Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood. Directed by Adriana Barbaro and Jeremy Earp. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2008.
Adriana Barbaro and Jeremy Earp’s documentary Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood explores how corporations create a culture of consumption and commodification through an unregulated multibillion-dollar youth marketing industry, and how this culture has negative developmental and physical effects on children. Experts include activists, youth marketers, doctors, psychologists, and academics, including Susan Linn, author of Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children from the Onslaught of Marketing and Advertising, and sociologist Juliet Schor, author of Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture.1 The smart commentary is illustrated with clips of commercials, television shows, video games, and Internet sites, which contrast the slow, simple, black-and-white ads of the 1950s with the fast-paced, sophisticated, and glitzy ads of today. These images powerfully exemplify the “360 degree immersive marketing”2 environment in which children live, inundated by advertising not only on television and in print ads, but through the Internet, cell phones, iPods, and even schools and friends lured by marketing firms to act as stealth market researchers. The film chillingly describes how marketing firms use focus groups, ethnographic research, and even neurological imaging to understand children and develop marketing strategies designed to manipulate children into becoming lifelong consumers, insinuating their brands into the very fabric of children’s lives.
Experts then describe the pervasive and pernicious effects of this commercialized youth culture on the health and well-being of children, including increased rates of ADHD, depression, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension as well as decreased ability to engage in free, unstructured, creative play and possibly negative effects on brain development, particularly in young children exposed to excessive media. But perhaps most distressing are the values marketers seek to instill into children—values of self-indulgence, instant gratification, materialism, and the belief that you are what you buy. How did this happen? According to the film, in the 1980s, Congress and the Reagan administration divested the Federal Trade Commission of all authority to regulate advertising to children, and the United States stands as the only industrialized nation that does not regulate advertising to children. Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood concludes with a call for government regulation of advertising to children, countering the arguments that individual parents should bear the full responsibility of protecting children.
While only briefly mentioning how advertising is gendered (see the clip running at 40:00-43:00) and not addressing race and sexuality in commercial youth culture, Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood nevertheless would be very useful in feminist classrooms for engaging students in discussions around the deleterious effects of commercialization, consumerism, and capitalism, as well as in discussions of individual versus systemic solutions to social problems.
1 Susan Linn, Consuming Kids: Protecting our Children from the Onslaught of Marketing and Advertising (New York: Anchor, 2005); Juliet B. Schor, Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture (New York: Scribner, 2004).
2 Nick Russell, as quoted in the film. See p. 3 of the transcript, available at www.mediaed.org.