The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Childrens Culture

Hardcover | April 15, 2004

byGary Cross

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The twentieth century was, by any reckoning, the age of the child in America. Today, we pay homage at the altar of childhood, heaping endless goods on the young, reveling in memories of a more innocent time, and finding solace in the softly backlit memories of our earliest years. We are, theproclamation goes, just big kids at heart. And, accordingly, we delight in prolonging and inflating the childhood experiences of our offspring. In images of the naughty but nice Buster Brown and the coquettish but sweet Shirley Temple, Americans at mid-century offered up a fantastic world oftreats, toys, and stories, creating a new image of the child as "cute." Holidays such as Christmas and Halloween became blockbuster affairs, vehicles to fuel the bedazzled and wondrous innocence of the adorable child. All this, Gary Cross illustrates, reflected the preoccupations of a more gentleand affluent culture, but it also served to liberate adults from their rational and often tedious worlds of work and responsibility. But trouble soon entered paradise. The "cute" turned into "cool" as children, following their parental example, embraced the gift of fantasy and unrestrained desireto rebel against the saccharine excesses of wondrous innocence in deliberate pursuit of the anti-cute. Movies, comic books, and video games beckoned to children with the allures of an often violent, sexualized, and increasingly harsh worldview. Unwitting and resistant accomplices to thiscommercial transformation of childhood, adults sought-over and over again, in repeated and predictable cycles-to rein in these threats in a largely futile jeremiad to preserve the old order. Thus, the cute child-deliberately manufactured and cultivated--has ironically fostered a profoundly troubledambivalence toward youth and child rearing today. Expertly weaving his way through the cultural artifacts, commercial currents, and parenting anxieties of the previous century, Gary Cross offers a vibrant and entirely fresh portrait of the forces that have defined American childhood.

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From the Publisher

The twentieth century was, by any reckoning, the age of the child in America. Today, we pay homage at the altar of childhood, heaping endless goods on the young, reveling in memories of a more innocent time, and finding solace in the softly backlit memories of our earliest years. We are, theproclamation goes, just big kids at heart. ...

Author of An All-Consuming Century: Why Commercialism Won in Modern America, Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood, and seven other books relating to the history of modern society, Gary Cross is a Distinguished Professor of Modern History at the Pennsylvania State University.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:272 pages, 6.3 × 9.21 × 0.91 inPublished:April 15, 2004Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195156668

ISBN - 13:9780195156669

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"Building on a dramatic account of changes in the ways that American teachers, cultural critics, merchandisers, media, and parents have understood children's innocence or sophistication, Gary Cross shows how the history of childhood illuminates American cultural history in general."-- VivianaA. Zelizer, author of Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children