April 13, 2011

Kidzania Is Club Libby Lu For Cube Drones

This is an extraordinarily depressing story. It makes me yearn for the days of Disney Princess dressups.

But at the heart of the concept and the business of KidZania is corporate consumerism, re-staged for children whose parents pay for them to act the role of the mature consumer and employee. The rights to brand and help create activities at each franchise are sold off to real corporations, while KidZania's own marketing emphasizes the arguable educational benefits of the park.

To put it another way entirely, the candy cigarette has found a rightful heir. And it's coming to the U.S. within the next two years.

* * *

For the children whose parents bring them to KidZania, the core of each activity is the same: listening to the adult supervisors explain what's going to happen, getting dressed up in suitable outfits or costumes, and then following instructions.

State of Play [themorningnews.org]


At first glance this sounds like the mutant child of the "executive function" pedagogy that's all the rage in pre-schools and kindergartens right now and a juvenile meatspace version of Second Life. This sounds awesome, not at all like Club Libby Lu.

But add in the corporate branding and lack of allowance for imagination, and it does indeed start to look like a depressing way to condition kids to accept consumerism as their master. Sigh.

It's tough, because they seem close to something real. One parent mentions it, but demonstrations and activities from the real world--how bread is made, what do policemen do, whatever--have a real appeal to kids. I even pulled down Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day recently, and the kids love it. But this sounds deadening: how to microwave a Hot Pocket in one easy step.

I like the mutant reference; I mentioned CLL because it, too, trafficked in packaging and staging adult, consumerist experiences for kids who, by the traditional developmental calendar, at least, weren't ready for it.

Interesting that Mr. Deri waits until the middle of his piece to tell us that he's never actually visited a KidZania. Perhaps this is the first in a series of pieces about places he's never been to but is willing to pass judgment on?

If he had actually ever been, he would have seen how much fun kids have there, how focused they are on what they are doing, and how little impact the marketing actually has on them.

Kidzania may be teaching kids to be corporate drones (that explains why it's so popular in Japan) but kids absolutely love the place... they get to touch all the cool machinery in stores we always wanted to touch ourselves as kids and take a stab at seeing what it's like to run the world a few decades early.

Also, the one in Japan has a TEPCO simulation. I hear they pay the kids 10x extra to work there now.

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