Babies are People!

May 13, 2010

“Mommies are people. People with children. When mommies were little they used to be kids, like some of you, but then they grew, and now mommies are women: women with children. Busy with children and things that they do, there are a lot of things, a lot of mommies can do.”

(pardon the mistakes, this is from memory, used to listen to the album a lot in my living room in Boulder, that is Free to Be You and Me of course, got a bootleg video about ten years ago and showed it to my kids, but that’s another story from the early 2000s, and then, even earlier, the good old days, the 1970s, when mommies and babies and even daddies, too, were people being liberated with the help of Marlo Thomas and friends from the shackles of patriarchy and discrimination, and stereotypes but hey, look:

Babies treat babies like penguins! Or at least movie penguins, which are treated like people.

Babies relies upon animal documentary‘s comforting staples of pathos, melodrama (music swells to help us really get the feeling), and anthromorphism (animals are people, people with children…), to make the obvious argument that babies are people, but not. The film’s trite, pleasing, but ultimately intellectually offensive thesis is the opposite: that babies are animals, as are mommies and daddies, too, all doing what penguins do: following instinct to wash, shelter, feed, and enculture our offspring in the diverse landscapes and ecosystems of our natural world (steppe, savannah, urban mall, no matter). This film’s animalorphic view of babies celebrates nature and denies culture: we know or care nothing about the four baby’s parent’s jobs, wealth, access to health care or education or voting, whether or not they are raised in patriarchy or capitalism, whether they will be educated, married young, forced to the field. All of these babies will be people and not penguins and one or two will live longer, due to their home society’s average longevity, itself a function of culture, and some might get pay and jobs almost equal to men (due to feminism), and others will stay home tending children, and some will be men, and maybe herders, living off the land, while others work on computers.

Babies are people. And people live in culture. And ethnographic film and anthropology has long studied babies in context, a much more reasoned (if complicated) way to make sense of all the things that babies do.