Was childhood invented?

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Was childhood invented?

Postby CvdC » 07 Jan 2008, 23:06

Was Punch and Judy always a children's entertainment? Or did it at some point during the 19th century transfer to a newly emerging nursury culture?
During a workshop we gave recently I briefly mentioned that Punch and Judy was in fact an adult oriented puppet show and that prior to the Victorian era the notion of children's entertainment did not exist. I even said that childhood was a construct of the 19th century. Where did I get this notion from?
Well while wondering about after the workshop I was approached by someone who just happened to have been researching that topic and he told me the theory originated with one Philippe Aries who wrote a book called Centuries of Childhood in 1963. He also said that Aries theory had since been discredited. Apparently Aries referenced art work noting there were no children, babies are depicted but children are seen as little adults. (What Aries made of Breugel I do not know).
In the study of our peculiar subject we see alot of images from 1885 and throughout the nineteenth century and you can notice this development quite clearly.
Children in the later half of the 19th century and much of the 20th were "seen and not heard" and gradually through the later half of the 20th century the role of children in society became more participatory, in a manner of speaking. THis can be seen in the development of Children's television which was in the early days a lot quieter and gentler than it is today. Compare for instance Andy Pandy with the Muppets.
Is it possible that the the way children watch a Punch and Judy show today can be different from the way they watched it in the 50's and 60's. I once thought that Punch was a way to allow well dressed, well behaved and quiet children to let off some steam. But these days children dress more casually, and let off steam quite freely at any time.

I'd be interested in hearing impressions from those of you who did see shows in the middle of last century and how, now that televison has lost its lustre, things may have changed.
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Postby lesclarke » 07 Jan 2008, 23:26

I'm not really in the mood to think too deeply about things, but especially in the last couple of years my personal view has become that despite increasing media and new media output, despite for instance the supposed
earlier maturity of children ...basically children up to aged 11ish have essentially not changed.
...and I think their reaction to P&J shows this.
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Postby Chris » 08 Jan 2008, 00:34

I agree with you Les, on both counts.
I think there can be too much theorising.

And yes, children haven't changed much. Why should they? The child of six years of age in the 1950s had been out of the womb for exactly the same period of time as a child of six in 2008. And whatever the fashions of the time, the different styles of entertainment, the more liberal discipline etc. the child still is the same bundle of eagerness, curiosity and imagination as of yore.

Children's manners have changed, in line with those of their parents. So they are ruder, less appreciative, more demanding than children were thirty years ago. But their spontaneous reactions remain the same. So when performing magic or Punch and Judy I find that the children laugh at exactly the same things as they did in the 60s, and pretty much the same as I remember laughing at 20 years before.

One thing has changed - and most people will find this surprising - young children's attention spans have increased. This is quite at variance with the way stuff is fed to them in small chunks on television.

You read any book of the 50s/60s on entertaining the young (mainly written by magicians) and you will discover that the general advice is that a half hour show is as long as you will be able to hold the child's attention. Compare this with today when many competent children's magicians will frequently present a show lasting an hour. And when we first opened the Harlequin Puppet Theatre it was considered that a show of an hour and a quarter, including an interval, was quite long enough for a puppet show. Now I very rarely do less than an hour and a half.
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Postby CvdC » 08 Jan 2008, 06:39

I think the idea is not that the children have changed but the way society treats them, what it expects of them and so on. The idea was that once they were over the age of seven they were once upon a time just little adults, a bit stupid and in need of experience. Then they were allowed a childhood until they were in their teens and then they were expected to be adults. And then we invented teenagehood. And some say we are stretching that up until a person is thirty something.

The point of theory is that it is supposed to make you think and reflect on things. For instance "Do children conscentrate for longer" and if they do can you make your shows longer. Or do you think slapstick humour is once again becoming acceptable? (Which I believe to be true.)
Are we now less precious about our notion of childhood? I think about this as a parent myself. A lot of the childhood stuff from the fifties is a bit cloying. I once tried reading my children Enid Blyton and had to give up because I felt sick. Or read Hallo Mr Punch - ye gad!
But also I am convinced the Punch and Judy show of this century will be different from that of the middle of last century. If we think about it we might identify how different or even how similar it may remain. If we write what we think then if that is theorising - so what? It is nice to entertain a thought now and then.
I do think children are over television. Live entertainment is now novel and exciting.
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Postby Chris » 08 Jan 2008, 11:24

Perhaps it is that some adults can no longer be children. I can still get pleasure from Enid Blyton books - as children always have done. It was adults who banned them in the sixties, finding racism in the golliwog villains in Noddy and homosexuality in the friendships developed in young teenager adventures. In fact Enid Blyton suffered far more from the over-the-top PC brigade than Punch has ever done. Now we have you feeling sick.

But the children still love the books.

Children are remarkably resilient to adult efforts to change them. I remember in the late 60s, early 70s there was a period when fantasy was out! This applied to television as well as literature. Instead of Fairy Stories we had books which introduced young children to ideas about being adopted, about having divorced parents, and about coping with the death of a parent. At the same time Grimm's tales were considered too dark for children, while Mother Goose was too nonsensical or lacking in reality.

