forms, nds its quintessential expression in children’s play—the site where the battle, the moral battle, over no less than the de nition of childhood itself is now being waged. Sport “Chase” Cards In 1990, The Upper Deck Company of Carlsbad, CA, which produces mainly sports trading cards, began randomly including “insert cards” in its packs. In no time, these rare, limited edition cards were bringing in hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of dollars in the secondary market of card traders and dealers, all for an initial price of anywhere from $.50 to $10 for a pack of 8 to 20. Not long thereafter, the Topps card company followed suit to claim its stake in this new, lively market of mainly 7- to 15-year-old, white, middle-class boys. Insert cards are also known as “chase” cards because they are the prize players chase after with every purchase. “Chase” also describes an emergent 1990s marketing strategy for some children’s goods, whereby the deliberate production of scarcity constitutes a central component of the object’s value, Beanie Baby plush toys and Pokemon cards being the other major cases. On the face of it, there is nothing mysterious about the chase strategy; it is simply giving the “natural” dynamics of supply and demand a little extra boost. Limited editions of anything from pewter Civil War gures, to Barbie dolls, to automobiles, to legal tender coins, to stamps, to decorative collector plates have all been part of American commercial culture for decades. So also have been the periodic reports of how oil companies and oil-producing nations manipulate their production, and thus the supply, and thus the price. Limited editions offer the hope of increased value for the collector, turning a purchase into an investment. Baseball cards are the most widely known and longest standing of this type, followed by basketball, football, and hockey cards. Appearing in the late 1800s as advertisements for cigarettes initially, trading cards in the United States have had a wide variety of content, including war heroes and crime gures (Nelson & Steinberg, 1997). The chase cards of the 1990s come in a variety of forms, from special rookie year cards of famous players, to special edition cards with distinctive coloring or styling to, more recently, cards which come in the form of a hologram or which have a piece of the player’s uniform attached to them. It was not until 1996 that a group of adults/parents led suit against some of the major sports trading card companies under the RICO (Racketeer In uenced and Corrupt Organizations) statutes. The plaintiffs contend that the insertion of chase cards is tantamount to running a lottery that entices children to gamble their money for a few, highly valuable cards. The three elements which, according to law, need to be present in order for an activity to be considered gambling are: cost to the player, the element of chance, and the promise of a prize (O’Shaugnessey, 1996). Defenders of card companies point out that they do not Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 Children’s Leisure 87 set the amount of the prize, that a chase card’s value is not xed but is set only by virtue of what it can bring in a secondary market at any given time, which is variable. Unlike a lottery or casino, where winnings are set in xed monetary amounts, the prize in this case is dependent upon a combination of factors, including the popularity of a player, his (or her) performance, and list prices set by dealers. According to the New York Daily News, the card manufacturers were obligated to state the odds of obtaining chase cards on packs, a practice used against the card companies in the suits (O’Shaugnessey, 1996, p. 36). The plaintiffs charge that chase cards had changed the sports card industry “from a wholesome pastime to a frenzy for the almighty dollar” (O’Shaugnessey, 1996, p. 36). “Wholesome,” along with “innocent,” are terms regularly used to described a past threatened by chase cards and by the practices they promote. Worshipping or admiring the sports gures pictured on the cards, collecting them for the sake of collecting them, or trading them for other cards as a form of currency, and not for cash value, apparently do not disrupt the middle-class version of appropriate childhood fun. One Montreal grade school teacher noticed students’ interest in the cards in the early ’90s and set up a lunchtime table for trading. He expressed a common ambivalence in 1995. They learned the value of what they had, the art of bargaining, and mediating, to give and take and bend a little to get what you want . . . . Children have to learn to co-operate and to give in order to get. Before 1990, trading cards were worth a minimal amount. Then the craze hit in 1990 and many became valuable. Card companies advertised heavily and some produced cards in limited quantities so they sold out quickly. Wayne Gretzky rookie cards sold for $1,000. It was like a stock market, a form of speculation. Children were spending $20 or more at the store for a single card. Some of my students had cards valued at $100. If the emphasis on collecting is because of a child’s interest, it’s