Tagged: Youth

A coloring book childhood


My knee jerk reaction to MGA Bratz The Movie Movie Making Set with Sharidan was, “Oh God, here we go again, pushing hypersexual celebrityhood on girls.” But when I watched the little demo video on Amazon I discovered that is this is kinda a cool tool. The movie camera actually works, enabling kids to make stop motion animation. Now, I agree with my grandfather, who was an arts educator and painter, that coloring books are a bad thing because it’s better to free your creativity and not to be confined by boundaries. In a sense this Bratz toy is also like a coloring book: it allows the child to “fill” specific perimeters, such as the gender-specific starlet archetype, which ultimately is unhealthy. But maybe out there is some artsy girl (or boy as some gender-bender parents may have gifted) that will discover the world of animation from this little toy. When I was a kid I played with GI Joe and was able to construct alternate worlds with my “doll” that did not conform to the usual stereotypes.

But… I have to admit that once I saw the price tag and the Movie Mansion accessory (see below), my draw dropped. Are toys really that expensive now? Who can afford this crap? I think money would be better spent on a Flip camera instead, coloring books be damned!


Out-slacking the slackers: right on!

What happens when this young man rules the world?

Stay Free! Daily:

A Wall Street Journal columnist blames twentysomething narcissism on Mr. Rogers (unfair!), Boomer-style permissive parenting (getting warmer), and the gospel of self-esteem (warmer still). What the press reports seem to miss, however, is the fact that this is the first generation of children raised in an environment of unabashed marketing. In 1980, corporate lobbying managed to get Congress to abolish the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to regulate advertising to kids. With no watchdog in sight, an entire industry developed to market directly to kids. Full-length commercials began masquerading as TV cartoons. Channel One launched its in-school advertising “news” network. And junk food marketing skyrocketed. The most common message of marketing to tweens and teens is this: your parents are idiots, your teachers are dull, you’re so much cooler than everyone else. But we understand you and know what you want. Product!

What may be bad news for the pampered white kids featured in the segment, though, should be good news for America’s immigrants. Based on this segment, I’d say immigrants who’ve brought over a strong work ethic will have a great shot at out-achieving the coddled elites, once employers stop instinctively hiring rich whites. Let’s hear it for class war!

Carrie McLaren from Stay Free! discusses in the above post the recent whining in the media about what crappy workers the next batch of post-grads have become. The so-called “millennials” are even out-slacking the slackers (that would be my generation: “X”– sorry folks, the name is taken). Like Carrie I’ve been irritated by a lot of the complainers who are attacking liberal media or parenting techniques by the so-called “helicopter” parents. Who are these dreaded parents destroying the world with all their love and affection? Last time I checked (and as a former teacher I can tell you that I checked a lot), most families I dealt with were completely broken: divorced, working ten jobs, alcoholic, impoverished, I could go on. This mythic creature of the suburban parent and the overly protective family is some kind of demographic fantasy, or… I may just live on the wrong planet. Both might be true.

I think Carrie nails a few points. One is that advertising does demonize authority, teachers and parents. If you don’t believe me, randomly select any Budweiser ad and tell me I’m wrong. The common concern of the articles she sites is that immigrants still have a strong work ethic and , boo-hoo, the white race will slack off and die. The problem for marketers and the businesses that depend on them is that their realities are imploding. The whole history of sucking the emotion out of workers is the source of “cool” and the current trend of the ironic disposition. No one is allowed to care anymore, because if you do, you might actually unionize (see my previous post on the writer’s strike). Besides, why should we care? Most corporations of yore (the kind that our parents and grandparents grew up working for) at least offered you job security for selling your soul to the company store. Not anymore. They want your undying attention and will farm your pension to some bankrupt Enron of the future so that every dime of your retirement ends up in the golden parachute of the next defrocked CEO of international finance. Geez, with so much hypocrisy looping around our economic system, it’s hard to find a reason why anyone should care about whether or not a 20 year old has enough focus to read a spreadsheet before switching to Tetras. Slack on!

Oh, and add to that the need for a volunteer military who cares enough and will willingly die for abstract concepts like freedom and democracy in the world’s shitholes that happen to be of interest because of their proximity to composted dinosaurs. LOL.

I’d like to add the following theory. Part of the reason our culture (the affluent one that is supposed to perform the knowledge work of our society) is imploding is because they are the last generation to play out the final act of the alphabetized, and hence right-brained, mind. Immigrants, many of whom come from countries that are not dominated by the history of print literacy, have spacial minds that contain broader realities, including the multidimensional, multilayered, pattern-like world that is emerging. Perhaps that is is why they will some day (soon) rule the world. I’m crying crocodile tears.

