Nation Topics - Youth
News and Features
Two of the most
famous figures in the Democratic Party, Senators Joseph Lieberman and
Hillary Clinton, have introduced the Media Marketing Accountability
Act of 2001, which, among other things, would make it illegal to
market or promote adult-rated rap and rock-and-roll albums to kids
under 17 and would empower the Federal Trade Commission to decide
which R-rated films may be marketed to minors.
Senator Clinton said, "If you label something as inappropriate for
children and then go out and target it to children, you are engaging
in false and deceptive advertising." And this summer Democrats,
occasionally joined by some Republicans, have browbeaten
entertainment-industry leaders at Congressional hearings, accusing
them of evading the rating system and selling salacious material to
young people. But the R rating on films doesn't mean kids under 17
shouldn't see them; it means they shouldn't see them without an
adult. Many parents want their kids to see such R-rated films as
Billy Elliot and Erin Brockovich. As for records, the
"parental advisory" sticker informs the buyer that the record
contains profanity, but it does not have an age
Lieberman disingenuously says, "We're not
asking the FTC to regulate content in any way, or even to make
judgments about what products are appropriate for children." But
that's precisely what his radical bill does. It empowers the FTC to
"establish the criteria" for new ratings for records and films, and
would legally require record companies and film studios to create and
implement "an age-based rating or labeling system." Marketing would
be deemed to be targeting minors if "the Commission determines that
the advertising or marketing is otherwise directed or targeted to
minors." With the FTC defining marketing to minors on the basis of
FTC-mandated ratings criteria, backed by the crippling financial
penalties for "unfair or deceptive acts or practices," it would be
able to decide which music and movies could be mass-marketed and
thus, by and large, which ones would be released.
Lieberman and Clinton apparently believe that federal
bureaucrats are the ideal arbiters of the appropriateness of
entertainment for teenagers. Lieberman told Inside.com, "We
know the difference between Schindler's List and Saving
Private Ryan and some of the slasher flicks that are aimed at
teenage boys. That's a decision best left to the administrative
Two days before the legislation was introduced,
the FTC issued a surreal report that criticized record companies for
advertising stickered albums on the World Wrestling Federation TV
show SmackDown! because 36 percent of its audience is under
18. So according to the FTC it's OK for younger teens to watch guys
knocking the living daylights out of each other, but it's not OK to
sell rap music to those same kids! Not surprisingly, more than 70
percent of the albums the FTC monitored were by African-American
artists. (The FTC also included the rock band Rage Against the
Machine, whose lyrics are frequently political, on the list.) At the
Hip-Hop Summit in June, attended by African-American leaders
including Cornel West, Martin Luther King III, Louis Farrakhan and
several black members of Congress, even those who criticized the
content of certain albums agreed that this legislation is dangerous
While the FTC investigation was conducted in
response to the Columbine murders, Lieberman is a one-man slippery
slope who makes no bones about his desire to regulate nonviolent
dirty words, complaining that "the leading music companies...have
been doing little if anything to respond to the FTC report and curb
the marketing of obscenity-laced records to kids."
the Washington elite focuses its rhetoric on corporations, young
people view these outbursts as attacks on youth culture. Just as baby
boomers didn't view Bob Dylan and the Beatles as "products" of CBS
and EMI, today's young people view rap and rock music as their own
culture, which appears to be precisely what middle-aged pundits hate
about it. George Will, for example, castigated rap lyrics last
September on ABC's This Week. Six months later, Will lavished
praise on Sopranos executive producer David Chase for his
creation. Both Eminem's Slim Shady and Chase's Tony Soprano are
violent, bigoted characters whose humanity and contradictions are
nonetheless illuminated by their creators. The primary difference is
that rap is the cultural language of young people.
Obviously, people of good will disagree about culture, and
there is nothing wrong with fierce criticism of any genre. But
Lieberman et al. want to go far beyond criticism. They want
government to have veto power over the marketing, and thus the
economic viability, of entertainment.