ne, but gambling is not healthy for a 9- or 10-year-old and the whole card economy was promoting that at the time. (Whittaker, 1995, p. C1) Speculation, the calculation of costs and bene ts by virtue of chance or guessing, here undercuts the “health” of collecting and trading. The focus on a goal, that is, on realizing a pro t, exerts a force external to the activity itself thereby drawing children out of the circle of play and into a wider, impersonal arena of exchangeable, monetary value. Reports of frenzied activity by collectors fuel the view that such focused and directed trading is unhealthful, even addictive. The attorneys who led the lawsuit hired a consultant who found a poster child, an exemplary case, for their cause—an addicted card gambler. In the words of Dr. Sheila Blume, medical director of addiction services of a Long Island (NY) Hospital: He spent everything he had. All he wanted was to buy the cards : : : He wasn’t collecting them; he was using it as a lottery. He said it made him feel better : : : the classic words of a problem gambler : : : To hear something like that from an 8-yearold was scary. (O’Shaugnessey, 1996, p. 36) This suit, and similar ones against Topps, Upper Deck, and Pinnicle Cards of Texas in subsequent years have been dismissed, mainly because of the issue of how prize value is set, but others are still pending (Alvord, 1998, p. B1). By 1999, class action lawsuits had Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 88 D. Cook been led also against the professional sports leagues, Major League Baseball, NBA, NFL, and NHL, who own the license to the players’ images and who also pro t from trading cards (McGregor, 1999). The recourse to legal action has been generally met with skepticism in the press. Reporters, defendants, and those interviewed have tended to doubt the legitimacy of the claims of addiction, questioning the motives of unscrupulous barristers who are seen as attempting to pro t from the situation. In the fall of 1999, the HBO cable television program, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (Winn, 1999), reported on the sports card addiction and legal issues. An attorney for one of the plaintiffs referred to chase cards as “cardboard crack,” claiming the term is how “kids” refer to the cards. The analogy between chasing rare cards and chasing a high is evident. The deeper analogy is a moral-political one between the use of a highly addictive form of cocaine, most often associated with underclass, urban, non-White drug culture and what is essentially a collecting hobby mainly of White, middle-class, and suburban youth. Perhaps most telling, the analogy is unfounded. There is scant evidence that sports trading card practitioners themselves refer to the cards as crack, though of course some claim an addiction. “Cardboard crack” is sometimes used to refer to the role-playing card game, Magic, mostly by practitioners themselves, and more generically as an addiction to role-playing card games in general. To the best of my knowledge, no lawsuits have been led against the manufacturers of these other games. The trading of sports cards is not associated with role-playing games; the act of trading appears to be the central activity with no role playing involved. The association between underclass drug culture and middle-class card trading that the attorney insinuated is best understood as an incitement to moral panic on the part of the potential plaintiffs in the class action suit. It trades on the fears of parents, on a favorable litigious legal atmosphere, and on class cultural assumptions about childhood innocence, the vulnerability of youth, and the danger of the proximity of children to material-monetary desire. Beanie Babies Beanie Babies are small plush toys lled with polyvinyl chloride pellets which come in various animal characters. Invented by manufacturer Ty Warner (Ty, Inc.) of suburban Chicago, Beanies (as they are known) caught on not due to a massive marketing blitz but to the interest of mainly adult collectors. First on the market in 1994, each comes with an ear tag in the shape of a heart which gives the character’s name, date of “birth” and a poem which describes it. Beanies are distributed solely through small retail outlets like orists, greeting card shops, and party supply shops. They cannot be found in department stores or chain toy stores like Toys R Us. By 1995, Ty Corporation had distributors in the United Kingdom and Germany. Beanie Babies began to incur public moral condemnation in 1997 when Ty, Inc., began to retire some of the toys and produce only limited quantities of new ones. Perhaps originally produced as a children’s plush toy, selling for $5 or $6 a piece, some Beanie Babies have sold for in excess of $1200. The secondary market arising from the collecting and selling of Beanies has included websites and price guides indicating value, eBay website auctions, sales in ea markets, and transient tent sales, television shopping networks, as well as the promotion and sale of “Teenie Beanies”—more diminutive versions of the diminutive animals—through the McDonald’s restaurant chain in 1997 and 1998. In addition to