Derek Johnson | University of Michigan Press
Within corporate media industries, adults produce children’s entertainment. Yet children, presumed to exist outside the professional adult world, make their own contributions to it—creating and posting unboxing videos, for example, that provide content for toy marketers. Many adults, meanwhile, avidly consume entertainment products nominally meant for children. Media industries reincorporate this market-disrupting participation into their strategies, even turning to adult consumers to pass fandom to the next generation.
Derek Johnson presents an innovative perspective that looks beyond the simple category of “kids’ media” to consider how entertainment industry strategies invite producers and consumers alike to cross boundaries between adulthood and childhood, professional and amateur, new media and old. Revealing the social norms, reproductive ideals, and labor hierarchies on which such transformations depend, he identifies the lines of authority and power around which legacy media institutions like television, comics, and toys imagine their futures in a digital age. Johnson proposes that it is not strategies of media production, but of media reproduction, that are most essential in this context. To understand these critical intersections, he investigates transgenerational industry practice in television co-viewing, recruitment of adult comic readers as youth outreach ambassadors, media professionals’ identification with childhood, the branded management of adult fans of LEGO, and the labor of child YouTube video creators. These dynamic relationships may appear to disrupt generational and industry boundaries alike. However, by considering who media industries empower when generating the future in these reproductive terms and who they leave out, Johnson ultimately demonstrates how their strategies reinforce existing power structures.