We all played make-believe when we were kids. Either playing ‘doctor’ or ‘house’, we spent our time enjoying a little role-play. Nowadays, this common childish activity has taken a turn and is now made into a business.
KidZania is a theme park built to scale for children, where kids are trained to be small entrepreneurs, little business people, ‘mommy’s capitalist’. In this play city, kids from four to twelve can choose whatever trade they prefer, having to perform that role during the time they’re playing make believe. There is a city flag, its own currency, a registry for nationality and a passport is given, celebrating “the day kids became independent as adults”. They celebrate bank holidays and hold a congress, where kids gather to make decisions concerning the city. The management describes their activities as based on the concept of ‘edutainment’, seeking to teach children values and rules of citizenship and helping them live a healthier societal life.
The official site explains that, “as in the real world, children perform over 40 different ‘jobs’ and are either paid for their work or pay to shop or to be entertained”, while being surrounded by “buildings, paved streets, vehicles, a functioning economy, and recognizable destinations in the form of ‘establishments'” to make the whole thing more real. There’s everything in the city, from banks to TV stations, airports to football stadiums, universities to McDonalds restaurants. Yes, a McDonalds restaurant. Brands also play a role in this alternative reality: the ‘establishments’ placed inside the city are “sponsored and branded by leading multi-national and local brands”, making it more recognizable for kids and more profitable for those chipping in on this effective marketing strategy.
There are such playgrounds around the world, namely in Mexico, Japan, Indonesia, Chile, Saudi Arabia and… Portugal. Let’s all take a second to utter a loud “L.O.L.” and then we’ll procede.
Yes, there is such a playground in Lisbon, Portugal. Let’s analyse the meaning of this: there’s a playground that teaches kids the ways of the Western system, the ways of the capitalized world. Ok. There’s a bankrupt country that is in trouble partly because of said system. Ok. They put such playground in this country. Ok. So… Are they enjoying the irony of their actions while sipping a bit of brandy or are they trying to teach kids they way to avoid the mistakes of past generations? L.O.L. moment again.
It is clear that this is nothing but a money making machine, sustained in a classic kids play. It’s money made from explaining to kids how to be an upright citizen in a capitalist model, while associating this feel with the brands in the place. For instance, from 20 years from now, little Pepito will not understand why going to McDonalds makes him feel as if he belongs to a community, but this is how marketing goes.
However, KidZania also touches an acute level of poetic irony: it’s funny to try to teach kids from a bankrupt country to be responsible citizens, role models in a perfect city. It’s not realistic, it’s not fair. I’m not arguing for anarchy classes or molotov cocktail recipes, I’m instead arguing for a more responsible way of teaching kids how to live and behave in society. Sure, this is a playground, and nothing but a playground, but selling such a concept with the certificate of “edutainment” and arranging school trips to visit the park doesn’t seem all too… twisted? Plus: what is up with this fever of creating perfect role model kids? It starts with things such as this and ends up in party youths, which I consider to be one of the biggest cancers of modern society (more to come on this topic next week). Call me old fashioned, but I prefer my brainwashing to be done when I’m dead.