Born to Buy: Decommercializing Childhood

This is the seventeenth discussion in a “book club” series on Born to Buy by Juliet Schor, which focuses on consumerism issues and young children. You can jump back to the first discussion if you’d like. This discussion covers the first half of the final chapter, “Decommercializing Childhood”, starting on page 189 and continuing until the subheading “The Invention of Modern Childhood” on page 200.

born to buyThe final chapter of Born to Buy focuses on solutions, with the first part focusing in on solutions from a broad perspective, mostly calling for Congress to enact legislation.

Thus, this is the portion of the book I disagree with the most. I firmly believe that the best solutions start at home because, frankly, you can have a great deal of impact on one child, but it requires a huge amount of politial groundswell to even enact the simplest changes in terms of legislation. Not only that, I would actually oppose some of the stuff that Schor proposes here.

Let’s take a look.

Let’s Legislate Morality!
Here are a few of Schor’s suggestions, from pages 195 through 197:

Congress should pass a federal act mandating disclosure for all sponsored product placements in television, movies, books, radio, and the Internet.

Congress needs to address whether advertising to children is warranted at all.

Congress should also request a General Accounting Office or FTC report, similar to those that have been done on school commercialism and the marketing of movies and video games, which catalogues the full range of current marketing practices.

Congress should enact comprehensive legislation to restrict school commercialism.

I only agree with one of these four. Can you guess which one?

For anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while, it’s probably pretty clear that I’m only in favor of that last one. Children go to school for the purpose of being educated – their minds are opened by teachers who are supposed to be filling them with tools to navigate our complex world. When marketing starts being slipped in there, then you’re taking advantage of the teacher-student relationship and undermining the entire point of schooling.

What about the other three? Why would I oppose things like those? I’m largely indifferent to the first one, except that it would create costs for actually enforcing it – the FTC would have to hire people to make sure this was enforced and it would largely be ignored anyway, so it comes off as a waste of taxpayer money to me. The second one has a lot of problems, particularly in terms of restricting freedom of speech – when you start banning things and restricting freedoms, it’s easy for “ban creep” to occur until you’re blocking things that people should have access to. The third one is similar to the first one – a lot of money is spent on something that very few people will ever look at. By the time it’s compiled, marketing techniques will have evolved and all that research will be outdated at the taxpayer’s expense.

For the most part, I think it’s a waste of time to legislate things, especially on a national stage, that aren’t cut and dried – all such laws do is create more business for lawyers and eventually get overturned by a judge who can’t make a reasonable decision on such a sticky issue. For example, an advertising ban would be a giant restriction of freedom of speech, for example, but to only ban children’s advertising requires a law that defines a very unclear area that can’t be enforced well and will quickly be trampled over. The only legislative solutions here are far-reaching enough that anyone who values free speech would oppose it because of the other restrictions it would trigger.

Instead, the answers that are most useful are closer to home. If you want to ban advertising in schools, start in your local school district. Advocate for a ban on ads in schools coupled with a tax levy to help the schools recover the lost income. That’s one good way to start.

Next time, in the last section of the book, we’ll look at solutions that are closer to home.

The next discussion, coming in three days, will cover the last half of the final chapter, “Decommercializing Childhood,” starting on page 200 at the subheading “The Invention of Modern Childhood” and finishing out the book.

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