Yesterday, I was reading an interview of Mary Rothschild by Richard Whittaker: Considering Media in the Light of Relationship and Attention. The interviewee speaks about the need to find a middle way between taking the attitudes of either extreme media fasting or being a complete slave to media. This is an issue close to my heart - as it must be for all parents who are conscientious about child-rearing.
I have found this a particularly hard balance to achieve: I do let the kiddos watch TV, goes without saying. But they are not allowed to watch it on school days. Neither are they allowed carte blanche on weekends or on vacation. I do not impose Animal Planet or "informative" programs on them either. Our 8-year-old is still enamored of cartoons. The elder is now addicted to sports or movies. The wars for the remote are quite frequent and ferocious, but subside quickly if I threaten them with no-TV-at-all. Then they make compromises for the greater good.
But one part of the media is all-pervasive and potentially destructive - advertisements. Till around two years ago, I was inundated with requests for specific products which were advertised very attractively on TV. Some were demanded because there were offers of free products with them. I soon grew tired of just saying "No" all the time. Over the past two years, I have shown both our sons time and time again how companies use these strategies to lure people into buying more. And how most of the "free things" were worthless pieces of low-quality plastic or tiny samples of one more product they were trying to popularize.
Also I try to pass on how ads are designed to play on the viewers' insecurities. For example the ad of one hair oil shows a doctor saying, "In the matter of hair, I can't take a risk!" As though hair-fall is one of the greatest plagues on humankind! Only one other ad has the power to irritate me more which is that of a famous appliances company that also offers hair-styling tools. The ad shows a simpering actress who claims that if she styles her hair everyday, she gets gawks from males all around, which makes her boyfriend jealous,which in turn makes him give her treats and the clincher "that makes me feel special!!" It's wrong on sooooo many levels!!!! Gaah, the only reason that I don't break the TV while watching that ad is because I know that I won't be able to watch Masterchef Australia. Ahem.
So I turned to my children and asked them, "What is that aunty doing? Do you think she should feel special only if her boyfriend gives her treats?" I also asked them what a better message would be... and they astonished me by saying ... You can style your hair because you are special!!! I was so overjoyed. At least I have made them think a little beyond what they see. Also I tell them that there is absolutely no proof that the products can do all that they claim to do. Our younger one took it so much to heart that when he hears tall claims like those of health drinks, he turns to me and asks, "They are lying, aren't they, Amma? I still need to eat my veggies to become stronger and healthier, don't I?" Underlying his questions may be a slight hope of my saying that he need not eat his veggies, but still!!!!
My way of adopting the middle way is not to condemn all ads outright, but to make sure that the kids know that an ad is an art form that needs our critical appreciation - not blind allegiance or total disregard. There are ads that always touch our hearts, thrill our minds and earn our appreciation for content and direction.
And yes, our kids know that when they see ads for club glasses, CDs and soda, they are actually watching ads for alcohol. What do you tell your children when they are watching ads?
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