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    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

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Selling (to) girls

Admission: Laura does have two American Girl dolls, just about all of their clothes, a nightgown for herself (now hitting mid-calf), the movies, and all of the hardcover collected historical stories, from Felicity to the WWII one (Molly?).  But I’ve always been aware of the marketing angle, one of the reasons we try to avoid licensed products and the movies and books that serve as vehicles for the consumption; we also talk to the kids about how they make good targets for companies. So I was interested to read the article “Marketing American Girlhood” by Elizabeth Marshall at the current issue of Rethinking Schools Online:

Some might argue that American Girl is not as bad as other materials on the market, or as offensive as Barbie or Bratz dolls. This argument misses the key features of what makes this phenomenon so insidious: how corporations play on the feminist and /or educative aspirations of parents, teachers, girls, and young women and turn these toward consumption. American Girl is less about strong girls, diversity or history than about marketing girlhood, about hooking girls, their parents and grandparents into buying the American Girl products and experience.

I have more thoughts but not more time right now, having just emptied out the fridge for a big cleaning.

Related posts:

Made You Look (December 2006), which mentions Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes by Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown

Hot to trot tots and their pole-dancing mamas (March 2007)

Other worthwhile links:

Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture by Juliet B. Schor, which I think first heard about from Hornblower at HMS Indefatigable; I seem to recall that Ms. Schor appears in the documentary “How the Kids Took Over” which is good to watch with the whole family

Two CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) programs: on the radio, “The Age of Advertising” with Terry O’Reilly; and on television, “Marketplace”

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which has lately taken on the Scholastic book club, asking it to “put the book back in book club” — which means making room by taking out the “M&M’s Kart Racing Wii videogame, the Princess Room Alarm, Monopoly® SpongeBob SquarePants™ Edition computer game, lip gloss and a Hannah Montana bracelet”.  I applaud the idea of a commercial-free childhood, but in this day and age it seems wiser, as a parent at least, to put one’s energies into commercial-proofing the kids.

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9 Responses

  1. Hmm, I’m of two minds about this American Girl thing. We don’t have any, mostly because FDPG isn’t into dolls (she likes animals), but also because they are so darn expensive, and I don’t see much about them that justifies that expense. But we did go to see that latest AG movie (Kit Kittredge) with some of her older friends who are VERY into AGs. A bit drivel-ish, but FDPG felt very inspired by the whole “become a writer” aspect of it, so it wasn’t a total loss. Of course, we don’t see these dolls anywhere we go on a regular basis: no stores around us carry them or their accoutrements, so I can ignore them fairly easily. To be honest, if “kids” are going to “dictate cultural trends,” the AG phenom is one that makes me far less uncomfortable than Bratz, MTV, and rap music. Isn’t it more in the Nancy Drew/Trixie Belden line, except packaged for the 21st century?

  2. Sheila, I’ve always been reluctant to throw babies out with the bath water, even if the babies are horribly expensive and dressed in doll clothes. For us, it’s been a delightful grandparental indulgence, and I do have to say Laura has learned lots of history and has enjoyed a number of the books. She’s also been keen on learning more handiwork and reporting, which she (and her brothers for that matter) picked up from the Kit movie. And I don’t think she was at all harmed the two times she’s been to the AG store in NYC and was the only person walking out with only one small bag (with one small book). We did get some funny looks, though.

    And honestly I do find the surface wholesomeness appealing. I’d much rather have a wholesome surface over the crass marketing than a slutty surface, and I can’t seem to find much in the way of wholesome without crass marketing…

    Speaking of MTV, my husband and daughter were watching the news and all of a sudden I heard her ask, “What’s a music video?” We must be doing something right!

  3. Sheila, I meant to ask (but lost my train of thought as it chugged off into the night) if you’ve been following the recent Scholastic brouhaha on CBC’s Q and elsewhere. Here’s a bit,

    http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2009/02/join_the_scholastic_book_club.html

    We get the flyers through our hs support group and there has been more and more dross to wade through each year. But lots of the books on our shelves are from when I was in the Scholastic book club as a child, so I have a sentimental attachment to the idea. But the kids know that they can get books and not the “extra” stuff.

