July 31, 2006

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple

My parents raised me to be a media-savvy kid before most people even knew that was something worth doing. (Thanks again, you guys!) When I was about eight years old, I saw a commercial on TV for a Slinky™ toy. Some of you probably remember it. The ad featured a boy, a girl, and their Slinkies, and wowie, were they having fun! The Slinky climbed down the stairs all by itself! It was the coolest, and I had to have one.

My mom talked to me a little bit about what went into making a commercial, but I was having none of it. Just wanted my Slinky. So my dad slid into the driver’s seat of our blue Chrysler Plymouth station wagon (RIP), and we all trooped off to the local toy store (probably Hesselsons, back before they shifted focus to pool and sporting goods stuff; remember when the toy stores weren’t all giant chains?) and got a Slinky. And then we raced home to learn the painful lesson. The Slinky would only go all the way down the stairs in that magic way about once every fifteen times, and then only if every one of several tricky variables was exactly right. And if you stretched it out and the coils got pulled past the point of springing back to their original shape, well, forget it. My folks had been right, and I literally think I never watched TV the same way. (I also remember the day when I realized that Laura Ingalls couldn’t die, but that’s another story for another time.)

Flash forward to my life as a parent. Compared to what I’m dealing with, Slinkies seem downright innocent. Now we've got lots more commercialism. Lots more advertising. Marketing targeted at infants. And what seems like a tiny little minority whisper of protest.

Our son spends very little time in retail space – but when I say that out loud, most people’s response is confusion. What do I mean? I mean that I spend very little time in retail space, and when I do, I try not to bring my son. I don’t think he has all the tools to handle the barrage of messages yet. I’m not sure any of us do. He finally had his first McDonald’s hamburger this month. And our television (yes, we do have one, my partner is a sports fanatic, remember?) lives in our basement, which also qualifies us for Martian status in some people’s eyes.

Today on the way home I heard a piece about the prevalence of advertising in our kids’ lives on NPR, and found myself nodding in agreement with most of it. But it turns out that about one-third of children under the age of six in the US have a television in their room. And while half of parents say their young children are greatly influenced by food advertising on television, 56 percent oppose policies restricting junk-food ads. I’m a fringe-dweller. Along with these people. And these.

* * *

I spent an hour or so tonight unexpectedly helping a friend… the rental wreck she got dealt had faulty brakes, and so I went and scooped up her kid, who had been stranded at the mall, and brought him home. My partner commented on my friend’s apparently semi-permanent cloud of bad luck, and I said that I thought a big part of it was just being poor. (If she’d had the money to be renting from a top-notch company instead of a bottom-feeder, etc. etc.)

And as I was saying that I realized again the extent to which my fringe-dweller status is linked to my privilege. I am concerned about the effects of creeping commercialism and junk food hawking on my child because I was raised by educated parents, was fortunate enough to be able to get a great education myself, have a good paying job, am relatively healthy, live on a safe and quiet street, and have the time and energy to pay attention to the research. I can successfully avoid Target because I can shop right here in my livingroom with my WiFi’d laptop. Lah di dah. Rich white chick in precious university town saves own kid while sitting on butt in air-conditioned decadence.

And this is one of the things that’s really bothering me about our national state of affairs. Lucky me, I am capable (at least for now) of fending for myself and guarding my child’s childhood. But what about everyone who isn’t?

What about my friend, who regularly has to choose between groceries and dental care? What about her kids, who live within walking distance of fast food, but not a grocery store? What about the 45 million Americans whose lack of medical insurance leaves them one illness from bankruptcy tonight?

Two of my earliest political memories revolve around episodes that evidenced a “we are all in this together” mentality. I remember seeing public service ads on television enjoining me to give a hoot and not pollute – and taking them to heart. And I remember Jimmy Carter asking us to turn our thermostats down during the energy crisis of the 1970’s – and my mom doing it.

Now that we seem to be living in an era of every man for himself, I am longing for leaders who will remind us that there is one boat. And that we are all in it together.

(Oh, Mamas, I thought this theme might pass me by.
Didn't have anything to say. Guess I was wrong!
Thanks for reading all the way to here; bonus points if you comment.
Begging your forgiveness, I remain
a devoted reader of Mama Says Om. Hope you are, too!)


Abbie said...

I think what you say is too true. My huband is an avid TV viewer (which is off all day until he comes home) My daughters favorite thing to dance to? A Toyota commercial. She's 14 months. she already knows what the remote does. she'll grab it from daddy and run towards the TV pushing buttons. (including her fathers)
;) We are a well educated, financially stable family and I do think that lack resources and education play a huge role in our society. The large corporations (ie..Target and Walmart, etc..) NEED that 'lack-of' populace for them to survive. Ok.. enough of me blah blah blah.. great entry!
:) Abbie

AscenderRisesAbove said...

I am glad you got on your soap box; it seems most people are -- a huge relief!

Dida said...

Well said!

When I realized that my son was becoming obsessed by TV (before he could even speak), we moved it downstairs and out of our daily lives. I feel it was one of the best parenting moves we've done. Granted, we allow Saturday morning cartoons with Daddy and movies on a rainy day, but, as far as I know, he's not innundated with commercialism and I'm going to keep it that way as long as I can!!

Waya said...

Hear ye hear ye!! We have 1 tv in our house and it's in the family room which doesn't get turned on for my children until the weekend. And I set the same example, my tv time doesn't start until they are off to bed. I can't understand the parents who spoil the kids insanely. It's just sad what kind of message they're teaching their kids.

And you're right about "every man for himself". Not like what it used to be. Very sad!

Stacy said...

Well done, Miss Shelley. Well done indeed.

We could all of us benefit more by being grateful for what we have.