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Language Log

Friday, Apr. 22, 2011 - 12:19 p.m.

The problem is not the notion that children have or come to form desires for things-- so many times I see in some discussion of gender that boys just want to do Y and girls just want to do X, and sometimes that's just how it is. If it were, for some, then fine, but I always wonder how much they've been sold that desire and how much it comes from within. I mean, you know how I feel about pink, an overabundance thereof. No, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with pink. That's not what I want to get into. I just want Q to play basketball if she wants, and play with dolls if that's what she wants, when presented with both options. She can do both.

So my policy has been, I don't tend to buy her pink, but if someone else does and the thing isn't totally hideous (poodle-themed and pink leopard print items, I'm looking at you), I'll put it on her because I'm a cheapskate and it's not gonna hurt her, really. Girl is good, right? But now I wonder, will it? If she looks all girly-girl all the time, it changes how others perceive her and interact with her on an unconscious level. Maybe I should take a stronger stand on this.

It hasn't been too bad lately, but someone gave us a bunch of clothes she's been working through, and there was a lot of pink. So we've been stuck with it because I can't bear to trade in perfectly good clothes that fit her.

The other thing was, marketing and its role in the creation of desire (which is how the profession defines itself, after all). Read another article on food marketing to kids-- there's the recent finding (kind of a no-brainer) that kids prefer foods with cartoon characters on them. Also how the big food companies really have been stepping up their game wrt online and viral marketing. Ok, so I watched Sesame Street when I was a kid, liked Grover, and I'm fine. But marketers have really upped their game since then. Expanded the product lines. Created entire franchises just so they can access new markets with the lines of merchandise. It's very calculated, and they want kids to be consumers for life-- starting as soon as possible and lasting as long as possible--in childhood, then as 20-somethings who buy it for nostalgia or irony. 30-somethings who buy it for their kids. Then later for their grandkids. And _if_ it's not worthless crap, I'm ok with that. But mostly it IS worthless crap.

The other day as was shopping for Q's Easter basket. Got her some toy gardening tools, almost but did not get her a little plastic watering can. MIL tells me she got her a watering can in her Easter basket that she sent, I think, "Oh, good! Perfect!". So we get it, and it's a Dora the Explorer watering can. Why? WHY? There are lots of cute watering cans out there this time of year that don't take the opportunity to familiarize my child with a brand. I'm wondering if I should ditch it and switch it for one I like, or if I need to lighten the fuck up.

I need to make a set of clear, non-crazy rules for character-branded merchandise entering our home. I think NONE is a good starting point, until Q herself indicates a desire. After she does express affection for certain characters, then it should only be items that have SOMETHING to do with the stories they're involved in, and that enhance her active, imaginative play with those stories. No random crap with characters printed on it when other cute things of that type are available.

Maybe Dora is known for her gardening? I really have no idea.

Maybe I'll make a helpful flow chart to help people decide when it's appropriate to buy Q a character-branded object.

J says the main thing we can do is teach her to be a critical consumer of media and to not digest the messages of advertising uncritically. Yes, yes! But the gut reaction that she'll have to certain things will be taught to her long before we can teach her to consciously and carefully inspect the messages she's getting. Feelings of 'happy' and 'like' that will associate to certain types of images will drive her desires before she can think about them as such. I do not want to cede what little control over this that I have to marketers who have no interest in Q's well-being.

Everyone's gonna think I'm a nut when I tell them not to give her toys with cartoon characters until further notice. Oh, well. I'll just repeat my mantra to myself until I figure out the right way to do it : try not to be an asshole. Try not to be an asshole. Try not to be an asshole.

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