Trains>Cats>Fairies. In that order.

Donna Haraway’s wonderful and wonderfully over-cited essay linking cyborgs to women as similarly Other is profoundly useful in understanding (of a sort) our daughter’s media predelictions. The metaphor of cyborgs in children’s culture is ubiquitous – perhaps particularly so (if it’s possible to be particularly ubiquitous, thank you, semantic police. why are you so apoetic, anyway?) in media targeted toward toddlers and pre-schoolers.

It began with some Pixar bullshit, actually. Those Cars (not those Cars) with faces and personalities. Their stories about helping each other out, preventing each other from rusting, winning races by losing them, their cathartic humanization via tepid storylines. Their conversion from profit-seeking automata into caring, sharing, small town-rebuilders.

Soon we were immersed in Thomas the Tank Engine sets and stories. I preferred this over the Disney stuff (even though it’s all owned by corporate types). Thomas is at least a tad steampunk (albeit problematic w/(1) its valorization of utility over all else and (2) grim Dickensian hierarchy). Here though, a storied industrial technology, one with a storied history of analysis (the steam engine), is enmeshed with well-meaning, expressive baby faces that learn and grow. I have a half-finished paper on this topic for which I will hopefully seek publication within the next year (though the dissertation work is looming large in my appointment book these days).

Then came the cats. Cats that talked (Garfield), cats that went on adventures with dogs (Adventures of Milo and Otis, ouch animal welfare shame), and the racist, sexist, classist, though still somehow enjoyable Aristocats. Disney. Meh. All the while, the girl’s adopting various characters as identity-poles, their narratives as routines, insisting on being called by their names, giving us names of other characters, getting bewildered when strangers and daycare-mates didn’t understand her naming conventions nor play designs.

I think we’ve gotten through all that now (the social adjustment bit, that is). But the point I wanted to make was this: the past three weeks have seen us taking a turn toward more conventional territory. It’s fairies. They’re bugs, they’re in gardens, they fly, they cast spells, but they’re undeniably female. And the mechanical and industrial dimension of her focus seems to be all but gone (though we still do build ramps out of cardboard boxes and zoom dinky cars down them once in a while).

I know what you’re thinking. This is a lot of pop culture riffing, and almost no Haraway whatsoever. Well, you’ll have to wait for that Thomas-steampunk-cyborg-toddler paper. If you donate money I might write it faster. Hit me up on flattr, he says half-seriously.

Check out Haraway’s talk about transhumanism below. It’s a big deal: