Corporatism's Massive & Relentless Assault on the Hearts & Minds of America's Children
Try to wrap your mind around the following revelations from a provocative 2009 article by Henry A. Giroux entitled “Commodifying Kids: The Forgotten Crisis”:
Kids can recognize logos by eighteen months, and before reaching their second birthday, they're asking for products by brand name. By three or three and a half, experts say, children start to believe that brands communicate their personal qualities, for example, that they're cool, or strong, or smart. Even before starting school, the likelihood of having a television in their bedroom is 25 percent, and their viewing time is just over two hours a day. Upon arrival at the schoolhouse steps, the typical first grader can evoke 200 brands. And he or she has already accumulated an unprecedented number of possessions, beginning with an average of seventy new toys a year.
One measure of the corporate assault on kids can be seen in the reach, acceleration and effectiveness of a marketing and advertising juggernaut that attempts to turn kids into consumers and childhood into a saleable commodity. Every child, regardless of how young, is now a potential consumer ripe for being commodified and immersed in a commercial culture defined by brands. According to Lawrence Grossberg, children are introduced to the world of logos, advertising and the "mattering maps" of consumerism long before they can speak: "Capitalism targets kids as soon as they are old enough to watch commercials, even though they may not be old enough to distinguish programming from commercials or to recognize the effects of branding and product placement." In fact, American children from birth to adulthood are exposed to a consumer blitz of advertising, marketing, educating and entertaining that has no historical precedent.
According to Henry Giroux we are the most consumer-oriented society in the world. The mega corporations and the corporate elite have become our “overlords” and use their wealth to make momentous decisions that impact the quality (or “non-quality”) of our daily lives. They are endangering all of us, as probably every citizen would attest these days.
Mr. Giroux focuses his attention on the psychological and spiritual damage our hypercapitalism is having on the present lives and subsequent damaged future lives of America’s children. He asserts:
In a democracy, education in any sphere, whether it be the public schools or the larger media, is, or should be, utterly adverse to treating young people as individual units of economic potential and as walking commodities. And it is crucial not to "forget" that democracy should not be confused with a hypercapitalism.
As the sovereignty of the market displaces state sovereignty, children are no longer viewed as an important social investment or as a central marker for the moral life of the nation. Instead, childhood ideals linked to the protection and well-being of youth are transformed - decoupled from the "call to conscience [and] civic engagement" and redefined through what amounts to a culture of cruelty, abandonment and disposability. Childhood ideals increasingly give way to a market-driven politics in which young people are prepared for a life of objectification while simultaneously drained of any viable sense of moral and political agency.
Well, how can this not be with the obvious moral bankruptcy, saturated corruption, in the halls of business, government, academia?
Should we think corporations that have commandeered the power of the state to make horrifying weaponry and destroy innocent foreign citizens as well as our own betrayed soldier sons and daughters, to make healthcare unaffordable for millions of Americans so their own small circle of executives can enjoy obscenely surreal pay levels, to launder drug money, to inflict usurious interest on struggling Americans, to induce homelessness with foreclosures on hundreds of thousands of citizens, are investing, simultaneously, their time, money, and marketing geniuses to promote the inner spiritual lives of our children? They may do an awesome job to appear at times with the best warm and fuzzy intentions for our kids, but under the veneer whose needs are being met in this psychopathic for-profit, (“psycho-profit”!) corporate-run (a/k/a captured) America?
Should we think this omnipotent hypercapitalism has ANY sensibility whatever about providing the tender minds and spirits of the young with what Giroux prioritizes as “the knowledge, skills and experiences to confront the challenges of the 21st century”? No. They are instead, according to Giroux, “colonizing” and corrupting quite effectively the sensibilities of our children for almighty profit!
Erased as future citizens of a democracy, kids are now constructed as consuming and saleable objects. Gilded Age corporations, however devalued, and their army of marketers, psychologists and advertising executives now engage in what Susan Linn calls a "hostile takeover of childhood," poised to take advantage of the economic power wielded by kids and teens. With spending power increasing to match that of adults, the children's market has greatly expanded in the last few decades, in terms of both direct spending by kids and their influence on parental acquisitions.
Young people are attractive to corporations because they are big spenders, but that is not the only reason. They also exert a powerful influence on parental spending, offering up a market in which, according to Anap Shah, "Children (under 12) and teens influence parental purchases totaling over $670 billion a year."
So in the psychopathically (I can't help using that word -- the personality profile of a "legal person" corporation has long been declared that of a psychopath) ruthless perspective of the marketeers and profiteers, children are objects. Commodities. To be used and exploited for profit. Profits over the welfare of people. Over teens. Over kids. Over toddlers. Over infants. Profits uber alles!
More and more of these corporations are busily investing ($17 billion back in 2009) in what Henry Giroux labels the “carpet-bombing” of the consciousnesses of American children.
