Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Commercial Childhood, or To "Serve" Kids

...on a plate.

There's nothing wrong with making money by marketing to children in and of itself. The problem is that children aren't given the freedoms in society at the same time they are expected to be consuming. In the eyes of the money-makers, this makes them a prime resource that can be easily manipulated and can not "complain"...at least not officially. This is not to say that children don't complain, it's just the child's been turned into a commodity, who's use value only stretches as far as their parents buying power can persuade. This renders their complaints on deaf ears.

"I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled ...” -Jonathan Swift (1729)

Now of course Swift was writing in jest when he made these comments in A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Ireland from Being a Burden for their Parents or Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Public, and certainly in protest of other economic conditions.

But such a scheme is not so far fetched in the minds of those who exploit children as a means to satiate their own ends--for society has not considered the willpower of children, or even acknowledged it. They make children a victim of exploitation simply by not allowing them the autonomy to fully consent to their exploitation.

When people speak of child exploitation, they are normally thinking of those rogue members of society who are out to abuse children in some physical way--child molesters. The term exploitation, as far as children are concerned, almost always deals with the physical well-being of children. Could it be said that we have come to this ultimate narrowing of the idea of child exploitation because it has not officially recognized yet that a child has an independent will that can as easily be exploited as their body?

In adult relationships, financial systems, and governments, it is well understood that exploitation is not always abusive. Often exploitation is consented to by the party that is being exploited. Exploitation simply refers to the act of using something as a means in order to achieve ends or other means. The exploited person can be someone as harmless as an employee, or something as harmful as a rape victim. In either case someone else is getting usage out of the person being exploited. Not only humans can be exploited, but objects, both tangible and intangible, and animals as well. The connotation for exploitation nevertheless normally is negative, meaning that when the word is used it most often refers to someone using something as a means for illicit, illegal or immoral ends.

However, when the idea of child exploitation arises, not only are all other intuitions about the nature of exploitation in general disbanded, but so is all rational sense. It is thought that child exploitation refers specifically to cases of child prostitution, rape, and other abuses regardless of whether the abuser is actually exploiting the child or not. Pedophiles exploit individual children at one particular instance, or perhaps set of individual instances. Marketing experts for companies exploit millions of children, if not all of them, in this country and globally at times, and at all times, throughout a child's development. But who are made to be the demons of society, and who are ignored by parents? Which one is more universally threatening?

There arises this thinking that children don't have the ability to be exploited mentally, or have their own wills alienated from them, because they lack the mental sense.

But the marketing experts know better, and have been exploiting children's will for many generations, attempting to turn kids against their parents, turning children into billboards for their products, and otherwise distracting them from their complete lack of personal say by fattening their minds up with self aggrandizing slogans about "empowerment" that have little realistic meaning outside their use as turning kids into good little consumers.

"The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parent and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern Industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour." --Karl Marx (1884)

Children do not work as they did in Marx's day, nor was the concept of childhood as important in his day. Children are not considered candidates for "physical" work, but they have assumed a new "social" utility in this day in age. They are both consumers and marketable, and they work very hard perpetuating the regime that spends millions to molest their wills, their brains, their interests and change their sense of self (to one that is consumer based), gender (to one that is boys vs. girls), their parents (to one that is kids vs. parents), their education, (to one that is kids vs. teachers), and their age (to one that is young vs. old) in ways that are beneficial to the profit motivation of the company.

These are ways that are often opposed to the way parents and schools want to socialize children of all ages and genders and personalities to be productive, observant, thoughtful, and self-regulated individuals. Children are converted into dollar signs, and set to work for these corporations as soon as they are marketed to and asked to go beg their parents for those certain highly-prized ticket items.

They are alienated from themselves, their parents, their society, and other children, who are forced to compete with each other for prized high ticket items in order to find some sort of validation with their peers, and all but otherwise distract themselves from the fact that society has not given them any other way to validate themselves. Such more personally constructive means are not profitable, and therefore discouraged in the laws, because supervisors and volunteers are dissuaded from working with children due to laws to combat the scourge of paranoia.

But let me stress a caution, these companies would have a lot less influence if a child was recognized as having a legitimate individual will. At present, they do not. It is not so much the fact that children ought to be protected from this change in the very definition of childhood, which Marx would have called "Bourgeois," it's that they should be empowered to use their individual wills to their own extents, and not be held so captive to the suggestion of their profit-motivated corporate overlords who have no collected interest in fostering the child's positive development.

The more children are protected from things that harm them to the point where they can not protect themselves, the more vulnerable they are to these influences. Furthermore, because children do not have a mind of their own to give consent, the only way this transaction can happen in childhood is if it is coerced. This is the same situation society holds against pedophiles and child molesters. However, it seems to believe so long as child exploitation without their consent (simply because they can't give consent to such things) is profiting someone monetarily, as opposed to any other way, is perfectly acceptable.

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