Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Bookmarks: Invasion of the Kid Snatchers

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Bookmarks: Invasion of the Kid Snatchers

Article excerpt

BOOKMARKS

Invasion of the Kid Snatchers

Marketers spend $15 billion a year to turn children into compliant consumers

By Richard Handler

Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood

by Susan Linn

New Press. 288 pp. ISBN: 1-565-84783-0

Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture

by Juliet Schor

Scribner. 275 pp. ISBN: 0-684-87055-X

In the 1950s and well into the '60s, American moviegoers experienced a barrage of science-fiction movies about alien/monster invasions. These films included not just the usual round of Martian-assault films, like War of the Worlds, and attacks by nuclear-blighted insects (Them ) or awakened dinosaurs (Godzilla ), but, more terrifyingly, movies about aliens invading the bodies and minds of ordinary people in small-town America. The two most iconic of these films were Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Night of the Living Dead, in which good, plain folk, including children, were turned into zombies (I'll always remember one terrifying scene in which a young girl-zombie snacked on the bodies of dead adults).

Critics like to say that these sci-fi invasion movies were "about" American fears of communism or sex or the unspoken threat of McCarthyism; the country was being invaded from inside and out in ways that turned its citizens into totalitarian ghouls. Many of these movies have been remade since, but the underlying message is still the same: our psyches are under threat.

New contributions to this genre always reflect the latest technology, whether rocket ships or computers. In The Matrix, every human being on the planet is nestled in his own pod, hooked up to a vast computer program that supplies ready images that virtually construct our lives. Human life becomes a paralytic dream-state in which alien powers use us to their advantage, as battery fuel. We're asleep, and other beings feed on our dreams and nightmares; we're complete creatures of media and totally anaesthetized. It's a terrifying vision, more clinical even than the girl-zombie feeding on her elders, but in its own way just as chilling, because it presumes our helplessness in the face of an overpowering assault.

The two books under review aren't science fiction, but they also rely on our emotional responses of helplessness and dread in the face of something both disquieting and mundane: ubiquitous advertising and a relentless materialism. Our kids have become zombies, say the authors, in a manner of speaking. Marketers are the aliens--smart, greedy aliens. And our kids are chomping on their wares.

Consuming Kids and Born to Buy are, at one level, the usual liberal diatribes against rapacious advertisers. But Linn and Schor have upped the ante by saying that we adults are no longer the main targets of corporate marketers: they're bypassing us to feed and colonize the psyches of our children. And it's not a matter of just saying no to them--the admen and adwomen are too good at what they do, and too strong. Our autonomy just won't hold.

Both authors use a cavalcade of facts to make their case. The numbers are hot, and read like items from Ripley's Believe It or Not! The average child sees 40,000 commercials a year on TV. There's a TV for every American, and 66 percent of children have a TV in their bedrooms. Marketers now spend $15 billion seducing children and adolescents--two and a half times the amount spent a dozen years ago. Kids watch three and a half hours of TV a day and consume another three to four hours of other media from their video consoles, stereos, mini disks, and CD walkmans. Their reality often is media: they don't watch The Matrix, they live it. The purchasing power of kids (of all ages) has increased 400 percent since 1989. When they shop, they shop at one of 46,000 shopping centers, up 66 percent since 1986.

And American families, working harder than any others in the industrialized world, go into bankruptcy to the tune of one and a half million households a year. …

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