Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
For more info on the topic of kids and kommercialism, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is an excellent starting place. They address topics like materialism and consumerism, sexualization, the commercializing of play, violence, obesity and body image. They also discuss some of the range of insidious marketing ploys – under the great title “ad creep” – that Schor addresses in her book.
CCFC is a project of the Harvard-based Judge Baker Children’s Center, whose aim is to promote “the best possible mental health of children through the integration of research, intervention, training and advocacy.” CCFC is an offshoot of Judge Baker’s Media Center, founded in 1994 to “unite media professionals, mental health practitioners and classroom educators in a single common pursuit: ensuring the health and well-being of children.”
Current Media Center projects include developing classroom materials on issues like prejudice and racism, and a range of fitness, confidence-building and media literacy activities for girls. A number of articles by Center staff – such as “Talking with Children about War” – are available for download.
CCFC’s websites features a useful introductory overview of “The Commercialization of Childhood,” which I encourage you to check out, and perhaps follow up on with some of the recommended resources (of which Schor’s Born to Buy is one). This overview is worth quoting at length:
A generation ago, parents concerned about commercialism worried mainly about television. Today, children are also targeted through DVDs, video games, the Internet, MP3 players, and cell phones. In a world of marketing without borders, brand licensing and product placement prevail, marketing in schools escalates, babies are targeted, and friendships are exploited as companies increasingly rely on children to do their marketing for them.
Advertising sells children on more than products and brands. It also promotes values and behaviors. Childhood obesity, eating disorders, youth violence, sexualization, the erosion of children’s creative play, materialistic values, and family stress are all linked to the commercialization of childhood.
Their list of the problematic values and behaviours promoted through marketing to kids is very good, though there are some criticisms that could be made. Sex, violence and obesity are the big three, of course – the topics that get the most attention and research, and can be fairly predictably relied on to generate concern across the political and social spectrum, while attracting no real defenders. But as I mentioned in passing in a previous posting, the pervasive concern with children’s bodies exhibited here and in the various moral panics of recent years seems to call out for some deeper analysis. What precisely is at stake in our anxiety over the bodies of our children?
Like the concerns of sex and violence, parents, educators and others have long bemoaned the “erosion of children’s creative play” in modern toys and kid’s entertainment. (One obvious example of this erosion of kids’ kreativity is Lego’s move from generic building bricks in a range of basic forms to kits that are designed for building one or sometimes a few predetermined objects – of which I may have more to say in a future post.)
The concern over the erosion of creativity has not received quite as universal support and attention as the concerns over obesity, and to a lesser extent sexualization and violence, but as with those issues most of the challenges have come from individuals, companies and industry groups with financial stakes in the products at issue – either directly or via stealth PR firms like the Center for Consumer Freedom (discussed previously).
Missing from this list of problematic values and behaviours promoted by advertising are many of the values that concern progressive parents – racism and sexism, homophobia and heteronormativity, classism, ableism, militarism. Some of these values are of general concern and have received widespread attention, and are relatively uncontroversial – like sexism and racism. Others are more controversial – homophobia, for instance – or dismissed as political correctness shibboleths of the far left (classism, heteronormativity). But while these values and behaviours are missing from the short list in CCFC’s overview, the more straightforward of them (like racism and sexism) do receive attention and concern elsewhere in CCFC and in the Media Center’s activities.
A striking aspect of the list is CCFC’s willingness to raise the issue of materialistic values. This cuts to the core of the capitalist system. Arguments over obesity or violence might damage this or that company or industry; the regulation of such issues is a normal part of the state’s policing of controversies within the system to prevent them from growing to criticisms of the system as a whole. But in raising the issue of materialistic values as problematic, CCFC comes much closer to questioning the whole capitalist enterprise. That’s what we like to see.
On a more down to earth, less revolutionary level, I also appreciate their stress, like Schor, on sites of marketing to kids beyond the TV, which as they correctly point was the main focus of concern for many years, but which obviously needs to be expanded on, so that we pay attention to the “ad creep” that has seen marketing become such a ubiquitous aspect of kids’ daily life in the United States.
Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood
Consuming Kids is a documentary from the Media Education Foundation (on whom more later) that draws on CCFC work and features their staff. It is, according to CCFC, “an eye-opening account of the pervasive and pernicious effects of children’s advertising on the health and well-being of kids.”
The trailer for Consuming Kids – available through CCFC’s YouTube presence, along with a lot of other interesting material – discusses and illustrates many of the issues I have tried to raise in this series of posts:
In the next post in this series on Kids and Kommercialism, I hope to begin discussing some things that have been done and which you might do to counter all this marketing – including direct action, anti-/black marketing, and critical media literacy.