planned scarcity, the policing of authenticity enhances their collectible status. The heart-shaped identi cation tag attached to the ear of each toy functions as an indication of authenticity (by having a bar code and model number in addition to the “birth Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 Children’s Leisure 89 date” and “biography”). By 1995, the point was made explicitly with the tags stating that the toy was a “Beanie Baby Original.” The tag also became part of the toy, part of the indication of its condition to the extent that Ty and other companies manufactured tag protectors, plastic envelopes which would shield them from damage. The value of a Beanie falls drastically if the tag is damaged or missing. Leaving the tag on or trying to protect it makes any kind of play and cuddling unsatisfying at best. In this way, concerns about collectibility and marketability renders the object nonuseful as a toy but highly exchangeable for money. It enters a different status of objects as a commodity or potential commodity and not something with which a child can play. The signi cance of the tag in the ecology of Beanie Baby collecting and value situates them squarely in the realm of adult, nonplay pursuits. Their moral and economic status moreover derives from the monopoly which adults have gained over them in response to the planned scarcity. In the popular press, especially during the height of the craze in 1997 and 1998, adult greed and instrumental behavior toward the cuddly creatures fed the frenzy. A number of large sales by independent groups as well as the McDonald’s promotion made for good press as Beanie seekers congregated in one place all vying for a limited number of toys. The Plain Dealer of northern Ohio reported on one such event in April 1997 describing how 800 people “swarmed” the Strongsville (OH) Holiday Inn. Stories of those who waited all night in line and those who spent $1000 on four of them add to the view of the phenomena as out of control (O’Donnell, 1997, p. 1B). Adult excess fueled by exchange value fever is wonderfully illustrated in a Kansas City Star article describing a woman who purchased 39 McDonald’s Happy Meals (marketed for children) only to throw out the food and keep the promotional Teenie Beanies. Promotion rules state that the Beanies can only be sold to children or to adults accompanied by children. “What began as an enjoyable hobby for children has turned into an often frantic scramble, with adults hoarding the toys in hopes of turning a quick pro t,” the article surmised (Everly, 1997, p. A1). Citing adult backlash, the article offers a local teacher’s view that adults are “teaching children some poor lessons as they grab Beanie Babies.” She mentioned her experience with parents who “coerce” their children into buying Beanie Babies for their monetary value and not the ones they “like” (Everly, 1997). The Columbus Dispatch was not so diplomatic: “This Beanie Baby business is getting ugly. From a cheap, cuddly and collectible diversion, the bean-bag toy has developed into a craze that isn’t bringing out the best in people” (Gebolys, 1997, p. A1). The McDonald’s promotion drew so much interest that they sold many of the toys separately from their meals and ran out of the 100 million toys well ahead of the planned ve-week stint. Admitting that it might be something of an urban legend, the newspaper reported that “Kids in New York are renting themselves to adults who are frantic to qualify for the McDonald’s giveaways by having a child in their cars” (1997, p. A1). Children were said to have posted protests on a Beanie Baby website (www.beaniebaby.com) urging McDonald’s to tell parents to stay away from the soft critters. A second McDonald’s promotion of Teenie Beanies in 1998 also sparked strong words against parents’ actions who, according to the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal, turn the promotion into a circus, who waste their lunch hours in long lines, who punch other adults in the head. Maybe they can’t say no. Maybe they’re afraid of disappointing their kids. Maybe they’re bereft of legitimate ways to entertain their children. Whatever the reason, it’s a pretty sad commentary on the relationship between parents and children in this society. (Franzen, 1998, p. 12) 90 D. Cook Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 The manager of a Denver-area McDonald’s was delighted with the promotion. “On the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, we had people lined up out the door all the way to the parking lot,” said Jackie Strunk, supervisor of the McDonald’s at Southwest Commons : : : After customers made their initial purchases and ate their food, they didn’t leave. “There were probably 200 people all standing back waiting for us to put up the next toy. When we put out Peanut the Elephant, a big cheer went up and they all went up to the counter to order.” Some customers didn’t bother with all that food. They ordered 10 Happy Meals to get the toys and told the server to keep everything but perhaps a burger and a Coke. (Wolf, 1998, p. 3D) Over this time, legends grew around the predatory character of adults