“To me, it brings a feeling of pity and concern when I interact with families who experience the ‘tyranny of freedom,’ in which children can do everything: They scream, write on walls, threaten guests, because of the complacent authority of parents who actually think of themselves as champions of freedom.” – Paulo Freire
Participants in my workshops, my friends and my family all know that I the first to admit that I am not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. There are gaps in my analyses, holes in my logic and challenges to my theory, not to mention dilemmas with my own practice; let me acknowledge that right now. Since I know that, its my obligation to call forth those whose thinking and actions are more powerful, significant or substantive than my own. Since my Youth Marketing Blogs Tangent #3 I’ve become marginally consumed (yes, pun) with digesting as much information as I can about that topic. Some of you may know this is just a continuation of earlier work. Anyhow, here are some recent finds:
In The Corporate Assault on Youth: Commercialism, Exploitation, and the End of Innocence, editor Deron Boyles compiles more than a dozen essays examing how youth marketers are disintegrating our social fabric by pretending to serve the greater good. Pow! Its really a primer on how, where, why and when young people are targeted, and without demeaning youth or promoting patriarchial protectionism, the authors clearly demand change.
“Commercial Childhood, or to ‘Serve’ Kids” – In their blog called “Puerile Phsyche” Meade has one post that takes apart the popular consumerism message, eating up the youth marketers’ targeting of children with a Marx-centered analysis acknowledging the broad influences of adultism on young people today.
In my continuing saga to rid the world of the crass commercialization of youth and the marketing of homogeneity, I would like to bring your attention back to YPulse. As some of you remember from my other forays into this conversation, I’ve got beef with people who sell youth, sell to youth, and promote the manipulation of Youth Voice as a marketing tool. I stand against the commercialization of childhood and youth-dom, and YPulse, along with several other blogs, does this very thing with exacting science and precision analyses. Frankly, I am scared of the power of Anastasia Goodstein, its founder and operator.
Goodstein has shown deft skill at defining and driving youth consumption, particularly as it relates to popular culture and technology usage. She is joined by a small bevy of other bloggers* * * * who do this for a living, and honestly they all have their interesting moments. But Goodstein’s successful marketing of herself as the Carrie Bradshaw of teen marketing is what puts a briar in my britches. Profiteering off mass explotation bothers me – call me particular that way. Perhaps what bothers me most is that it appears that Goodstein got her start from a righteous place: she started her work at Teen Voices, a Boston nonprofit youth media organization. Bleh.
Oh, and let me be clear: this isn’t just about the blogs. Goodstein has a book, as well as several conferences every year. More than a half dozen other other youth marketing conferences* * * apparently want to grow up to be half as influential as Goodstein. Her website is up there, too, ranking 171,334 in total popularity across the Internet. That’s compared to the Best Buy Corporation’s @15 website, which competes with the nonprofit YouthNoise, and ranks in at just over 10,389,000 in popularity. These say nothing of the beer-promoting websites Goodstein also promotes on her youth marketing blog* *. Classy.
Admittedly, there is a lot to learn from what the Youth Voice marketers have done, as well as their analyses. DK, a thorough social marketing maestro from the UK who routinely brings his expertise stateside, is one of the people in this area I watch closest. I readily credit his Mediasnackers with teaching me a great deal about my own work, even if – or especially because – he is a marketing expert. The difference between his work and Goodstein’s, though, is that from DK I get the sense that there is a genuine commitment to actually bettering the lives of young people through better marketing. With Goodstein, not so much. I get that it is about bettering the lives of the marketers involved, rather than the people they’re targeting.
Let’s remember why Youth Voice matters – because it comes from young people and benefits all of us. In this same way I would challenge many youth marketers to remember why their work matters – because it benefits more than them individually. As Dr. King implored us, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Let’s keep that in mind no matter what our angle is.
This is post 2 of 5 exploring popular perceptions of young people today.
Marketers have spent more than a half century trying to convince consumers to buy the image of youth being a perfect time, filled with frivolity and carelessness. Literature portrays an idyllic time of life that is airy, unassuming and light. Pop music suggests that between mood swings youth have little room left for the concerns of adulthood. As for childhood, these same elements perpetuate a further mythology, reinforcing the traditional conception of children as simplistic minions, empty vessels awaiting the knowledge of adulthood and eagerly assuming whatever mantle is given them by the adults around them, whether that of son or daughter, student or client – or all together, at the same time.