By supporting this
legislation Democrats may pick up a few "swing voters" who like the
symbolism of entertainment-bashing, but in doing so they risk
alienating young voters, fans of pop culture of all ages and civil
libertarians. It is hard to imagine the young people who still turn
out in the thousands to hear Ralph Nader speak at campuses being
attracted by Lieberman's approach. Voter turnout among young people
is at an all-time low, around 28 percent; and according to Voter News
Service, while Clinton had a 12-percentage-point margin over Bush
among 18-29 year olds in 1992 and a 19-percentage-point margin in
1996, Gore-Lieberman won this demographic by a mere 2 percent in
2000. None of the published postelection analyses by Democrats have
focused on restoring turnout or Democratic margins among young
Condescending to, alienating and demeaning young
people is bad morally and bad politically. No progressive movement
has ever succeeded without young people. Continued culture-bashing by
Democrats opens the door for more erosion of their natural base to
culture-savvy libertarians like Jesse Ventura.
Maude Barlow's analysis of the FTAA is available in four languages on the council's website, www.canadians.org.
If you are the parent of a newborn, beware. Fourteen to eighteen months from now your child will be programmed to nag for a new toy or snack every four hours, "branded for life" as a Cheerios eater or a Coca-Cola guzzler and placed in the loving care of a market researcher at the local daycare center.
That, at least, was the view of early childhood development presented by the 400 children's-market honchos at the third annual Advertising & Promoting to Kids Conference, held in New York City on September 13-14. Conference-goers attended sessions on topics like Building Brand Recognition, Marketing in the Classroom and The Fine Art of Nagging ("40% of sales of jeans, burgers and other products occur because a child asks for the product"). They cheered winners of the Golden Marble Awards for best breakfast-food and video-game commercials.
The marketing confab was held as the government released a report documenting the growing commercialization of public schools and also as the Federal Trade Commission blasted media companies and the advertising industry for deliberately marketing violent films and products to children. Although kids have been targets of marketing for decades, the sheer amount of advertising they are exposed to today is "staggering and emotionally harmful," says Susan Linn, a Harvard Medical School psychologist who studies media at the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston. Linn and other child psychologists, educators and healthcare professionals led a protest outside the Golden Marble Awards to draw attention to the effects of the $12-billion-a-year kid-ad industry, including the epidemic of obesity in children and increasing violence in schools. "It's appalling that creativity is being rewarded in the service of manipulating children," Linn says. "We hope this is the beginning of a national movement to challenge this."
In fact, this fall has been a good one for grassroots opponents of corporate commercialism. The Madison, Wisconsin, school board voted in August to terminate its exclusive beverage contract with Coca-Cola, making it the first school district in the country to cancel an existing marketing deal [see Manning, "Students for Sale: How Corporations Are Buying Their Way Into America's Classrooms," September 27, 1999]. The board cited "overwhelming public opposition" as the reason for its decision. That action came hard on the heels of successful campaigns to stop proposed school-marketing deals in Oakland and Sacramento, California; Philadelphia; and the state of Michigan, where a cola contract involving 110 school districts was shot down. In October the American Dental Association passed a resolution urging its members to oppose the marketing of soft drinks and junk food in schools, and the American Psychological Association, under pressure from many of its members, agreed to form a task force to examine whether it is unethical for psychologists to advise companies that market to children. Meanwhile, ZapMe!, the in-school marketing company, abandoned its educational business after failing to convince enough schools to accept its offer of free computers in exchange for delivering student eyeballs to advertisers.
"We're seeing a dramatic increase in local resistance to all forms of corporate marketing to kids," says Andrew Hagelshaw, executive director of the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, in Oakland. "The issue has finally hit critical mass with the public." Hillary Rodham Clinton has jumped on the bandwagon. Citing a "barrage of materialistic marketing" aimed at young children, the Democratic candidate for senator from New York wants the government to ban commercials aimed at preschool children and to prohibit advertising inside public elementary schools. Anticorporate activists welcomed Clinton's proposals but said they don't go far enough. Opponents of a New York City school board plan to finance free laptop computers for students through in-school advertising say her proposals won't protect millions of high school students. Nor would the proposals apparently affect the commercial in-school TV program Channel One, whose market is primarily middle school students.
Corporate lobbyists are already putting the heat on members of Congress who might support legislation reining in children's advertising. Hagelshaw believes the real battles will take place in local school boards and state legislatures, which may be more receptive to anticommercial arguments. There's never been a better, or more important, time for local activists to step up the pressure on corporate exploiters of children.
Four hundred teenagers converged outside the four-star Hilton hotel in San Francisco, then pushed inside the plush lobby with whoops and chants.
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