Chex or Cheerios?

The great 21st century cornucopia.


Did you know that the average American child can name more corporate logos than common flora and fauna? “Young children are ready learners and are learning about their brand environment just about everywhere,” says T. Bettina Cornwell, a professor of marketing and sports management at the University of Michigan in this ABC News article.

“What Kids Know: McDonald’s, Toyota, Disney” details a study that found preschoolers, children ages 3-5, can often recognize brand logos before even becoming fully literate.

You don’t have to be a trained sociologist to realize that when the average kindergartener has already logged close to 5,000 hours of TV time – and spends an average of only half an hour a day outside – they are going to have absorbed quite a bit of commercial messaging into their malleable mind.

In a poignant, prescient Adbusters piece from the same year, Mike Weilbacher writes:

“And the geographic world they wander is collapsing like a black hole into their laptops; the typical kid today roams a world only one-ninth the size a child of the ‘70s did. I wandered Long Island’s rapidly decreasing pine forests in the ‘60s, biking and hiking unthinkable distances, alone and with friends, with neither a cell phone nor a dime to make a call. Because inside our houses were the adults, and who wanted to be there? Every last child was outside, in the street, in the yard, on the corner, at the 7-Eleven.

But letting kids go into a forest alone today is unthinkable, heretical …This radical retreat from the great outdoors, now called ‘nature-deficit disorder,’ a phrase coined by journalist Richard Louv in his groundbreaking book Last Child in the Woods, is the greatest health catastrophe facing Western kids. Ever.”

He continues by noting the skyrocketing rates of obesity, ADD, asthma and diabetes; that enjoying an active childhood in the great outdoors is essential to proper emotional and mental development and is even tied to higher test scores later in life.

But hey, adults need the wild too. It’s call has been paved over by asphalt and concrete and drowned out by cars and cellphones and the sirens of shopping malls and the latest iPad and “making it.” Our outside time is too often relegated to our freeway commute, our scenery marred by billboards. The average person is exposed to 3,000 marketing messages a day.

You might not be fully aware of how much this consumer culture has permeated your psyche and informed your habits. That’s the thing about brainwashing – you don’t actually realize it has occurred. And it doesn’t mean we are literally programmed to unthinkingly drive through the nearest Mickey D’s just because we pass some golden arches and a redheaded clown. But we may be inspired to pay more because we recognize that Apple, or D&G, or name or shape or insigna and all the myriad connotations it carries.

You are a better student than you have realized. You have learned your lessons so well they are second nature, embedded deep into your memory. Seashells represent gas; a bell means tacos; bunny ears mean sex. Take this quiz to see if you are truly an ‘A’ student.

But of course, you know what you like. Do you prefer Colgate or Oral B toothpaste? Dawn or Joy dish soap? Tropicana or Dole juice? You might be surprised to learn they all have the same parent company, and that many products you consider green and scrappily independent are actually owned by the big-names. Burt’s Bees by Clorox, Naked Juice by Pepsi, and so forth.

It’s not all terrible. And for better or worse, it’s the way things are today. But it definitely doesn’t hurt to be a little bit more aware of the products you are incessantly being peddled — and to maybe start saying ‘no’ a little more often.

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