in search of the bean bag booty. Reported in the Columbus Dispatch: “Two cartons of Beanie Babies were stolen from a delivery truck at a Wisconsin shopping center last week. Elsewhere, drivers for United Parcel Service say they’ve been stalked on their delivery routes by near-frantic buyers” (Franzen, 1998, p. A1). As the craze continued into 1998, similar scenes were repeated in stores that had received new shipments. “Somehow they nd out within ve minutes that you get a shipment and they are here,” says Emma Lukens, Poor Richard’s gift shop of ce manager in Doylestown, PA, calling crazed customers “vultures.” “Then the kids come in with their crumpled dollar bills and sts full of coins, and they can’t nd the ones they want. It’s a shame” (Mannix, Egan, Atlas, & Tharp, 1998, p. 53). Some parents were reported to have sought toy appraisers attempting to determine how far their collection of Beanies would go in paying for their children’s education (Mannix, et al.). Other vignettes tell a moral story to the public. The Tampa Tribune offered the following on Aug. 8, 1998. While shopping at Nordstrom in Walnut Creek, Calif., last Christmas, 11-year-old Nicole Charles found the Beanie Baby she was looking for: Seaweed, a brown otter. She held the $5 toy in her hands for a few moments, thinking of a friend who would love to have it. “You’re not going to buy that, are you?” a woman asked. Before Nicole could answer, the woman snatched it from her hand and accosted a clerk to ring it up. In that instant, Nicole saw the seedy underbelly of the culture surrounding these warm and fuzzy animals. Her mother was furious. “They’ll kill you for them,” said Nicole’s mother, Kathy Charles. “They practically attack the salespeople when they bring them out. I’m really discouraged. It’s become an adult business.” (Smiley, 1998, p. 3) That this incident occurred nine months earlier than it was reported here may be incidental to the lesson imparted, but it calls attention to the timing and cadence of moral panics because Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 Children’s Leisure 91 the report coincided with the hoopla surrounding the second McDonald’s promotion. The reference to an “adult business” gestures to an analogy whereby greed, consumption, and pornography are equally repulsive when children are at issue. Offering Beanie Babies as “innocence, love and everything else that’s right with America,” according to the Tribune, they also reinforce values we’d rather not teach children, such as greed, envy and even gluttony. In what has become a multimillion-dollar collector’s market, the tremendous demand for Beanies is not driven by moral or spiritual health, or even ‘cute for cute’s sake.’ It’s obsession and dollar signs. (Smiley, 1998, p. 3) Note the discursive contrast at work here. Predatory adults, hiding in the weeds to pounce on the new shipments (the woman “snatched” the toy and “accosted” the clerk), are positioned in clear opposition to children whose pure motivations are made evident by their display of “crumpled dollar bills and sts full of coins.” Adults pollute the spirit of these fuzzy animals, taking the form of what Cohen (1972) called “folk devils”—corrupting in uences who arise from within the social order. These adults are bereft. Their behavior in the particular instances mentioned speaks to a general moral problem threatening the relationship between parents and children in society. Adult, monetary greed has few antidotes when it is positioned as being exercised at the price of children’s fun and well being. The assumption in these morality vignettes is that both the toy and the child are innocent, or at least benign. Left to themselves, all would be right with the world—except that there would have been no Beanie Babies and no McDonald’s were it not for the very same economic system which brings both toy and commodity to the child in a single object. Pokemon If trading cards and Beanie Babies pose threats to sacred childhood either directly or indirectly through adults, the Pokemon craze stands as the clearest crystallization of hyperconsumption and hypermoralizing to date. Pokemon is the creation of Satoshi Tajiri, a son of a Nissan salesman who grew up in suburban Tokyo in the 1960s (Chua-eoan and Larimer, 1999, pp. 83 – 84). Pokemon (which is both singular and plural) are “pocket monsters,” animated hybrid characters which occupy the world of Nintendo’s Game Boy (a hand-held computer game). The object of Pokemon, with more than 50 different monsters, each transforming or “morphing” into two other characters, is for the player to “catch” (or collect) them all. The player, known as a trainer, guides the Pokemon, who do battle with each other. Instead of dying in battle, they faint only to revive, and ght again. Arriving in the United States in 1998 as a television show and videogame, Pokemon has become a market now supported by plush toys and items with licensed images on backpacks, pencils, wrist watches, and cameras. Two feature-length lms opened less than a year apart in November 1999 and June 2000. The trading cards have garnered most of the public attention and controversy because they incorporate the chase card strategy, making some monetarily valuable to collectors or players who are mainly boys ranging in age from 3 or 4 years old until about 12. Combining the chase card gambling components of sports card collecting with the iconography of miniaturized monsters, Pokemon has garnered some of the most intense criticism as well as some ardent defenses. There are some reasons for this increased attention. Pokemon appeals to young, early grade school and even preschool children, making their proximity to exchange value and to the pursuit of money that much more of a moral Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 92 D. Cook violation. In addition to the large number of characters to know and memorize, the complex rules of Pokemon require intense study and assiduous application to grasp, effectively excluding most parents and teachers from even vicarious participation or understanding. These, combined with diminutive but quasi-occult-looking characters and a number of incidents of crime and trickery associated with the game, produced moral panic. The trading and collecting of Pokemon cards in many ways mirrors that of sports trading cards. For many children, the point of the cards is to chase after the rare, monetarily valuable ones. The age-range of Pokemon enthusiasts complicates matters because of the variable comprehension of ideas of value and the structure of a trade for members of different age groups. As the popularity of Pokemon began to heighten in anticipation of both the Christmas shopping season and the scheduled release of a feature-length animated lm in November 1999, so too did associated incidents. Many children who returned to school in autumn 1999 did so with pocket monsters in their pockets and backpacks. A number of crimes and incidents sprung up around the selling and trading of Pokemon, bringing to the fore the tensions evident when children and the raw pursuit of pro t commingle. Older or more knowledgeable kids cheated other, unknowing kids out of valuable cards. One such incident, reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune occurred in Georgia where a 6-year-old named Zack Gibson “learned the hard way how unreasonable adults can be” (Hagerty, 1999, p. 1E). After having been teased by other children at summer camp for trading away a $30 card for a “worthless” one, Zack came to tears. His father saw the incident as a life lesson, telling him a “trade is a trade.” Zack learned this “lesson” so well that days later he pulled the same stunt on another fellow camper. The second boy’s mother was so upset with the trade that she contacted the camp directors with her complaint. At rst resistant, Zack’s family made him rescind the trade having to explain that this time a trade was not a trade (Hagerty, 1999). Children outtrading or hoodwinking other children is common enough to be part of the Pokemon narrative. One father, writing for The Baltimore Sun, poked fun at his own family’s minidrama unfolding over Pokemon. At home, when I ask where the 8-year-old is, the most chilling reply I can get is: “Oh, he’s downstairs with his friends. They’re playing with their Pokemon cards.” To me, this is like hearing: “Oh, he’s downstairs with his friends. They’re playing with some nail-bombs.” Because right away I know one thing: Somebody’s going to end up crying. See, what they’re really doing down there is trading their Pokemon cards. And these trades have a way of going sour in a hurry. (Cowherd, 1999, p. 1E) Debating about how to handle bad trades between his 8-year-old and his 4-year-old, the father describes a common dilemma: It’s a classic no-win situation. If you step in and negate the trade, the 8-year-old will go nuts and you’ll probably have to tie him down with tent pegs. If you don’t negate the trade, the 4-year-old will never trust anyone again for the rest of her life. Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 Children’s Leisure 93 Twenty years from now, she’ll end up dialing some mental health hot line at 3 in the morning and sobbing: “I’ve never been right since my big brother scammed me in Pokemon cards : : : .” (Cowherd) The dilemma here centers on the kind of lesson that trading can be made to impart by an involved, concerned parent—how exchange value takes on a pedagogical function. The author’s humorous tone is common among many similar commentators not only of Pokemon, but also of Beanie Babies and sports cards, as many nd it dif cult to take cuddly creatures and cartoon characters seriously, yet seem impelled to do so.2 Trading between these siblings becomes a problem because it involves something external to or above the family circle, the play circle in one family’s basement. Cards were more or less valuable because of the workings of larger dynamics informing the exchange value of the cards, not because of the personal preferences of the children involved. The 4-year-old could get “ripped off,” and could understand her situation in those terms, precisely because a strong, perhaps hegemonic de nition of value existed beyond her ability to control it. A community of other traders could, as in the case of Zack Gibson