Apr 09 2010
By Peter H. Smeallie IV
In the last few chapters of Born To Buy, author Juliet Schor recapitulates the various effects that marketing/advertising have on children and gives several suggestions on how our nation (and, more importantly, the advertising firms in it) can change its ways.
In chapter 9, Schor starts off by referencing a 1974 act by the Federal Communication Commission to regulate commercials on television due to the vulnerable nature of children. She then discusses the diminishment of regulation that occurred in the following decade of the 1980s, school commercialization and junk food marketing, George Gerbner’s warning that “corporations were becoming our children’s ‘story-tellers’ and the transmitters of culture,” and the different groups that tried to oppose harmful, corporate commercialization towards children (including the Consumers Union, Center for the Analysis of Commercialization in Education, the Center for a New American Dream, the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Education Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics). She then talks about the three defenses that corporations give when accused of “seeing children as little cash cows”: that they are empowering kids, boosting the economic health of the country, and they believe that parents are solely responsible for children’s exposure to media. Also, she mentions how the advertising messages aimed at children are “double-edged swords”—they entice kids with goods that supposedly help their self-esteem, but then again at the same time do the reverse, and “undermine [their] self-worth.” After that, she continues by debunking the marketer’s claim that parents are the only ones to blame (since advertisements are present everywhere and parents cannot actually be with their children 24/7), references the “path of dependency,” where in which she explains that corporations’ impacts on children today “affect [their] behavior tomorrow,” and finishes by saying that parents, children, and marketers all need to act differently.
In chapter 10, after starting off by mentioning that media conglomerates have battled aggressively against grass-root reform groups, Schor gives several suggestions on how our nation can reverse the dangerous commercialization aimed at children and “[reconstruct] childhood.” First, she discusses how our nation needs to recognize that consumerism is a social activity, and, at least in terms of children, one that entails “Prisoner Dilemmas” (situations where in which people act on what they believe to be in their own, individual best interests, but collectively cause bad social outcomes in doing so). Second, she talks about how Congress should enact a legislation that restricts commercialization in public schools, since the latter “threatens fundamental principles of objectivity and knowledge in the classroom.” Third, after talking about social constructionism, and how children are being both separated from the “adult world” and treated as “autonomous, self-directing actors,” Schor gives three examples of resolutions that would “create a different culture—one that is safe, fun, and stimulating for children and adults alike”: returning to “slow food” (food that is organic, seasonal, and local) in schools, allowing children to produce their own news programs instead of relying on Channel One, and creating a safe outdoor world for children to return to (instead of letting them play video games, etc. inside). Lastly, she suggests that parents, overall, should keep their children separated from the corporate commercial world (especially television) as much as possible.
In our class on Tuesday, we first watched Consuming Children Part 9, where in which people were discussing how children nowadays are engaging in more sedentary & passive, commercially-influenced activities than they did in the past (when healthy and creative/constructive playtime was more prevalent), and how the latter is detrimental to psychological, emotional, and cognitive development. After the video ended, the question remaining that we discussed was whether marketers or parents should be held responsible. I reasoned that, while parents do have a responsibility to regulate their children’s exposure to media, marketers clearly need to stop overwhelming parents with corporate messages and making their jobs as responsible caretakers & overseers more difficult. Advertising affects children (as well as everyone else) from all outlets of society, and if a little child doesn’t consume junk food, soft drinks, etc. in his house, he’ll/she’ll have to remained isolated there, because the moment he can find a friend with a parent who’s more liberally-minded, he’ll/she’ll try to go over there. However, as someone made a point of in class, if a child is kept entirely isolated from media and society, he’ll most likely turn out awkward and/or socially inept. We then continued our discussion by putting forth two broad questions: do marketers more value the economy or the welfare of human beings? And why has an issue of moral vs. immoral now turned into an issue conservative vs. liberal? After that, our class talked about the unhealthy foods that school cafeterias often feed children, how deregulation/privatization occurred in the Reagan-era 1980s, and we then watched two clips on YouTube: one, a trailer for the movie “Josie and the Pussycats,” and the other, a TV spot of “James Oliver’s ‘Food Revolution’.” The latter concerned a West Virginia town (pervasively affected by childhood obesity, diabetes, and hypertension) that knowingly feeds its school children unhealthy foods (pizza, chicken nuggets, and French fries) for every meal.
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