    Of course, this also ties into the separate discussion of getting kids to read, and to like reading. You have the “well, at least they’re reading” Scholastic school of that, though I tend to think that’s like handing kids a plate of Twinkies with the thought, “Well, at least they’re eating”.

  4. Hmm, thanks for that link. I think Jian needs to have some kids, really (poor Jian, he’d be crushed if he could hear me). Don’t people know that they can IGNORE all that marketing? Of course, I say this, standing way outside the whole ‘bring the flyer home from school then bring it back full so the school gets some of the residuals’ aspect of it all. Easy for me to say. I don’t like advertising, and I like my kids to know when it’s blatantly begging them for something, but I have always felt able to just say no. And I have little hesitation in being really mouthy, especially when we’re trolling the aisles of toy stores and we happen upon Bratz dolls (or is that Dollz?). I have no compunction telling my kids how ugly and trashy I think those things are. (remember that scene in Love, Actually, when Emma wraps up the dominatrix doll?) I suppose that’s why any aggro against AG dolls seems a bit OTT. AG dolls are hardly a Bad Influence when we’ve got Hannah Montana (in real life!) and track clothes for girls that say JUICY across the bum. Not to mention the sudden and complete World Worship of the Wii. Oh, and I almost forgot about TV shows with people like Snoop Dogg and or those Kardashian girls. Shouldn’t Jian be saving his ire for THAT? That stuff is far more insidious and unhealthy than some perky Girl Reporter who learns how to write effectively.

    Boy, reading what I just wrote (which I usually try NOT to do) makes me feel like a right old codger. All I need is a cane and I could wave it around the toy aisles…

  5. “Don’t people know that they can IGNORE all that marketing?”

    “No” seems to be woefully underused by most parents I know. And teaching their kids about being good consumers. I put links in the main post to two of my kids’ favorite shows, one on the radio and one on TV and both from CBC interestingly enough — “The Age of Advertising” and “Marketplace”, respectively. Since we get only CBC and CTV, we’re spared Snoop stuff and Kardashians (in fact, I don’t know who the latter are and I think I’m scared to Google them).

    Laura received a Bratz doll once for her birthday, but found it disturbing and never opened the box. Then again, I’m the sort of mother who buys her children cap pistols!

  6. I LOVE Age of Advertising! It’s fascinating, isn’t it? I like Marketplace too. I think that’s where I saw that 98% of the world’s garlic is grown in China.

    You really don’t want to Google the Kardashians, but I will say that their dad was one of OJ’s lawyers (he has since died) and the mother married an Olympic athlete (Bruce Jenner, I think) and had more kids. The mum is suffering from the I Once Was Gorgeous and Now Am Growing Old syndrome, so you can imagine what the girls are like. They’re all very pretty, very rich, and have very consumeristic attitudes to the world. I caught this show when we were renovating this house and living at my parents’ who have 4 million channels. It depresses me though, almost as much as the World Domination of the Wii does, because kids love this stuff. I feel like an anachronism sometimes when we’re out: it’s very apparent to me that my kids are also quite insulated from that side of pop culture. They don’t care, luckily, but I do find it mildly disturbing that WE’RE the weird ones. I mean, how weird is it that little girls wear words like JUICY and DIVA on their butts?

    With you on the cap guns. Maybe they could hold up the Bratz for ransom: as an offense to Modern Aesthetics!

  7. Mr. M has been begging me to embroider a pair of yoga pants that say “Juicy”, for him because at over six feet tall, and two hundred and fifty pounds it would be strangely accurate.

  8. JS, I remember reading that a few years ago and I’m more concerned about the Chicago PD than I am about the dolls. Yikes. And I’m still looking for that parallel universe offering free tampons… That’s rather a cruel tease to nine-year-olds who have 40 years’ worth of purchases ahead of them.

    Now those pants might make the perfect April Fool’s gift!

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