Parents, head to the newsstand right now for one of the most vindicating cover stories ever to grace a weekly magazine. The June 30 Business Week confirms what we've long suspected: that advertisers are the Antichrist.
For years, Madison Avenue has been trying to reach parents through their kids, pitching cereals and toys during Saturday morning cartoons in the hope that Junior can persuade Mom to buy the stuff, but all that's changed now. Mom is no longer necessary. Because today's kids have way more money than any previous generation, advertisers are bombarding them directly, starting from the day they're born. Brand names and icons are plastered onto everything from diapers to jeans, baby bottles to soda cans.
What's more alarming than the sheer acquisitiveness that our children are learning, though, is the accompanying loss of creativity. Licensed toys a la "Batman" and "Star Wars" come with their own scripts, more or less obliterating a kid's ability to make things up. "You learn flexibility when you play imaginatively," says psychologist Dorothy G. Singer in the story. "You learn self-control and how to delay impulses. If the toy comes from TV, a kid tends to follow the story line."
Innocence erodes at ever-earlier ages now that commercials and cartoons are indistinguishable, pre-adolescents buy sexuality and heroin chic in the name of Calvin Klein, and even candy makers push the boundaries of taste: How about a tequila-flavored lollipop?
As David Leonhardt writes, "Instead of transmitting a sense of who we are and what we hold important, today's marketing-driven culture is instilling in [children] the sense that little exists without a sales pitch attached and that self-worth is something you buy at a shopping mall."
This story will make parents want to do one of two things: hurl hand grenades at Madison Avenue, or pack up their kids and move to another solar system.
Business Week isn't alone in questioning the worth of our post-modern culture. Articles in the July-August Utne Reader suggest that many if not most of us are sick of all the fakery in our world and long to get back to what's real.
Defining that reality is a challenge, of course, especially since marketers have sniffed out the trend and are trying to sell it back to us (Coors is "the last real beer"; Aldo shoes are "for real life"). But what comes through here is a yearning for simplicity, a sloughing off of material trappings in favor of a more soulful existence.
This doesn't necessarily mean religion. Demographer Paul Ray has identified a group he calls cultural creatives, who make up nearly a quarter of the American adult population and whose determination to live authentically encompasses everything from restoring old houses to eschewing theme parks and rebuilding Mayan villages. These people care about community and ancient traditions. They're after an integrated life, not only in a personal sense, but in the larger context of civilization. If they can galvanize their energies and take them public, Ray believes, the cultural creatives could spark a new renaissance.
Covering Princess Di
The auction of Princess Diana's ball gowns must have been why Vanity Fair put her on its July cover. The glam factor notwithstanding, this is a poor excuse for a cover story, even if the sale's proceeds are going to worthy causes.
Far more amusing, and certainly clever, are Fran Lebowitz's pronouncements on money. The humorist conducts a Q&A with herself, answering such questions as whether money is indeed the root of all evil ("No. I think it might be the leaf of all evil or the flower of all evil") and what the rich have that she most covets ("A plane. The greatest use of money is to remove yourself from the company of others").
Eloquently cranky throughout, Lebowitz looks ahead to her retirement: "I realize that eventually -- because I believe there will come a time when cigarette smoking will be illegal in this country -- I will be compelled to become a smoking expatriate. And I'll live in a foreign country where I won't understand a word that is being said around me. Which in itself would be immensely relaxing."
Pub Date: 6/29/97