There was quite a concentrated effort to kill off the fairies and the goblins and the elves. How successfully you can judge by what has bubbled to the top since - Harry Potter - Lord of the Rings. I remember losing a TV series because a new head of department, bubbling with the latest theories, condemned my scripts with "this whole business of anthropomorphism is so old hat, you just don't understand the modern child". This was in the year that "Watership Down" was the run-away best seller.

No, despite the efforts of the educationists and entertainment providers and fashion makers - theorists all - it would seem that though they can certainly influence the behavior and the surface attitudes they do not alter the child at the core which is the part that responds to imaginative stimulation.

I always am saddened by the wretched destiny of so many children - to become adults.

By the way Chris, you say
Or do you think slapstick humour is once again becoming acceptable?

I have not experienced a time in my life when it hasn't been acceptable.
Similarly
Live entertainment is now novel and exciting.

It always has been Chris.
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Postby lesclarke » 08 Jan 2008, 12:46

I agree cvdc there is nothing wrong with theorising, often an interesting and yes a useful exercise, it's what some people do with the conclusions.

Whenever I hear a new theory, I am interested but then of course use my own judgment and experience to assess it, and of course I think about who is presenting the theory and what 'axe they may have to grind.'

I myself have a theory that those who offer 'Conspiracy Theories' do so solely because they 'haven't got a life.'

Of course even those who offer very well accepted theories often end up totally revising their views later, and I believe this happened in another child related area with the famous Dr Spock who had a fair old rethink a few years back.

And yes Chris, growing old is compulsory, growing up is optional.
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Postby Tony James » 08 Jan 2008, 15:10

I think some of the comparisons made between the post war children and those of today depend to some extent on where those children live.

Children in affluent areas especially nursery age do have much better concentration, a much better vocabulary and greater general knowledge.In fact, magical effects one would have used for 5 and 6 years old some years ago are now, with the appropriate presentation, understood and enjoyed by 3 year old children.

However, there is a discernible difference when you go into poorer areas. The children are not as bright and at 3 years tend to rather unnervingly sit and stare at you. There is much less feedback, especially at Christmas time when the children have only been in the nursery since September. Go back in July at the end of term and you see a difference. It is something recognised by the nursery teachers. They say it is due to having much of their first three years sat in front of a TV, often whilst sat on the pot, and in effect ignored for long periods.

So it rather depends on quite where you are.

Once through the age of five then I find a decided split. In general, girls are bright, fast with responses, quick on the uptake and imaginative with good concentration.

But boys, generally, are slower, duller, less imaginative and their concentration can be fragile.

Again it's not just me. Teachers confirm my views and as we all know, well, those of us who occasionally indulge ourselves in watching children's tv programmes, old tv films for children which I remember from my childhood have now been butchered because of the perception that children can't concentrate for longer than a few minutes.

These films are not only edited, the programme cuts to the studio for some diversion and the presenters then pass you back to the film, describing what has taken place whilst you were away - i.e. what they have cut out.

So in general I would say that older children don't show the same powers of concentration as they did years ago. They may last the course but the individual segments need to be shorter.

As for Punch when working the show to the public outdoors. In general, children and adults are initially less voluble than years ago. I sometimes have to work quite hard at the early warm-ups before I can get the children to start responding. It doesn't always come naturally. They look and they stare but are quiet. And when they are like that, the adults are too.

Similarly, when the children are voluble, the adults don't need much encouraging to join in!

This I am convinced is to do with more than just the effects of tv as such. People spend so much time before a screen they are no longer used to joining in . It's there to be pulled out and it helps when people return for another performance and know the ropes but initially, joining in doesn't come as naturally as it once did.

And I find there are few differences really throughout the UK. Of course it's harder when you go to an area where they haven't seen Punch before. I go to plenty of those. Even after a reasonable warm - up you can go through a show to almost no response on occasion. yet these are the very people who come round afterwards to say how much they have enjoyed it!

Funny old world.
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Postby Professor Eek » 08 Jan 2008, 19:10

But boys, generally, are slower, duller, less imaginative and their concentration can be fragile


Well that's me in a nutshell.
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Postby Chris » 08 Jan 2008, 22:28

Re Tony J's long and informative posting, it possibly underlines that the type of response will always vary with the performer.

I must say I strongly object to the suggestion that affluent children are more responsive because poorer children have more neglectful parents.

due to having much of their first three years sat in front of a TV, often whilst sat on the pot, and in effect ignored for long periods
.

If I didn't know you better Tony, I would think your piece was riddled with cliche, stereotyping and snobbery.

Code: Select all
The children are not as bright and at 3 years tend to rather unnervingly sit and stare at you.


Do they? Do you think it might be the hat?
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Postby Tony James » 08 Jan 2008, 22:57

I wish it was as simple as the hat Chris. I don't wear it for magic. And i thought twice before making the affluent and poorer comparison but sadly it is true. Not of each and every individual but of the collective.

