Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Hello Kitty - the critique

What does it mean to live in a society when marketers are aggressively targeting children as young as 9 to be brand conscious and to go out and spend? I think it's horrible. When I was 10 I was busy climbing trees and pretending to be Little Joe from Bonanza, I didn't care how I looked or what other people thought of me because I didn't have the right label on my jeans. When you start to worry about how you look it takes away from the unselfconscious innocence that's part of the beauty of childhood. You hear or read stories about little girls who are already worried about being fat and going on diet and I think that's sad. Of course it can be argued that childhood is a modern construct, certainly in the Middle Ages children were taught the skills of adulthood from an early age, and married very young - then again, people didn't live as long then as we do today. I suppose even up until the mid 19th century poor children went to work, and child labour exists to this day.

It's not just the idea of how this affects childhood that I find somewhat disturbing - it's the way we're being influenced as a society to consume more and more, from an earlier age, during a time of environmental degradation that means we should be more careful about how and what we buy. From the
Worldwatch Institute State of the World 2004 Feature, "Linking Globalization, Consumption, and Governance."

"By stretching the physical distance between the location where a product is first made to where it is later used and then disposed of, today's global economies tend to insulate end consumers from the various negative environmental and social impacts of their purchases."

More from the report:

"One subcomponent of the overall expansion in world trade has been rapid growth in trade in a range of particularly environmentally sensitive commodities, such as minerals, forest products, fish, and agricultural produce. In some cases, countries whose ecological "footprints" exceed their available ecological capacity, such as Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States, have imported these goods from countries enjoying surpluses—in effect enabling them to live beyond their ecological means.
Meanwhile, corporate strategies focused on boosting consumer demand in developing countries have lead to increases in purchases of all manner of goods, from cars and televisions to paper and fast food. While it is ethically problematic to suggest that developing countries are not entitled to have the same options for material consumption that have long been taken for granted by western consumers, the global adoption of industrial country–style consumption patterns would place unbearable strains on the health of Earth’s natural systems."

Some time ago I watched an Oprah show focusing on what's becoming a big problem in America - working class families getting themselves into debt to the point of borderline bankruptcy. And these people were all in debt becuse they kept buying expensive stuff that they didn't really need, cappaccino machines, Nemo-themed deco for the kids etc. I don't think the Hello Kitty card is part of some great big conspiracy theory to dumb us down with mindless television that makes us captive audiences for advertisers, while big pharma churns out the prozac to keep us placidly happy. But somewhere, somehow, we are not being mindful global citizens, we're lost in the war on terror, on what's happening in Iraq, and with America and China at the helm as the world's largest consumers of energy and other natural resourses, the rich parts of society are voraciously gobbling up everything in sight. I think we need to be instilling a sense of caution in our children when it comes to consumption habits, not teaching them how cool it is to spend and spend and spend, without knowing what the social and environmental consequences are.


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