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Monday, April 24, 2006

Another Turn Off: You Deserve a Break Today

And just in case you're lacking for reasons to turn the set off, especially if you have kids, there was the essay in The Guardian's G2 section today by Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation : What the All-American Meal Is Doing to the World. The essay, which is an excerpt from his new book, targeted at children, entitled Chew On This : Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food. Here are some mouth-watering starters: (Click here for the whole thing.)

The relationship between big companies and small children has changed enormously in the past 30 years. Until recently, just a handful of companies aimed their advertising at children and they mainly sold breakfast cereals and toys. By 2002, however, the top five food advertisers in the UK were McDonald's, Coca-Cola, KFC and Pizza Hut. British food companies now spend £300m every year advertising to kids. Business people now realise that kids have a lot of money to spend and a lot of influence on what their parents buy. Every year in the United States children are responsible for more than $500bn worth of spending. Big companies want that money. And too often they are willing to manipulate kids in order to get it.

[further down the column...]
The latest scientific research is also being used to make kids buy things. At the Singapore conference, Karen Tan, representing Coca-Cola, discussed how to make children remember a company's ads and create "brand stickiness". According to Tan, research has found that one way to make a lasting imprint on a child's mind is to run the same advertisement over and over again. Repeating the same ad for a product is more effective than running a variety of different ads. The more times a child sees exactly the same ad, the more likely he or she will remember the product.

The average American child now spends about 25 hours a week watching television. That adds up to more than 1.5 months, non-stop, of TV every year. And that does not include the time spent in front of a screen watching videos, playing video games or using a computer. Aside from going to school, American children now spend more time watching television than doing anything else except sleeping. The average British child spends two hours and 20 minutes every day watching television and 25 minutes playing video games. In the UK, more than half of children under the age of 16 have a television in their bedroom.

During the course of a year, the typical American child watches more than 40,000 TV commercials. About 20,000 of those ads are for junk food: soft drinks, sweets, breakfast cereals and fast food. That means American children now see a junk food ad every five minutes while watching TV - and see about three hours of junk food ads every week. American kids aren't learning about food in the classroom. They're being taught what to eat by the same junk food ads, repeating again and again.

I think, given the all-out onslaught of commercial -- and other -- messages that our children are exposed to in a typical week, turning the television off might be a good option. Why?

I know many, many dedicated and hard-working people who work to catechize our children in the church, helping them to come to a full and mature faith. But knowing this, the extent and intensity of marketing messages that we are exposed to, it seems overwhelming. How can we possibly contend? They -- the fast food (and other) marketers -- are able to get in a word every five minutes on average, three steady hours a week. If we are lucky, in church, we might get one hour twice a week; sometimes less. They have £300m and the all-pervasive, persuasive medium of television; we have spare change and flannelgraphs.

I'm not suggesting that fast food and the church are antitheses. But I am suggesting that, as Christians, we are to be intentionally formed most deeply by God's story more than any other. And when any story, even the one about McDonald's, is as all-pervasive as that, there might be a problem. For example, more people in the world recognize McDonald's "golden arches" than recognize the cross. (This fact is from Schlosser's first book.) How far are we from replacing "Glory to God in the Highest" with "You Deserve a Break Today"?

Read the rest. And, while you're at it, do you dare to find out just what is in that "Strawberry" "'Shake'" that you crave?

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6 Comments:

Blogger Dale said...

As a Christian myself, let me first say that I was very intrigued by all this information. More people recognize the golden arches than the cross? That is unsettling... but perhaps maybe unsubstaintiated? To by no means take away from the serious undertone of your post, I think we must consider the source and look more into his background. I have heard that Schlosser has a history of sensationalism and has been known to esauge positions that we might not weant our kids to be a part of...just my two cents...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 7:30:00 PM  
Blogger PT Immelman said...

I tend to agree with Dale that more attention needs to be focused on Mr. Schlosser and his background before we pay too much credence to his claims. I certainly don't disagree that a little less television time for the kids is a good idea, but let's not blame the food industry for trying to communicate its message when it's parents like us who should take greater control over what and how much our kids watch.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 3:37:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

It's obvious that Schlosser is pushing fast food reform, but he is also a person that is pushing for the decriminalization of marijuana, end of mandatory minimum drug sentencing, and argues that the adult entertainment industry should be unregulated. I've read quite a bit on Schlosser and don't have an ounce of trust in his character. For those interested, check out comments from McDonald's President, Steve EasterBrook. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1760676,00.html

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 7:31:00 AM  
Blogger taillessmonkey said...

As a Christian mother, I am very concerned about what my children see and hear. I want God to be first and foremost in their lifes. As such, I realize that it is my job - not McDonald's or Mr. Schlosser's - to raise them up in the admonition and nurture of the Lord. I also realize that they can have a Happy Meal and still honour the Lord with their lifes. (Not to mention that as a mom on the run, it is nice to be able to get fruit bags and carrot sticks from McD's for my kids.) The focus should not be on McDonald's behaviour, but on our own. Mr. Schlosser's background, as mentioned by other posters, also gives me pause when considering his positions. I have to admit, I am hesitant to take parenting advice from one whose views on drugs and pornography are so different from my own.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 4:17:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Well, welcome to Gower Street! Allow me to register my surprise that all four of you seem to have taken my post as the opportunity to join blogger. What a surprise! (By any chance do you four know each other?)

Thank you for your thoughts.

I find it odd -- and somewhat dismaying -- that each of you decided to focus on Mr. Schlosser's 'background'. In terms of logic, this is called "argumentum ad hominem", a logical fallacy. That is to say, one cannot defeat someone's argument by saying bad things about that person; any number of things might be true about Mr. Schlosser, but that has no bearing on whether or not he is right. This kind of argumentation is a distraction. (For a biblical example of this, when Balaam's donkey spoke, Balaam did not discount it because it was a donkey; he did not "consider the source".) If Schlosser takes a position you disagree with and think is wrong (on decriminalising marijuana, for example), that does not mean that his facts (or motives) are instantly suspect when it comes to, say, the number of adverts on telly devoted to fast food. We need to focus on the truth of the matter, not distracting side issues.

But just as important -- these allegations are unsubstantiated, or only vague and suggestive. Is Schlosser "sensationalist"? If so, does that preclude him from telling the truth? Does it mean he necessarily distorts facts? Or does it mean the topics he addresses are surprising, thus causing a 'sensation'? If he does indeed propose reforming the American justice system (v-v drugs, etc.), what arguments does he raise? How are those arguments right or wrong? Or does simply raising a question about the justice system make someone of bad character?

Moreover, I think that blaming the food industry is part of it. They are not merely "communicating their message". They spend millions of pounds, millions of dollars every year to persuade us to buy their food. Yes, of course we are responsible for ourselves as well, but part of being responsible for ourselves is being responsible for our cultural environment.

Finally, the (often implicit) argument that our concern should be primarily or solely on ourselves and our children and not on others (such as McDonald's) actually supports the idea of legalisation of drugs and the spread of pornography. (This is a common libertarian point.) After all, if my responsibility is for myself only, then why should I worry if someone else is getting smoked up or watching degenerate filth in the privacy of their own homes? If, on the other hand, you don't think this is just fine, then perhaps McDonald's -- or other places, too, I don't mean to single them out over, say, Burger King -- might be fair game for legitimate concern, too?

I have more to say about this, but I will continue it in a post of its own.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 10:09:00 PM  
Blogger Doug Wood said...

Jason,

No doubt, you've been buzz-copped!

Friday, April 28, 2006 7:40:00 PM  

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