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Do media destroy children’s minds? Updated


AlterNet: MediaCulture: So You Think You Can Raise a Brand-Free Kid?:

“I think we’re seen as consumers…how much wallet share do kids have, and how much can they influence our spending.”

Yet the push to buy doesn’t jive with the values these parents want to instill in their own kids — values like critical thinking, individuality and sustainable living.

I’m sorry but the prevailing wisdom that branding destroys kid’s minds is wrong. Bad parenting destroys, or at least hinders, childhood development. Stop blaming corporations. Branding does not prevent critical thinking, only censoring the dominant reality does. This doesn’t mean that I agree with branding to kids, but it’s the parents that need education. Talk to your kids about media– they are intelligent. But don’t block reality from them, it will only make it more attractive.

PS: I posted the above comment at Alternet where the article in question was posted, and I notice that the readers over their don’t like what I have to say (my comment is rating at 2 on a scale of 1 to 5). It occurs to me that on the surface that I may come across like a pro-media capitalist, but nothing would be further from the truth. I just no longer agree with all the fear mongering concerning media. Part of that requires a long back story and my book (out next April!) that explains more clearly why I came to this point. Regular readers of my blog will pick up on the reasons here and there.

I think the problem in general with media activism is that it adheres to a one to many mass media model of communication without acknowledging that we are in a transition to a many to many communication environment. The assumption– especially coming from the Adbuster folks– is that they believe we are injected with all this evil ideology– when the situation is far more complex. We exist in a mental ecosystem that is also composed of countervailing influences. The reason I was able to become my own person despite the total mediation of my youth was that I had parents interested in art and education, I was a punk rocker which required using media as our art, and other intangibles I can’t explain. The point is that I had a strong immune system that made the messages I was exposed to less “sticky.”

I realize the word “media educator” could sound nefarious. After all, isn’t advertising “media education” on how to be good consumers? Media educators teach media literacy, but I hate that term, because it implies that if we learned to understand media like books we would be smarter and better, and this is not true. I agree with Marshal McLuhan that current media is just an extension of the thought forms that were codified by the alphabet and printing press. So if people want to get pissed about the current state of media, consider how books have destroyed our communal way of thinking (because books make us silent, isolated experiencers of knowledge). I’m not anti-book, but all this media bashing is also not addressing the problem.

Having grown up around a lot of kids who survived hippie communes, I can say this with great confidence. Many of those kids denied McDonalds, sugar, and TV just indugled in it in more extremes until it got out of their systems. Then they became stock brokers and real estate agents. No joke. Anyhow, my message is to stop being scared of media and believe more strongly in your capacity to withstand brainwashing. Call me an optimist, but i believe in the innate intelligence of human beings to know the difference between bullshit and what is good for them, even if it’s delayed sometimes due to poor environmental conditions (i.e. closed communities, poor education, bad diet, etc).

Thinking ahead

Belout College’s annual list of how the leaders of the future will know the world. An interesting list that is at times more snarky commentary on the present than insights about the real thinking habits of young people.

Beloit College Public Affairs:

The Mindset List is not a chronological listing of things that happened in the year that the entering first-year students were born.

Our effort is to identify a worldview of 18 year-olds in the fall of 2007. We take a risk in some cases of making generalizations, particularly given that our students at Beloit College for instance come from every state and scores of nations.

The “Class of 2011” refers to students entering college this year. They are generally 18 which suggests they were born in 1989.

The list identifies the experiences and event horizons of students as they commence higher education and is not meant to reflect on their preparatory education.

And the list is…


Most of the students entering College this fall, members of the Class of 2011, were born in 1989. For them, Alvin Ailey, Andrei Sakharov, Huey Newton, Emperor Hirohito, Ted Bundy, Abbie Hoffman, and Don the Beachcomber have always been dead.

1. What Berlin wall?
2. Humvees, minus the artillery, have always been available to the public.
3. Rush Limbaugh and the “Dittoheads” have always been lambasting liberals.
4. They never “rolled down” a car window.
5. Michael Moore has always been angry and funny.
6. They may confuse the Keating Five with a rock group.
7. They have grown up with bottled water.
8. General Motors has always been working on an electric car.
9. Nelson Mandela has always been free and a force in South Africa.
10. Pete Rose has never played baseball. Continue reading

Power to the people: may the Millennials inherit the Earth

AlterNet: What the World Might Look Like When the Millennials Run It:

“Two things represent my generation,” concludes Chris Hales, 25-year-old CEO of Anti-Matter Media a Chicago-based multimedia company. “Technology and the ‘Do-It-Yourself’ aesthetic. With the increase of technology, opportunities for networking with others seem endless, enabling us to turn out more authors, films, record labels and artists than previous generations. When you put the two together you have the recipe for a generation that is willing to go out and make stuff happen on their own.”

