It isn't just live action films directed towards teenagers like The Hunger Games or Twilight that use marketing strategies that make me uneasy, but Disney also knows the leverage that comes to their sales department by helping young children identify with glitzy glamour and begin a lifetime of brand loyalty.
There is something wrong with marketing to children. Even more than just marketing, it is unethical to shape the values and self image of young people and can cause serious harm. Unfortunately the classroom is not exempt from all this.
Canada's Centre for Digital and Media Literacy stated in one report: "School used to be a place where children were protected from the advertising and consumer messages that permeated their world—but not any more . . . A school setting delivers a captive youth audience and implies the endorsement of teachers and the educational system." I don't think this applies to all Canadian and American schools, but examples such as supplying schools with technology in exchange for high company visibility and companies sponsoring school events does happen, and I think it is wrong.
What can a teacher do then, if their school or local corporations condone such targeting of kids?
The answer applies regardless of school environment. Due to the enormous impact of the Internet and mind-blowing rates of time children are exposed to media on a daily basis, we can't hide all the garbage from our children. However, we can teach our children how to critically consume the information that inundates their world. Said middle school teacher Caitlin Barry:
"We encourage them (students) to use Google Images and search YouTube to find compelling videos, but we haven't given them any tools to analyze all this media. In many cases, students have no idea how to be critical about what they consume.
Barry goes on to reference the foundational questions of media literacy (listed below): key elements we can push and discuss both in our classrooms and at home.
Who created this message? What creative techniques are used to attract my attention? How might different people understand this message differently? What values, lifestyles, and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message? Why is this message being sent?
After pondering the new Hunger Games makeup kit from Covergirl, imagine what a great educational opportunity a teacher or parent could have by running through these questions!
We should also expand this process to teaching kids to be more critical about food consumption. In her TED talk, Anne Lappe explains important and frightening research about the food industry marketing to you children. Apparently, food marketers spend about 2 billion dollars per year just on marketing to minors. The little video below shares some of the same sentiment as Lappe's talk, including some dramatic music.
There are many things good people are trying to do to stop bizarre marketing schemes like the ones I have mentioned, but something every responsible adult can begin today is to learn and teach the basic questions of media literacy. We need our children to become thoughtful, responsible, and conscious adults - and that possibility looks quite bleak if the waves of marketing and information are consumed without thought or challenge.