Nasaw, David. (1992) Children and Commerical Culture: Moving Pictures in the Early 20th Century


A study of Nickelodeon movies in the early 20th century demonstrates that children had independence, agency and collective buying power as early as 1910.


Nasaw argues that although reformers and child protectors campaigned to keep children out of the Nickelodeon theatres, children continued to swarm to the theatres in search of cheap excitement and entertainment. Theatre owners generally turned a blind eye to age restrictions and requirements for adult accompaniment because they relied on children’s nickels to stay in business.  They voted with their nickels by patronizing the types of movies they liked (westerns, war, crime, comedies etc) and by staying away from the “educational” films deemed fit for children.  Additionally the movie theatre provided children with escape from adult supervision where they were free to behave and socialize as they pleased.

“the adult discourse on children and the movies centered on the influence of the movies on the young.  And yet, ironically, when the full history of the subject is written, it may reveal that the children’s effect on the industry was much greater than the moving pictures’ effects on children” (Nasaw, 24)


Studies newspaper articles and other historical primary sources.



HOW TO USE: This is a great reading to assign to undergrads


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