Cute but bogus gender-typing

Zwinky.com is all the rage among tween and teen marketers. I haven’t tried it myself, but judging from these two ads, it seems to promote the opportunity to transform yourself, yet I don’t really see any substance there. It showcases standard gender roles (females as sexual, males as physically active) and defines change according to what kinds of clothes can be consumed.


Also notice in this screen grab from the site’s opening page how the boy gazes upon the girl, repeating the typical trope of the female as sexual object to be consumed by the male predator.

Sorry to be so puritanical, but Zwinkyland strikes me as a little bogus.

Smells like pre-teen spirit


Gee, what will they think of next? A cologne that actually smells like a pirate? Kids will really love that!

New Products: Disney Sees Market For Pre-Teen Fragrances:

While fragrance as part of a daily regimen for younger males is new, it is a growing trend even among older consumers in mainstream markets, said John Bauersfeld, vp-sales for fragrances at Camrose Trading, Miami, the U.S. distributor for the new products. “Look at the success of Axe [body spray]. It targets [males] 18-24 years, but ages 12-and-up are buying it like it’s going out of style. The age of [male] fragrance wearers is moving down.”

The seven deadly sins of kid culture

According to CURT HOLMAN, the seven deadly sins of kid culture are:


While I agree that seeing these attitudes expressed in media for youth is troubling, I’d like to argue that kids have their own culture independent of media (this is not to say it is influenced by media). I disagree with authors when the see children role playing TV shows as bad. Kids always role play, and I find the adult culture much more dangerous than what is being streamed to kids. Besides, look at the kind of role playing certain arm chair militarists are doing as they toy with people’s lives while they project their fantasy of virility upon the youth soldiers of the world.

I disagree with the solution stated below, which is to cut off the source. I think it is far better to let children be exposed to the world but to discuss it and teach them to critically engage what they are experience. This is coming from someone who grew up on a lot of TV (at least 4-6 hours a day) and as someone who used to role play such horrible programs like the Six Million Dollar Man and S.W.A.T. You may disagree, but I don’t think I’m damaged as a result.

The seven deadly sins of kid culture: One dad runs interference against the worst of children’s entertainment: Cover Story: Cover: Creative Loafing Atlanta:

For now, the Seven Deadly Sins of Kid Culture – or as I like to call them, Blandy, Bratty, Dippy, Bleedy, Gassy, Trampy and Jar Jar – can be exhausting opponents. Because of them, however, I appreciate the children’s arts that my daughter and I discover together all the more, such as the graphic novel Owly by Lilburn’s Andy Runton, or the catchy, hook-laden songs of Laurie Berkner, or the new Pixar movies.

But being well-rounded isn’t the only virtue I want to encourage in my daughter. The best way to fight the seven deadly sins is to cut off, shut down and unplug all their sources of entry. Even the best things about kid culture, even Ratatouille, can’t compare to a walk in the park.

Children of war

Image link
Two summers ago I was mugged at gunpoint. The experience was terribly traumatic and took a tremendous amount of therapy and meditation to heal from. After that my commitment to nonviolence deepened, and I felt even more strongly that these kinds of traumas are reasons why everyone should be against war. So it saddens me, but also confirms my worst expectations, that the war on Iraq has greatly affected children. The number US casualties is sad enough, but when you factor in the lifelong damage this war is causing for thousands of the survivors, I can’t imagine a single argument that would justify inflicting this kind of psychological pain on anyone. Shame on the warmongers!

The following report explains in more detail how the war is hurting children. It does not mention the broken families of US soldiers, but alas that is another story that needs to be told and amplified to stop this insanity.

Iraqi Youth Face Lasting Scars of War – washingtonpost.com:

In a World Health Organization survey of 600 children ages 3 to 10 in Baghdad last year, 47 percent said they had been exposed to a major traumatic event over the past two years. Of this group, 14 percent showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In a second study of 1,090 adolescents in the northern city of Mosul, 30 percent showed symptoms of the disorder.

Today, toy weapons are among the best-selling items in local markets, and kids play among armored vehicles on streets where pickup trucks filled with masked gunmen are a common sight. On a recent day, a group of children was playing near a camouflage-colored Iraqi Humvee parked in Baghdad’s upscale Karrada neighborhood. One boy clutched a thick stick and placed it on his right shoulder, as if he were handling a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. He aimed it at cars passing by, pretending to blow them up. Two soldiers pointed at the children and laughed.

Many of the children Abdul Muhsin treats have witnessed killings. They have anxiety problems and suffer from depression. Some have recurring nightmares and wet their beds. Others have problems learning in school. Iraqi children, he said, show symptoms not unlike children in other war zones such as Lebanon, Sudan and the Palestinian territories.

