It is back to school time and the catalogs are rolling in. School shopping is a modern tradition and can provide a ritual for preparing kids for the change in seasons. However, the overwhelming emphasis on buying stuff -- and often very particular stuff -- is a byproduct of marketing hype in the age of anxiety.
Marketers prey on our worry, hoping to convince us that if we buy more products we will be able to protect ourselves and our children from harm. Furthermore, the advertising industry preys on class anxiety, hoping to convince us that our children's chances for success depend on early exposure to "educational" videos and classes and the right clothes, etc.
Susan Linn's expose, Consuming Kids shines a brilliant light on the advertising industries techniques to convince parents that they need certain products to convince kids to beg, borrow or steal (from their parents). She is affiliated with the Campaign for a Commerical Free Childhood -an amazing resource for both information and action.
Juliet Schor's similar book Born to Buy provides a sociological analysis of the forces that shape consumer culture among children -- including an outrageous practice of predatory advertising by gifting "cool kids" with new shoes, jeans, or gadgets in order to make the item sought after in a school or neighborhood. Schor works with the Center for the New American Dream to encourage voluntary simplicity and the questioning of consumerism among all of us. The site includes a youth program : buy different and many resources for teachers and parents on Kids and Commercialism including a book : Smart Consumers: An Educator's Guide to Exploring Consumer Issues and the Environment,
Packaging Girlhood, by Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown, exposes the ways that marketers exploit and reproduce sexist ideals by developing toys and clothes that emphasize hyper femininity and masculinity at very early ages. Shopping games and preschool make up are intended to socialize girls to believe that ideal femininity requires a million products and that they are all worth every penny because only a few can win the prize/get the guy/be the princess. . . Lamb and Brown argue that the intensive marketing of femininity to very young girls narrows the options for girls to be accepted - they can either be "one of the guys" or "for the guys" and this message is repeated in tv, movies, books, toys, games, etc. The authors emphasize the importance of introducing more options to girls and of teaching them to be critical consumers of these messages.
(The next post will provide some resources for dealing with these issues!)