Magazine article Tikkun

Sages for Sale

Magazine article Tikkun

Sages for Sale

Article excerpt

For several years, I have been actively involved in a growing movement organized around the principle that children have the right to grow up-and parents have the right to raise them-without being undermined by commercial interests. In my book, Consuming Kids, I look at the impact of corporate marketing from the perspective of the entirety of a child's development, laying out chapter-by-chapter its pervasive and overwhelmingly negative effect on childhood.

One would think that after spending so much time immersed in writing about the commercialization of childhood I would be unshockable. I'm not. Even though I've spent years monitoring a business that routinely exploits children, I still believe that some things-like the Talmud for instance-will be kept sacred. I'm wrong.

For 2,000 years, Hillel the Elder's profound teaching, "If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself what am I? If not now when? " has been associated with a call for social action and responsibility. It captures the essence of the human struggle to maintain a balance between self-interest and the interests of the community and suggests that the struggle itself is essential to being human. To only think of ourselves transforms us from sentient beings into objects-from "who" to "what."

Primo Levi titled his novel about resistance to the Holocast, If Not Now, When? Civil Rights leaders invoked the phrase to call for an end to segregation. Czech Students used it in 1989 to foment the Velvet Revolution. Today, Frito Lay is using it to sell Black Pepper Jack Doritos

"If Not Now, When?"(or INNW in text message jargon) is the slogan for a hip new integrated campaign using cell phones, TV, radio, billboards, and the Internet to sell kids Doritos. According to the Frito Lay website,, the line means, "Livin' life in the now. Don't procrastin8. Don't hesit8. And bring a bag of Doritos with you. "

I find it more than troubling that for millions of children, the phrase tying Judaism-to say nothing of the state of being human-to social action will forever mean Doritos. If you think I'm exaggerating, think about your own relationship to Rossini's William Tell Overture. If you're of a certain age, I suspect that you can't hear it without visions of the Lone Ranger.

To understand why it's important to preserve and fight for commercial-free space in children's lives, it's important to understand the extent to which corporate interests-through advertising and marketing-have taken over modern childhood. One reason for this is the proliferation of electronic media. On average, children spend almost forty hours per week after school engaged with media, most of which is commercially driven. Even TV and movie characters that have something positive to offer have been ruined for children by branding. Harry Potter sells coke; Elmo sells just about everything; and SpongeBob Squarepants has been Kraft's best-selling macaroni and cheese.

The time children spend in schools is increasingly branded as well. In 2000 the Federal Government identified marketing in schools as a growth industry, with Coke and Pepsi leading the way. This means that many children are targets for marketing all day, every day. At the same time, marketing is known to be a factor in a myriad of childhood ills: obesity, youth violence, eating disorders, precocious and irresponsible sexuality, family stress, and the erosion of creative play.

For people concerned about children's spiritual, social, and moral development, it's important to remember that marketing sells values along with products. For instance, a series of commercials for McDonalds begins by showing children engaged in pro-social activities such as listening to classical music, visiting a museum, or doing homework. They are bored out of their minds until, suddenly, Ronald McDonald appears and transports them to McDonald's, where the music gets lively, the colors get brighter, the children are joyous and where, presumably, they live happily ever after- before dying of an obesity-related disease such as Type II Diabetes. …

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