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September 08, 2009

Book Review: The Case for Make Believe

LinnCover Against the grain. Susan Linn has been going against the grain for 30 years. If you wanted to find another person from history to compare Susan Linn to it would have to be Ralph Nader. People forget that in the 1960s Nader, with his book Unsafe at Any Speed, almost single-handedly caused American auto makers to begin installing seat belts standard in all cars. He spoke out about the metal dashboards that caused serious injury at 20 miles an hour and "safety glass" that could kill. Thanks to his work, in 1966 Congress passed the Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 which permanently attached the word "safety" to the word "automobile." Since then auto manufacturing and regulations have never been the same.

Susan Linn is that kind of advocate, only she is a champion for childhood, not cars. Her book, The Case for Make Believe - like Nader's book- points out the potential harm our profit-driven children's media and entertainment industries have caused.
Susan Linn is Associate Director of the Media Center at Judge Baker Children's Center and Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

In The Case for Make Believe Linn speaks truth to power. She discusses how children's make believe has been co-opted by product placement. She highlights how in the past some children's play was violent but it would evolve and become more about problem solving. Now, that violence, based in media, is mindless imitation of games and videos that glorify violence. There is no evolution of thought or learning, the natural result of play. Linn points out that we, yes the adults in our children's lives, are robbing our own children of their imaginations but constantly distracting them with purchased videos, toys, and games. In this book Susan is going up some of the biggest names in the children's market and she doesn't pull any punches. She names names like Hasbro, Mattel, and Disney in her indictment of our children's corrupters.  In fact here she is discussing her organization, the coalition Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and its suit against Disney for describing its Baby Einstein videos as educational.

It was hard to read this book at times because I felt guilt, remorse, and sadness for my own children. I was heartened though, to realize that I had not fully participated in their "commercialization." We have avoided some of the key imagination-killer brands in our home including Bratz, Barbie, Transformers, and Power Rangers. I felt even more sadness for my former students whose parent's will never read this book. The Case for Make Believe helps parents and teachers understand how this commercialization happens, how it affects learning, and what they can do to protect children's play.

This book gets a hearty Hallelujah from this "children's chior". I just hope we can sing loud enough for those outside the church to hear us.

Linn is also a ventriloquist who worked on the Mr. Rogers show. If you would like to check out Susan showing off her rapier wit ala Judd Apatow style humor check out this video of her and Audrey the Duck, both of whom have appeared on the Mr. Rogers show. It is not for kiddies even though there is a puppet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooy_qvFY_Bw


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