I do lots of nurseries in very different areas and I see the trends. I talk to the teachers, some of whom I've known a long time. They agree about the differences. The differences are simple.

When the children in the better areas go home their education - for want of a better word - continues, They are stimulated by parents who care and who talk and read together and have their evening meal together, as a family around the table. They don't sit watching television all day or all evening. In general, that is.

Those in poorer areas leave nursery for home and that's it till tomorrow. They will sit in front of the tv for the rest of the afternoon and evening. As a teacher said to me recently, very few of them own a table and chairs to eat at. They eat off their knees and they don't talk. When they first arrive at nursery they have to be taught how to sit at a table and eat.

As another mentioned not long ago, most of the children in their nursery come from homes with no books in them. Many of them appear never to have seen a book, let alone owned one. we are talking about young children of three years.

It's not that the children haven't got the capacity to learn. They have the potential but - again generally - it isn't realised anything like as quickly as it would be in a different environment..

I see a marked difference when I meet these children again in the summer for Punch. Much brighter. But still not as bright as those in the more affluent areas. They have moved ahead too.

And then that's it. They're only in nursery these days for a year and then they move on to the infants at four and into the Reception Year as it is called.

So this isn't snobbery even if it sounds it. Nor does it mean that all children in better areas are bright and all in poorer areas are dull. Not at all.

But, looking at young audiences en masse, that's what I observe, and from time to time I question and discuss it with the teachers.

I tell it as it is, even if that isn't palatable.
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Postby Chris » 08 Jan 2008, 23:05

It is funny how I get a completely different picture from the schools and nurseries and children and teachers I come up against.

It must be the hat.
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maybe

Postby Trev » 08 Jan 2008, 23:15

Maybe it is only affluent children who can afford to see Tony's show:lol:

Actually Tony, I'dsuggest that the affluent kids might be more experienced with live shows and react in a more favourable way (which i guess is what you are saying)

Here in Poland the kids are generally amazingly well behaved and enthusiastic. I do a fair bit of work (puppets, theatre and other stuff) in very impoverished areas and I find the kids are always polite. Must be one of the few places left where kids call you "Sir" when they first meet you.

I also recall that in Glasgow one of the snottiest places we played was in a very well-to-do and affluent school in East kilbride. One of the most polite and welcoming was a school in Possil (not the most affluent of places, or of the best reputation).

What I have noticed is a difference between interests and enthusiasm in certain areas between village kids and town kids. However,that, I'd say, is more to do with lack of amenities in villages.
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Postby CvdC » 08 Jan 2008, 23:23

It could be that the Nurture aspect of a child's upbringing is not so much do with class but rather neglect. Put a kid on a pot in front of TV and even a rich kid will lack for stimulation. I guess when you can afford a nanny you can neglect your child more successfully.

An interesting argument is that if you remove the hanging scene from a Punch show because of the abolition of capital punishment then why not remove the stick because of the current abolition of corporal punishment.
How much more poignant the smack of Punch's stick must have been to the child who knew the admonishment of the cane or strap?
My children have never been smacked even. The whole idea of using physical violence to punish someone is totally alien to them.
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Postby Tony James » 08 Jan 2008, 23:30

This is a funny area I'm in. There are extremely poor areas by UK standards and the super rich areas. And all manner of shades between.

And although again you may not care for this Chris, affluence plays it part in private parties.

The most polite, well mannered children, considerate to each other and really and truly enjoying themselves are often in the poorest areas. This may well be the one and only occasion they have a party with an entertainer. They are a delight to do, there's of often not much room for the homes are small but they are great places to be. I worked one on January 2 and it was like the United Nations in there.

Running them a close second are most of the rest. I love old country family parties where they've lived there for generations. The ones I hesitate about are the newly affluent super rich people living in multimillionaire homes. The children can be very spoilt.

I have done a lot of parties for footballers and almost without exception found them to be very down to earth and the children well behaved. No different to any other. In general, that is.

So money doesn't enter into this side of the business. As they become older, children tend to level off and catch each other up. I notice the differences most when the children are very young, at nursery and the differences then are quite telling.
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Postby Chris » 09 Jan 2008, 00:38

This is a funny area I'm in.

Come off it Tony - we work the same areas - Cheshire, Lancs, Greater Manchester and Shropshire is my normal pitch for schools and domestics. That can't be too different from yours.

We just obviously see things totally differently. For example you see of the poorer children "This may well be the one and only occasion they have a party with an entertainer." whereas my experience of the poor areas is that quite often these are the ones where they have hired a community centre and payed for not only an entertainer but also a bouncy castle, and there are a mass of adults - the extended family. Presumably grandparents and aunts and uncles all chipping in.

But isn't this rather off topic again? Wasn't the original discussion about whether children had changed in their response to P&J over the years rather than whether reading the Daily Mail colours the outlook of the operformer.
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