A report in the New York times about a new initiative by Disney to market to mothers raises some interesting questions, for me at least.
I am increasingly becoming convinced that one of the greatest threats to the church is the various effects of consumerism. Whenever we begin to think of ourselves primarily as consumers and only secondarily as humans made in the image of God, the results are always disastrous. So, reading that Disney is beginning an initiative to actively pursue the newborn and infant market concerns me. I don’t want to sound like I am picking on Disney here, because their actions are only representative of a larger culture of marketing which believes that it is appropriate to target ads towards the very young, people who are developmentally incapable of distinguishing between commercials and entertainment and discerning what is good from what is not. By getting a child to recognize and identify with specific brands while they were young, corporations can ensure future sales as the child grows.
Let me be clear that I’m not saying that it is somehow wrong to advertise or that cute footsie pajamas should not be made for infants. What I am saying is that we are a part of the culture that persuasively, powerfully, and unceasingly urges upon us the view that our identity is primarily shaped and defined by the things that we purchase and our ability to purchase. This worldview is not consistent with the Gospel, and so it is important for us to be discerning about the way we and our children view the things we buy and to question what effect it has on our children when we allow them to be marketed to at a very young age.
What kind of desires will these products or ads inculcate in our children? (Should our daughters desire to be princesses?) How will our children understand their identities in relation to these products? (Should they define childhood primarily by the kinds of toys they buy?).