False Choice Kills Social Change

We are faced with piles of choices every single day. Advertising pumps tons of clothing and cars, household cleaners and soda for us to choose from. Our friends and communities make these choices seem more real, as we are surrounded by people who want the same things, and everyone strives towards similar goals. 

However, at what point are those false choices? At what point do those choices distract and take away from the real choices we need to make in our lives?
Renata Salecl, an economist in London, recently claimed in an RSA video that, “The ideology of choice is actually not so optimistic and it prevents social change.” She laid out a compelling argument that highlights how the majority of choices we are faced with everyday are simple consumerist myths that perpetuate our sense of choosing without actually giving us a say about what we’re choosing – they are false choices. She identifies how these choices drive some of us to believe we are being impinged on by false choices, driving us to create new options that in turn become placebos for meaningful decision-making. 
Worst still, Salecl implies that these choices are distracting us from more serious decision-making by filling our minds with rubbish. This “fullness”, apparently re-enforced by a New York Times article called, “Too Many Choices: A Problem that can Paralyze“, which puts consumer choices on par with substantive choices like who should govern us or whether we should go to war. Or, the NY Times is apparently honing in on the outcomes of this rubbish by reporting on a study about “decision-making fatigue“, which apparently seeks to absolve the Average American from their responsibilities over their lives and work and families by acknowledging that we are simply faced with too many choices to be able to function successfully every single day. All this, and personal exposure to younger and older people who “suffer” this way, leads me to agree with Salecl.
We are surrounded by a cacophony of phony, the allure of the unreal. It seems incredible to me that so many people- young and old- actively choose to fill their lives with impediments to their power. It is as if we are actively surrendering our ability to make the world we want to live in. It was Paulo Freire who first taught me that the highest order of being human is to be a maker rather than a consumer. However, as a people we are suffocating under a pile of consumption.
Social change requires the active belief that we are fully capable and desirous of making the world we want to live in. We must actively choose to do that every single day, be it through actively eschewing television and teaching our kids to stay away from it, or by denying the commercial overload that would take over our lives by living simply and within our means. False choices are killing social change.
It is from that place of unhindered decision-making that we can develop the critical consciousness and social awareness necessary to change the world. It is from that place that we can make a real difference.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Smarter than Me: Commercialism Fighters

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.

Reel Grrls – A youth-driven media literacy organization based in Seattle, my friend and ally Adrienne Wiley-Thomas has been on their board for several years. Along with many groups across the U.S., Reel Grrls teaches young women the truth about what the media is selling them; different is the fact that they center their works on with pro-feminist messages. I like their focus, and everytime I see any of their productions I’m blown away.
All of this is to say that I appreciate the work of the people I know, admire, and otherwise want to learn from. These are some of the places where my best thinking occurs- in reading, watching, and otherwise absorbing the work of others. Keep up the hard work, please!
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Youth Marketing Blogs Tangent #3

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.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Young People as Enviable

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.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!