Ways of Seeing Children: The Facile Psychology of Capitalism

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1873 ... August 12, 2019

Ways of Seeing Children: The Facile Psychology of Capitalism

Judith Deutsch

The majesty and burning of the child’s death...
After the first death, there is no other. – Dylan Thomas

The sniper who shot at Muhammad the child
Beneath his father’s arm
Wasn’t acting alone – Aharon Shabtai J’Accuse

If you are overcome by the horrific crimes committed against children and then wonder how such cruelty can be, it may help to understand stories that adults tell children in their day-to-day lives. What kinds of core beliefs justify so much atrocity? My understanding comes in part from psychoanalytic work with children and adults. From among countless children’s stories, I will focus here on Roger Hargreaves’ Little Miss Helpful and compare it to the Hobans’ A Birthday for Frances, and then touch on Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi’s revelatory documentary about the Masada and Samson heroic suicide-terrorism stories told to Israeli children as they grow up. (Such normalizing of the pathological is a counterpart to the practice of "Pathologizing Kids," written about recently by Martha Rosenberg and... featured in Counterpunch.)

Little Miss Helpful is part of a 130-book series of Little Miss and Mr. Men pocket-sized, inexpensive books published by Penguin-Random House and promoted as one of the best-selling children’s books of all time. According to the Wikipedia, the books sold "100 million worldwide across 28 countries." The illustrations are simple one-dimensional emoticons with heads and bodies blended in one big bubble with no separation or intercession between a thinking head and acting body. The stories omit any reference to the existence of an inner life of thinking, feeling, or sensing.

"Little Miss" is more a caricature, than a character whose name is a cute, but also sarcastic, moniker. "Little Miss Helpful was one of those people who loves to help other people, but who ends up helping nobody. Do you know what I mean?" The story goes from one slapstick incident to another, with physical pain presented as humourous but never conveyed as painful, dangerous, or shaming. Every attempt to help turns into a silly mess, and Little Miss Helpful learns nothing and is never regretful or empathic. The explicit moral: Helping is Ridiculous. In some of the other books in the series, the presenting problem is resolved by magic or when Little Miss or Mr. Man is humored by Mr. Happy’s positive thinking.

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