Too much analysis makes for trauma

21st July 1995 at 01:00
IN FRONT OF THE CHILDREN: SCREEN ENTERTAINMENT AND YOUNG AUDIENCES edited by Cary Bazalgette and David Buckingham BFI Pounds 14.99. - 0 85170 453 0

Eurfron Gwynne Jones looks at the effect of the media on children . This is an anthology of essays from British and American writers exploring the issues which lie below the surface of the obvious in films, television, computer games and comics produced and marketed for children. The only genre missing is radio, which in its time has shared with the others the charge of inciting young people to violence and anti-social behaviour. This anthology makes a welcome change in that it is not dealing with that important but not yet satisfactorily addressed topic.

The detail and rigour of most of the essays makes the likely readership difficult to define. Teachers and lecturers involved in media studies will be more accustomed to the approach and language used and therefore able to work through them. However the generally interested lay-person could be easily put off by the detail of the analysis to which the most mundane event is subjected.

Some of the authors seem to go deeper into their speculations, and they are no more than this, than the material warrants. A lovingly constructed film put together shot by shot may merit the form of analysis described in the essay on children's cinema, but I doubt that many run-of-the-mill television programmes for children produced to rushed schedules and with the resulting compromises merit the same detailed approach.

There are exceptions. Marie Messenger Davies' essay on the comparison between American and British treatment of pre-school television is both an interesting read for the uninitiated and an easier one. It is also highly relevant now as our provision of pre-school nursery education is high on the agenda.

Sesame Street, which prepared children for formal education and put much of its effort into addressing the needs of inner city children, is compared with the British pre-school genre typified by Play School and Playdays, aimed at children's ordinary viewing and defined as entertainment, not education.

The fact that both Sesame Street and Play School and Playdays have been used in different ways from those which their producers may have intended is typical of the gap between intention and reality characteristic of television of all ages. Messenger Davies' analysis of how both types of programmes set about their task is written without jargon and is totally accessible. It will be interesting to see whether the current debates about pre-school education will result in the combination of entertainment and a more overt approach to preparing the child for school coming to Britain's children's TV as they did in America 20 years ago.

I felt too much was made of too little in the analysis of programmes such as Captain Planet, Wacaday and the film genre typified by Home Alone in an essay amazingly subtitled "Generation War and Transgenerational Address in American Movies, Television and Presidential Politics". This tendency was carried to the extreme in the long excursion into Freudian theory which accompanied the analysis of the attraction and power in the Ninja Turtles. In her examination of Turtle Power, Cathy Urwin is concerned with the way fiction supports unconscious fantasies "for managing and defending against universal anxieties". The proposition itself makes interesting reading but the long detour into psychoanalytical perspectives may well be off putting.

It is however refreshing to read a book which takes provision for children seriously and introduces many fascinating new perspectives. This is a book to dip into, but its concern with the provision of good quality material for children is something we should all take seriously.

EG J Eurfron Gwynne Jones was formerly director of education at the BBC.

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