Posted by: martinworster | September 28, 2011

127. CHILDHOOD COMMODITY

I dislike how my two young sons are subject to aggressive marketing by various toy companies and brands. Sadly, unless we opted out and lived in an off grid hippy commune in Washington State or mid Wales there’s no avoiding it. Extreme consumerism is installed in us from the day we are born. Infants are a valuable demographic to corporations and the parents have to pay for it – and not just economically speaking.

My boys have been through all the relevant toy stages – Teletubbies, Elmo, Thomas the Tank Engine, the Cars movie franchise and all it’s guises, and now they’re very much into Lego (Star Wars, Pirates of the Carribean, Harry Potter, Ninja, Pharo Quest). Lego is particularly clever with it’s marketing – pretty much if you stamped a Lego logo on a lump of dog turd it would probably sell to little boys. Plus, Lego have tied up with all the film franchises to create computer games. We have an xBox 360 and they love Lego Starwars – it’s a like a mash up of their three favourite things. Star Wars chararcters in the shape of Lego pieces in an interactive shoot em up computer game. Job done. A double dosage of product branding. Fun squared.

I did wrestle my conscience over getting a gaming device for them – but then a lot of their friends have them. That’s just it, peer pressure – always a killer. I’m vicariously experiencing peer pressure via my sons. Plus, genuinely I am not a spoil sport. I don’t want to deny them entertainment and fun. They do love playing the game and it is another diversion to fill the hours for them – and of course, more importantly, us. Obviously we limit their playing time and I make sure they’re outside in fresh air doing normal ‘old skool’ boy things as much as possible. But you can see how almost addictive it is to them. When they’re playing it they are so engrossed, pupils dilating, sweaty brow and clammy palms, bouncing up and down on the sofa in extreme excitement.

But via the psychology of consumerism I see this materialistic want in them developing. They always want new things. They look at toy catalogues or TV adverts and I can see and feel that want in their eyes. As if the product they want will somehow satisfy some need or desire, make them happier or fill some gap in their life. And then once they have it this originally feeling will wane – and it’s time to lust over the next new product that’s flashed before them via various advertising channels. It’s the cycle of consumerism – a wheel in which there is ultimately no satisfaction. Much like a drug addiction where the doseage always has to be increased over time to achieve the same initial satisfaction and physical need.

I feel the at the mercy of this type of consumerism myself. I was a young boy – once. I remember those same intense feelings looking at a Kay’s catalogue and staring hard at the photos of shiny bikes, Action Men, Star Wars figures and skateboards with such an intense feeling of need. I want one of those so bad and unless I get it my life won’t be as good. As soon as I have that product in my life everything will be better. Then I would – often, not always, I wasn’t that spoilt – get what I wanted and after a short while I’d move onto the next thing. It’s pretty similar in adulthood, although thankfully not as extreme. The difference now is we’re spoon fed the idea that our consumerism somehow contributes to a healthy economy. That’s right folks, unless you buy cheap goods made in China, we’re for sure headed for another recession. Consumer spending is down – oh no, it’s a depression bigger than the Last Great Big Depression. So buy cheap goods (profitting global corporations) on credit (profitting the banks) running on the consumer wheel on a road to nowhere. It’s the great mug off of the individual. Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

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