Until I’d read this Guardian story about it I’d never heard of KidZania. That was possibly a good thing, because now I’m despairing that we live in a world in which it exists. If you’ve never heard of it until now, here’s how they describe themselves:
KidZania provides children and their parents a safe, unique, and very realistic educational environment that allows kids between the ages of four to twelve to do what comes naturally to them: role-playing by mimicking traditionally adult activities. As in the real world, children perform “jobs” and are either paid for their work (as a fireman, doctor, police officer, journalist, shopkeeper, etc.) or pay to shop or to be entertained. The indoor theme park is a city built to scale for children, complete with buildings, paved streets, vehicles, a functioning economy, and recognizable destinations in the form of “establishments” sponsored and branded by leading multi-national and local brands.
Yes, your kids can have a fun day out learning that their lives will be worthless unless they hand themselves over to a multinational brand. KidZania, it seems, allows kids to have a small amount of fun at the start, but then they have to go and earn themselves some ‘KidZos’ by working before they can do anything else. Yes, someone’s finally found a way to drain all the fun out of kids dressing up and role-playing, and made sure it’s now a ‘learning experience’ where kids can ‘acquire real-life skills, learn about working and having a career and are introduced to the fundamentals of financial literacy’. Because that’s a fun day out, not a hideous penetration of the adult world into the child’s. What is wrong with letting children just have a good time? In other contexts, child labour is a bad thing, yet somehow KidZania strives to make it acceptable.
I’ve written before about how we’ve let workism conquer the world, and this is a perfect example of it. People don’t usually accept and adopt ideologies out of the blue, and they often just accept the ideologies they’re exposed to as a child. Just like Soviet children could join the Young Pioneers to develop Marxism-Leninism from an early age, so KidZania can instil the value of workism and loyalty to corporations from an early age. There’s something sickeningly admirable in how it takes something kids already do by themselves, removes all the imagination from it, sticks some advertising on top and then charges for the privilege of doing it. (And, of course, makes sure that the parents have plenty of opportunities to spend their money in the nearby shops while their kids are kept busy)
I’m all for giving kids a chance to play in their own world and not be told what to do by adults, but KidZania is only pretending to be that. Read through their site and you’ll find that this supposedly child-run world is anything but:
“Zupervisors” are on hand to introduce AND provide support for each activity. Zupervisors are trained adults who guide and help kids accomplish their tasks as they work and play.
Everything in KidZania is planned out and organised, with children being led through an experience, not set free to discover for themselves. It’s perhaps a perfect metaphor for a world run by workism, where big corporations have laid out the unalterable framework of experience and everyone’s task is to process along the appointed routes, with supervisors in place to make sure no one wanders too far from the crowd. Notice that the ‘jobs’ on offer are all about working for someone in a prescribed role, not about anything involving creativity, individuality, learning for its own sake or researching.
All it needs to completely represent their future is to allow rich parents to buy currency for their children so they don’t have to do any work while they’re there and can just enjoy watching all the others work while they don’t have to, but still get all the rewards. Or maybe that would lead to the kids learning too much too young?