above, impose interpretations of the meaning of the deal. It is a community organized around market considerations. Technologies such as eBay on-line auctions, card swap centers, dealers, and the like all gure into the understanding and calculation of value, and thus into the creation and negotiation of the meaning of the cards, of the deal, and of the nature of the relationship between the players. The market is present in the basement; it is part of the activity, not separate from it. The larger, community acceptance of the value of these cards (which includes that of the licensed, adult dealers also) provides the basis for the numerous thefts and frauds related to Pokemon. In California, a 14-year-old boy ran over a schoolmate with his bike and stole 150 of his Pokemon cards (Metro Boy, 2000, p. B4). Also in California, two eighth-graders were arrested in connection with the theft of over 170 cards from school lockers (Corwin, 1999). In Philadelphia, four middle school students were arrested for attacking others to get their Pokemon cards (Moran, 1999, p. B1). In Toronto, four to ve teens allegedly beat a 14-year-old boy with a hockey stick and wrestled him to the ground after he refused to give up his Pokemon trading cards (Pokemon Mugging, 1999, p. A14). In Laval, Quebec in October 1999, another 14-year-old was stabbed by a boy attempting to recover Pokemon cards taken from his 10-year-old brother (Pokemon Mugging, 1999, p. A14). Police seized over 1,000 counterfeit cards from a Denver store, in what is said to have been a part of a world-wide, multimillion dollar business in fake Pokemon products (Seibert, 1999, p. A-01). Collectibility and exchangeability pre gure the object and activity itself. Monetary calculation and goal orientation make containing Pokemon solely within the frame of play and leisure, that is, as an activity for its own sake, a dif cult proposition. Illegalities surrounding Pokemon only intensify the connection with monetary value. One commentator, echoing the concerned father above, understood the point of the card games as one of hoarding and that, inevitably, there are losers (Solomon, 1999, p. 19). School yards have been called “trading pits” (Solomon), and some decry the speculation involved in trading the cards, selfconsciously referring to the other monetary frenzy, Wall Street (see Healy, 1999, p. 27). In this context of monetary pursuit, kid-on-kid bamboozlement, and outright violence and theft, the press asked if Pokemon was “evil” (Deacon & McClelland, 1999, p. 74; Jones, 1999, p. 72), and answered itself with a resounding “no,” so long as parents exercise controls. In the shadow of the Columbine High School shootings in April 1999, and given the hint of the occult in the iconography of the monsters—some referring to the craze as “monster madness” (Takahashi, 1999, p. 10)—and Time asking “Should Children Play with Monsters?” (McLaughlin, 1999, p. 84), the call for parents to be vigilant in the monitoring Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 94 D. Cook of their child’s play was more than typical parental browbeating by the media. A minister literalized the “evil” in Pokemon by holding a church service for 85 children where he took a blowtorch to the cards (Emery, 1999, p. A-01). It comes as no surprise that lawsuits were led against Nintendo of America, Wizards of the Coast, and 4Kids Entertainment in 1999 claiming that Pokemon, like sports cards, constitute a gambling lottery (Yang, 1999, p. 44). Many have defended Pokemon and the children caught up in it by either blaming parents or offering ways to see and use the card game as an instructional moment. One self- agellating mother used her self-blame for her child’s involvement in the craze to criticize the attorneys who led suit against Nintendo for promoting another kind of gambling, litigious gambling (Estrich, 1999). Most however used “instruction” as a morally defensible pretext for consumption and the inculcation of consumer values. Many praised the cooperative aspects of the game, in opposition to the “isolation” of computer games. Some card shop owners, such as David Esser in Southern California, set up tables and made times for Pokemon trades, often with parents present, with the idea of “teaching” children “sociability” as they trade and play. Monitored trading even offered a feeling of “community” (Manzano, 1999). One writer, whose authority is enhanced by his doctorate in experimental psychology, listed math skills (computing game points), language and reading skills (memorization of the characters), and economics and negotiation skills (the trading aspect) as the positive results (Jankovic, 1999). On the latter he states: Children must master the skills necessary to negotiate their card trades. Economics and game theory also come into play as the kids discuss how to assign trading values to each card. Is the prized Venusaur card worth one, two or three of the others? There are even informal rules about fairness. (p. 9) These are life lessons in predatory capitalism better learned earlier than later. Al Neuharth, USA Today founder and no stranger to economic competition, understands and accepts the competitive nature of Pokemon and of life in general. In an editorial in his national newspaper, he boasts of his daughter’s ability to “outwit” boys in trading Pokemon, hoping that the lesson extends to “real life” (Neuharth, 1999, p. 19A). Reminiscent of Adam Smith, Neuharth explains his daughter’s new-found generosity by virtue of her self-interested behavior: “Because she usually feels like a happy winner, she also has become more sharing. Even used her own allowance money to buy Pokemon cards for her little sister Karina, 3. A real sibling rarity!”