Sunday, October 30, 2005

Numbing and Dumbing our Children

My four-year old son wants to be a skeleton for Halloween. So I cruise a couple of department stores, looking for stuff I can use to make a skeleton outfit. Nothing doing. There are, however, racks of ready-made, complete costumes. Out of curiosity, I check them out. What's this? No witches? No ghosts? No devils or princesses? No skeletons? Nothing but commercial product tie-ins: Batman. Spiderman. Ninja Turtles (I thought they were long obsolete). Lots of armoured, amped-up, alien-ish assassins from the latest video-games. The sad thing is, people actually pay for the privilege of marketing these products, when the companies should be paying us for the right to use our children as billboards.

I persevere--I find some black pants and a black turtleneck that will fit the little guy. I head for a crafts store to find fabric and paints to make bones. As I search for glow-in-the-dark paint, I hear a little girl in the next aisle, whining, "But Mommy, no one makes their own costumes. That's so lame!"

Our media and entertainment industries have built a huge machine designed to homogenize us and our children, to get us to be suspicious of our own imaginations. They have mastered the use of psychologists and focus groups to turn entertainment into a vast marketing ploy. We hear constantly from the "family values" crowd that Hollywood and the media don't play it straight enough. Unfortunately, the opposite is true: From Disney to Target, the machine profits most when it convinces our children to trade in real magic for a cheap imitation.

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