Baby Culture and the Curriculum of Consumption: A Critical Reading of the Film Babies

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Pedagogy, Culture, and Society




We focus on the recently emerging "baby culture" that is fostering a curriculum of consumption and consumerism among parents-to-be and infants aged zero-to-three. To gain insight into how the cultural artifacts, practices, and trends emerging from this demographic are shaping the way we think and act in a consumer culture, we investigate "Babies," a popular documentary film by French director Thomas Balmes, who spent nearly two years following the lives of four babies from Namibia, Mongolia, Japan, and the USA. We identified a metanarrative positing the civilising nature of consumption; this metanarrative was exhibited through two main themes: colonising images and "civilised" cleanliness. These themes reinforce assumptions of a thriving or readily emerging baby culture in the featured consumer economy nations as contrasted with what could be read as the "uncivilised" approach to parenting and child development portrayed by the film in developing countries. We argue that the film perpetuates an obsession with a baby culture defined by consumerism as it simultaneously reproduces colonialist depictions of the "other". We posit that audiences in industrialised countries who view this film participate in "cinematic tourism" and thus become implicated in what Willinksy calls "imperialism's educational project."