Adults are taught to envy this existence. In modern America this first took the form of cherish, in a Victorian era when middle class children were placed on pedestals for their preciousness and perfection. During that same period youth were married off or sent to their professions when they were young. Working class boys became apprentices to laborers, craftsmen and farmers while poor children were sent to the fields, factories and mines. In the ensuing 100 years youth were alternately viewed as powerful (1930s); suspicious (1950s); despised (1960s); lazy (1970s and 80s); dangerous (1990s), and; overachieving (2000s). All of these attitudes are then marketed back to adults as something to actually want: In the 1940s adults were sold the power of their youth; the so-called laziness of the 1970s was used as a counter-image for adults to rebel against in the 1980s, driving them to become more even more driven, more capitalistic. This says nothing of today, when adults are busy buying HDTVs and widgets for their cars in order to compensate for our inadequate knowledge of technology in the face of the Digital Natives of today.
None of this says anything of the political concerns of youth today, living in a world where they are systematically denied the right to freedom, participation or democratic representation. But that’s another conversation for a different day. This post is simply meant to expose another popular perspective towards children and youth, which is young people as enviable.
What in your personal experience is the catalyst from thought to action? Or is it backwards action then thought? In other words, what in the end is the common ingredient for mobilizing people to solve community issues in their own back yard? Is it oppression? some sort of tragic event? Or is it simply helping them connect the dots. Understanding that if they do A then B will happen and soon C will occur which will benefit everyone?
In my most honest analysis, I find that people must have an intensely real – or authentic – connection with the subject matter at hand. The common ingredient for real, powerful, meaningful and sustainable engagement, in my opinion, is authentic connection. From that place of authenticity comes forth the necessity for connecting the dots – but not in reverse order.
I am sincerely concerned that as a society we’re losing our collective ability to relate to the people around us. Commercialized social engineering based in neoliberal ideology is destroying our society Sara, and there is a crushing need to reverse that – but little indication that we’re going to do that.
If you don’t know what neoliberalism is, very basically it is the privatization of the “public good”. Think of charter schools, Blackwater, gated communities with private guards, and toll roads: All tasks that used to belong in the public sector that benefited the public sector, but that now are sold off to the lowest bidder in the name of government cost-cutting.
Meanwhile, those companies that buy up these formerly public services are reaping profit from cutting the services and jacking up prices for the “consumer” of their services, i.e. what was formerly known as “the public”. In return, “we the people” become are encouraged to become dissatisfied with the continued taxation of our lives, or however the anti-taxation crowd terms it. So more public services become privatized, and “we the people” become conditioned to the crappy, overpriced services they put out. We generally blame bad schools on poor teachers – not on the private corporate testing firms that lobbied for the extreme standardization of curriculum that limited those teachers’ abilities in the first place. When Blackwater slaughters innocent civilians in Iraq “we the people” watch the news, see the strange faces of foreign people and blame it on them, as our socially conditioned racism and white supremacy would have us do. So we become conditioned to believe in the mythology of privatization at the expense of what was formerly known as the “public good.”
My real concern is that there are some inconvenient convergences happening right now Sara. In the workshop I mentioned the technological divide, which is very real. However, working in tandem with that is another painful reality: Young people today, from the youngest age, are conditioned into this neoliberal hell, where the government is merely a puppet of the corporate overlords of doom who are making a killing off our ignorance.
In the meantime we’re getting poorer. The middle class is literally shrinking and more and more service jobs are getting created. Our society is evolving to further the aims of commercialism and consumerism, and our communities are falling apart because of it. You won’t find the neighbor sitting on her stoop until 9pm at night, shooing kids into their houses after dark – but you can find “Neighbor’s Day Care” hard at work until 9pm for only $1500 per month. Those working dads who used to walk the dog around the block and keep an eye out for prowlers? They’re down at the 5th Avenue Gym working out like the ads on TV told them to, and meanwhile, Mrs. McGillicutty’s house is getting broke into.
Its not like our society has ever worked perfectly before; I don’t particularly favor nostalgia. But I do look for examples. This is where personal investment in creating social change becomes tantamount Sara. We’ve got to stop trying to “sell” change to people the same way that marketers do; their job is to generalize and commodify everything. Our job is to personalize and make relevant. That’s a big difference.
So find out where people have investment – authentic, real and meaningful investment – in an issue. Dig into that – have them do a visualization to remember their youth, if you’re talking about youth issues – and explore that in community. If the group feels oppressed, then work from that place. If the group feels bitter, then work from there. If they’re concerned about a tragedy, about a catastrophe, about a media-induced myth, anything, then work from there. If they express hope, rage or righteous indignation, then you’ve done right – because they’re expressed emotion, and emotion is authentic, and that’s the investment you want. Then work from that place, rather than simply assuming that everyone in the room gives a flying hoot simply because they showed up for the party.
That’s all a long answer to your questions, but frankly you demanded more than flippancy.
I’d love to hear what you, the readers of my blog, think about the questions Sara asked and my response to her.