Saturday, January 29, 2005
Advertising to children
I've been trying to figure out what might be said in defense of the practice.
Someone might give an argument from inconsequent effects. The idea here is that since children don't have significant buying power, the manipulative creation of wants is no real harm. Besides the obvious fact that manipulative commercials wouldn't continue to be broadcast if those commercials didn't move products, this defense fails to engage the fact that it is the manipulation itself which prompts objections.
Another argument might categorize these commercials as a necessary evil. This defense admits that the advertisements are distasteful, but holds that unfettered corporate power has such good effects in general that this practice is worth tolerating. One problem here is that it's difficult to believe that small restrictions on corporate power would seriously undermine whatever benefits the corporate system brings. From the point of view of the argument, however, the more serious problem is that this line of thought doesn't really amount to a defense of the practice.
The strongest argument, I think, would appeal to the fact that ours is a consumer culture and would emphasize the need for children to begin developing the skills necessary for operating in such a culture. One aspect of this acculturation would be the lesson that products don't always deliver the emotional satisfactions that their advertisements promise. On this view, subjecting children to small manipulations is ultimately beneficial to them, since it serves to instill a healthy skepticism with regard to mercantile promises. You might call this the sea monkey principle.
For such an argument to work, it should be noted, you'd have to have in hand a defense of consumerism as a way of life -- or, at any rate, as a significant part of a life. Only then could the notion of developing into a virtuous consumer have the sort of ethical grip that might overcome worries about manipulation.