(Neuharth, 1999). Discussion Chase cards and Beanie Babies represent a new moment in the commodi cation of children’s leisure. A series of moral panics overlapped and had something of a cumulative effect as the world of childhood in the late 1990s was seen to be thoroughly engulfed in a kind of fever. Consistent with other panics, these have subsided nearly as quickly as they arose—adding to the general feeling that the whole experience is out of any one person’s or group’s control. Exchange value, standing at the center of these activities, serves not merely as a means to engage in collecting and trading for their own sake, but rather as their goal. Lawsuits and public outcry condemned offending companies or greedy adults, cordoning off children themselves either as victims of, or unfortunate witnesses to, the by-products of the pro t motive. Parents and educators worried that the lessons learned would be those of self interest, chicanery, and the elevation of the monetary over the personal or social. The only defense offered was in the context of the younger, Pokemon-playing children who were said to learn Downloaded By: [Canadian Research Knowledge Network] At: 21:17 7 December 2007 Children’s Leisure 95 various “skills” from their involvement—thereby reframing the pastime as “play” rather than as the “serious” concern voiced by critics. Neither of these “lessons,” of course, has been used as a way to critique capitalism or the free market ethos. Indeed, the pattern is to demonize one or more of the participants— adults and companies, mainly—and not the structures and arrangements which make erce competition appear natural and indeed bene cial once one reaches adulthood. A larger, deeper ambivalence hovers over the debates of these seemingly innocuous activities and cutesy toys. Sheltering children from participating in or observing harsh, economic competition, and decision-making based on raw, monetary calculation is, at the same time, sheltering children from the kinds of behavior encouraged by market ideology. Yet market ideology and market behavior, particularly in the form of stock market speculation, are given credit for unprecedented prosperity. Corporate takeovers and leveraged buyouts are part of the regular media landscape for North Americans. Dramatized in lms like Wall Street, and on television shows such as The Street, these narratives are part of market lore. On top of these, legal gambling has become mainstream and illegal gambling has become increasingly visible and accessible on the internet. Las Vegas positions itself as offering “family entertainment” (Gottdiener, Collins, & Dickens, 1999) and slot machines are sold as children’s toys. Yet, lawsuits and public approbation has accompanied virtually the same behavior/attitude when expressed in the cases discussed above. The ambivalence is about capitalism itself—what it has wrought, what it teaches, the posture toward self and other it favors. The middle class, mostly White suburban kids, whose parents made such a stink about chase cards and Beanie Baby excess, are on a cultural trajectory to enter the very same world of speculation and risk upon which their lifestyles have been built. It is quite likely, given their social station, that many such parents own and trade public stocks. It hard to hide and shelter one’s children from the realization that when exchange value is made the exclusive goal of an endeavor, it brings with it an array of behavior like cheating, theft, bamboozlement, and other forms of subterfuge and deception (see Eaton, 1997). When these are found not on Wall Street but on Main Street, not in boardroom s but in basements and on school yards, it is nearly impossible to sustain the belief that they are aberrations and exceptions. Chase cards and planned scarcity encourage a form of training, a way of being, that is incompatible with notions of sacred, innocent children (notions which may be on the wane), but is highly compatible with aggressive, competitive capitalism. What may be most dif cult to look at directly—what is at the core of the moral concern in these amusements—is that exchange value may be emergent as the quintessential teacher, the ultimate pedagogue. Notes 1. Using mainly on-line sources, I examined approximately 350 printed press stories relating to these three topics, beginning in 1995. Coverage tended to cluster around events such as lawsuits, criminal activities, and so on, resulting in noticeable levels of repetition of stories in various parts of the United States and Canada. 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