Friday, 17 April 2009

Levin and Kilbourne's So Sexy So Young (2008), about the sexualisation of childhood isn't a mainstream publication. If anything, a few of the better-off mothers with young children, and possibly fathers, will buy this well-researched book seeking tips to combating the "barrage" of sexual imagery aimed at children. Which is a shame. Others could also benefit from reading the dialogues the authors include as sample guides to talking with children about what they see in contemporary media.

Levin and Kilbourne's book is the exact counterpart to Catharine Lumby and Duncan Fine's study of the issue called Why TV Is Good For Kids (2006), which I read a month or so ago. On balance, I prefer the more recent book. The problem with the Australian book is that it goes to places we, in Australia, are familiar with that feature quite generally in the panoply of culture battles. On the contrary the US book restricts itself to analysing how a variety of media contribute to eroding healthy values and practices among children by purveying a range of sexualised messages and imagery.

Fine and Lumby put forward the idea that popular culture participation, even those elements of it we may initially feel challenged by, is not as much of a concern as poor parenting. Indeed, reading between the lines of Levin and Kilbourne's book brings you to a similar place. Those sample dialogues are so wonderful to read, as they show us how a competent parent answers a challenge to propriety that many will inevitably fail. Showing understanding, patience and affection toward a child who asks a difficult question is a positive community service, especially when they are recorded and publicised, as these are here.

Levin and Kilbourne, both Massachussetts academics, are firmly on the side of the 'beleaguered' parent against the serried ranks of powerful marketing and retail and media interests. It's a classic confrontation in which the salutary attitudes of a possibly more traditional but, in reality, simply enlightened, approach to parenting, are ranked against the incessant barrage of messages and images that are designed, simply, to extract dollars from parents' and adolescents' purses.

On balance, I would like to have been given more examples of what happens in extreme cases, such as those involving self-harm and psychosis. Levin and Kilbourne indeed apologise at the beginning for providing candid recounts of what happens every day in the modern world. As the book is intended to function as a primer and a handbook, they have shied away from more confrontational material in preference to that which will serve their ultimate purpose: arming the troops for the neverending battle of good against evil.

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