While the "empire of consumption" has been around for a long time, American society in the last thirty years has undergone a sea change in the daily lives of children - one marked by a major transition from a culture of innocence and social protection, however imperfect, to a culture of commodification. This is culture that does more than undermine the ideals of a secure and happy childhood; it also exhibits the bad faith of a society in which, for children, "there can be only one kind of value, market value; one kind of success, profit; one kind of existence, commodities; and one kind of social relationship, markets." Children now inhabit a cultural landscape in which they can only recognize themselves in terms preferred by the market.
.... Multibillion-dollar corporations, with the commanding role of commodity markets as well as the support of the highest reaches of government, now become the primary educational and cultural force in shaping, if not hijacking, how young people define their interests, values and relations to others.
Giroux explores some specifics of the horrifying scope of corrupting and saturating advertising assaults on the entire scope of America’s youth:
For example, the DVD industry sees toddlers as a lucrative market. Toy manufacturers now target children from birth to ten years of age. Children aged eight to twelve constitute a tween market and teens an additional one. Children visit stores and malls long before they enter elementary school, and children as young as eight years old make visits to malls without adults.
Disney, Nickelodeon and other mega companies now provide web sites such as "Pirates of the Caribbean" for children under ten years of age, luring them into a virtual world of potential consumers that reached 8.2 million in 2007, while it is predicted that this electronic mall will include 20 million children by 2011. Moreover, as Brook Barnes points out in The New York Times, these electronic malls are hardly being used either as innocent entertainment or for educational purposes. On the contrary, she states, "Media conglomerates in particular think these sites - part online role-playing game and part social scene - can deliver quick growth, help keep movie franchises alive and instill brand loyalty in a generation of new customers." But there is more at stake here than making money and promoting brand loyalty among young children: there is also the construction of particular modes of subjectivity, identification and agency.
Here is where it gets even creepier. The sexualized commodification of our young people:
Some of these identities are on full display in advertising aimed at young girls. Market strategists are increasingly using sexually charged images to sell commodities, often representing the fantasies of an adult version of sexuality. For instance, Abercrombie & Fitch, a clothing franchise for young people, has earned a reputation for its risque catalogues filled with promotional ads of scantily clad kids and its over-the-top sexual advice columns for teens and preteens; one catalogue featured an ad for thongs for ten-year-olds with the words "eye candy" and "wink wink" written on them. Another clothing store sold underwear geared toward teens with "Who needs Credit Cards ...?" written across the crotch. Children as young as six years old are being sold lacy underwear, push-up bras and "date night accessories" for their various doll collections. In 2006, the Tesco department store chain sold a pole dancing kit designed for young girls to unleash the sex kitten inside. Encouraging five- to ten-year-old children to model themselves after sex workers suggests the degree to which matters of ethics and propriety have been decoupled from the world of marketing and advertising, even when the target audience is young children. The representational politics at work in these marketing and advertising strategies connect children's bodies to a reductive notion of sexuality, pleasure and commodification, while depicting children's sexuality and bodies as nothing more than objects for voyeuristic adult consumption and crude financial profit.
Let me repeat for emphasis just one of those troubling sentences of Mr. Giroux:
Encouraging five- to ten-year-old children to model themselves after sex workers suggests the degree to which matters of ethics and propriety have been decoupled from the world of marketing and advertising, even when the target audience is young children.
And I remember when there was a troubled national conversation about the impact of the early “Barbie”!
Look at how intensive political advertising (K Street + Wall Street + Madison Ave) hoodwinked an entire nation OF ADULTS (Main Street) into believing that a presidential candidate would champion the interests of the general population rather than the political and corporate elite class. Time to pay attention to and begin to counter the psychopathic corporations’ seduction and corruption of the consciousnesses of our children.
Giroux’s earnest message to America:
What is equally necessary is developing public spaces and social movements that help young people develop healthy notions of self, identities and visions of their future no longer defined - more accurately, defiled - by market values and mentalities. Obama's road to recovery must align itself with a vision of a democracy that is on the side of children, particularly young children in need. It must enable the conditions for youth to learn, to "grow," as John Dewey once insisted, as engaged social actors more alive to their responsibilities to future generations than contemporary adult society has proven capable. Such a project requires constructing a politics that refuses to be animated by populist rage so easily misdirected, or by a disdain for the social state, for mutuality, reciprocity and compassion, among other democratic values. In short, it must reject a society whose essence is currently refracted in the faces of children compelled to confront a future that as yet offers very little hope of happiness, or even survival.
Time to re-find and/or re-build the soul of America for all our sakes, but especially our children’s! Time to end the War on Empathy, especially when it comes to America’s children! Time to de-program our children from Madison Avenue's insidious enthrallment!