Entries in Susan Linn (9)
My initial thoughts about the Canadian couple refusing to make public the sex of their baby were not kind. It seemed like just another media circus fomented by parents exploiting their children for celebrity—like Jon and Kate, or the balloon boy. But two things made me change my mind. I listened to an actual interview with the couple on the CBC. And someone sent me pictures of a new French lingerie line for four year olds.
Despite important gains made by the LBGT community, 2011 is a lousy time to be trying to raise children of any gender with a healthy, nuanced sense of what it means to be male or female. The unprecedented convergence of unfettered commercialism and ubiquitous screen media means that we are inundated with what the advertising industry calls “shockvertising,” ads or products designed to get our attention by being ever so much more outrageous than their competitors. The pornification of little girlhood is just one example—but it’s particularly troubling.
The food industry is throwing a zillion-dollar tantrum to quash proposed national nutritional guidelines for food advertised to kids. Meanwhile, yet another research study came out demonstrating the harm done by advertising directly to children.
As concern about childhood obesity escalates, the barrage of kid-targeted marketing for unhealthy food is increasingly identified as a factor—not the sole cause, but an important part of the problem—which could easily be remedied. The evidence keeps building for the need to stop inundating kids with food marketing. Remember the study from Stanford showing that branding even trumps our senses, at least for preschoolers. Kids were given food wrapped in McDonald’s wrappers and the same food wrapped in plain wrappers, and most of them swore that the food in branded wrapping tasted better. Similarly, a study from Yale found that processed food tastes better to young children when its packaging is emblazoned with popular characters like Scooby Doo.
A recent article in the New York Times about how high school kids are spending their summers reminded me once again that the commercialization of childhood extends way beyond Happy Meals and sexualized clothing to compromise every stage of children’s development. A commercially saturated culture has a profoundly negative influence on children’s basic assumptions, values, life choices, and experience of living.
The Times profiled companies like Everything Summer that craft summer experiences for teenagers designed to translate into stand-out personal essays for college admissions. There’s so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin. Never mind that it’s yet another example of how unequal opportunity is in this country. While there is a company that takes low income students on a trip to Italy, about which they are tasked to write an essay, most kids can’t afford to buy designer summers to boost their chances of getting into college. But there’s something else insidious at work.
The controversy brewing over a new breastfeeding doll soon to be sold in the United States reminds me of the bru-ha-ha about Teletubbies when Jerry Falwell accused Tinky Winky of being gay. People rightfully upset about homophobia came to the support of the show, misguidedly defending the goodness of Teletubbies—which was being marketed, falsely, as educational for babies.
Public discourse about Breast Milk Baby is following the same lines. Arguments over the doll are centered on culture wars—whether it is appropriate for young children to witness breastfeeding, imitate it, or even know what it is.
As advocates for deep change know, big success is often preceded by small incremental changes that may go unnoticed by the general public. It seems the effort to stop fast food companies from hawking toys to kids is gaining ground.
I was watching Friday Night Lights recently (a great show if I don’t fret about the product placement) and blithely forwarding through the commercials when an ad for McDonald’s Happy Meals stopped me cold. There were no toys. Intrigued, I rewound and watched in real time:
We see a multi-racial bunch of totally cute kids with Happy Meal boxes—but they’re empty. A child’s voice chirps, “There’s something inside a McDonald’s Happy Meal. It’s called hope….” The kids keep looking for hope in the boxes, but—it’s invisible! Then there’s the tag line, “Happy Meals, the simple joy of helping.”