In our previous blog posting, we discussed Disney’s representation of gender roles and racial groups after watching Mickey Mouse Monopoly. This week, we continue to discuss the role of media within the family with readings from the books Media and Middle Class Moms: Images and Realities of Work and Family and Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood. For this week’s posting, focus your response on either: an overview of all the readings and online documentaries, one reading or documentary in particular, or some combination thereof.

In the introduction (p. 1-10) to her book Consuming Kids, Susan Linn warns us that “corporations are racing to stake their claim on the consumer group formerly known as children…with a combined marketing budget estimated at over $15 billion annually…and that children influence more than $600 billion in spending a year” (1). Current and future generations of children face advertisements directed towards them in a way previously un-experienced by past generations. Marketers and skeptics often place the burden of protecting children from excessive media consumption upon parents, whom are positioned against this $15 billion industry intent on undermining their efforts. Linn provides examples of this escalation: the magnitude of advertisements, new advertisement locations, and increasingly sophisticated ads developed by scientists and psychologists that are more effective than ever.

Please describe in your own words Linn’s main argument and your response to it. Can you find websites about marketing towards children? Newspaper articles on the topic? YouTube videos or photographs that depict typical ads aimed at children?

In Chapter 2: “A Consumer in the Family: The Nag Factor and Other Nightmares” (p. 31-40), Linn does not absolve parents of the responsibility of sheltering children from the marketing world around them; but finds that “just say no” is a simplistic answer that is ineffective in a media saturated world. Chapter 2 explores the struggle that takes place between the marketers and parents as they both attempt to control the desires and behaviors of children. Linn points out that marketers exploit the ability of children to nag their parents relentlessly for desired items. Linn overviews several articles on “the nag factor” that outline ways in which marketers can assist children in nagging their parents and the ways in which this nagging is most effective. Ultimately, Linn sums up the problem as such: “while parents are trying to set limits, marketing executives are working day and night to undermine their authority” (38).

Overview some of the main points of Linn’s chapter and include your personal response. How can parents be empowered to negotiate the marketed world with their children? Can you find links that include positive strategies?

The authors of Media and Middle Class Moms: Images and Realities of Work and Family, Lara Descartes and Conrad P. Kottak, stress in this ethnographic study that “American parents received, interpreted, processed, used, avoided, and resisted media messages about work and family, in the context of their actual work/family choices” (2). Media provides “scripts” for individuals to understand and evaluate their own identity and actions, the authors argue (3). This ethnography was conducted in a small Michigan town during the years 1999-2002 with white, middle class families. The researchers captured data on the media viewing habits of the participants, which shows they currently viewed, which shows they had watched in the past, and their ideas about media usage by their children and themselves. They were asked how they interpret their favorite shows and the ways in which these shows might influence their feelings about family life. The authors argue that while the formations of family life as represented on television has added more modern components, traditional gender role expectations are still widely prevalent. For example, “although, today, home is not seen as women’s only role, it still is portrayed as their primary role. Similarly, work is not seen as men’s only role, but still as their primary role. 1950s images do survive in current media representations” (40). The authors conduct a content analysis of various shows that were significant in their participants’ lives. The authors also observed in households the ways in which media is used: “Gender influenced how media fit into the daily routine, such as being used to distract children while doing housework chores (women) or while relaxing and as a way to enjoy time with the family (men)” (59). Women watched media on the fly, and the viewing desires of children and husbands often superseded their desires, although fathers in the focus groups still complained about watching their wives’ shows in the evenings. Another gender difference that the authors noted was that “mothers tended to want to protect their children from the outside world by limiting media, whereas fathers preferred to introduce their children to the world by sharing the media experience with them” (59). Finally, the authors also point out a paradox in which Americans often exempt themselves from being influenced by media, while pointing towards others’ susceptibility. The authors argue that the impact of the media on individuals has been scientifically confirmed; therefore, it is an important topic for social scientists to consider. Please reflect on the chapters of this book that we read and the primary topics discussed.

In the news: The New York Times just reviewed the book CINDERELLA ATE MY DAUGHTER: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, by Peggy Orenstein, which discusses the marketing of princess culture to young girls.

You can also watch ONE of the following three documentaries on the topic of media and the family. Integrate your discussion of the assigned text with one or more of these documentaries.

Consuming Kids

Remote Control

Tough Guise

For more movies on media analysis, see the website of the Media Education Foundation.