Children of the web

Business Week embarks on the latest effort to fathom youth media practices. I have to give businesses credit for at least trying to understand youth, whereas the Left and Right continues to demonize young people and their use of social media. Though the article has some interesting insights, it uncritically profiles Axe deodorant’s global branding efforts, which I think produces the most distasteful and misogynistic ads on the market. (See the image above, which I photographed in NYC. It features exhausted women with imprints in their backs from presumably wild instantaneous sex ignited by Axe. But consider how the women are a) faceless (and thereby dehumanized), and b) appear to be victims of a violent act. ) Unfortunately Axe is successful at convincing young men who feel powerless that their new oder will make women instantly want to have sex with them. Great fantasy, but in principle, what a lousy reality! But hey, Axe is not the first to equate sex and deodorant, I just hope humanity can come to terms with making love as an act f beauty and not brutality.

But alas, it is so easy to pick on such examples of pure superficiality. I think there may be more interesting things to glean from the article, such is that kids are really the ones in charge these days.

Children Of The Web:

In fact, a key to the global digital youth market is that, at least so far, the kids are in charge. They’re used to being pitched products; many of them welcome it. But they’re turned off by clumsy attempts to win their approval and pry away their money. In many cases, rather than being entertained by others, they’d prefer to do it themselves: Witness all those wacky videos on YouTube. This has major implications for how products and marketing programs are conceived, planned, and executed. “It’s going to change business and culture,” says Vicki Lynn, president of Satellite Events Enterprises, a company that stages online events. “The old hierarchical system is falling away. It’s now about the power of the people.”

The fifth element of hip hop

Hip Hop Graffiti
Image source

Check out my latest article (in collaboration with Mike Ipiotis) at UnderstandingMedia.com about the empowering aspects of hip hop that are not represented in the media:

Understand Media -> Articles -> The Fifth Element of Hip Hop by Antonio Lopez and Mike Ipiotis:

Because hip hop is badly represented in media, it is necessary to present an alternative perspective that reflects its grassroots origins. Moreover, hip hop in its activist form should be leveraged to encourage students to engage media critically. The hip hop community is composed of four major elements: writers (“graffiti” artists), DJs (turntabalists), B Boys and B Girls (break dancers) and MCs (rappers/poets). Equally vital but not always recognizable is the fifth element, the element of “building” (raising consciousness). In hip hop all these elements work together cohesively, like when someone wants to throw a “jam” or party. The graf artist makes the flier, the DJ provides the beats, the MC creates the context and narration and B Boys rock the house.

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Ah, life in Rome

Photo by Alex Zhavoronkova
As you have heard, the air around here is intoxicating, hence Romans are pretty easy going (except when driving). I enjoyed this photo from the recent protest against Bush. It reminds me of the Emma Goldman quote, “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

PS Communists still exist?

How To Reach Teens? Puhleeeze!!!

Excuse my Italian, but I am so fed up with the kind of bullshit that marketers obsess about, such as the idea that brands should equal identity. Yes it’s true that teens want to belong to something and fashion provides the necessary codes for that association, but a brand is not a tribe, and anyone who wants to promote this idea should be exiled to a brandless netherworld, like a dark cave and a hand drum for company, so as to be deprogrammed of this silly and useless thought process. Spare us the brain cells, puhleeeze!

The following excerpt is from an article on teen marketing that exemplifies perfectly why this insanity has to stop:

How To Reach Teens? It’s All About the Brand:

“It’s typical,” said Anastasia Goodstein, founder of teen marketing site Ypulse.com, San Francisco. “Teens are going through a stage in their life where they are figuring out who they are. As they change their own identities multiple times, the brands adjust along with that. They can be completely in an Abercrombie phase and they switch to another group of friends, get into Emo music and are shopping at Hot Topic instead.”

Now, I don’t want to harp too badly on Goodstein because I think she has good intentions in terms of helping bridge adults and teens (you can read her book on the subject, Totally Wired). But it is the overall tone of the Brandweek article that makes me angry, especially the title, “What Teens Want? It’s All about the Brand.” As the research in the story points out, one third surveyed said the world would be a better place if there were no brands, yet kids still want their iPods. The article suggests that it’s the brand that is important here, but I disagree. The iPod is a great product: it helps you build and organize a soundtrack for your life. When I was a teen, music is what got me through my darkest moments. The key is not that Apple has successfully branded teens, it’s that teens gravitate towards authenticity, music being one of the few places where that exists in their lives.

So my suggestion is to not get caught up in whether or not brands are what teens care about but to assist them in deepening their life experience. Who gives a shit about Abercrombie or Hot Topic. Give them what they really want: love, respect, authenticity and cool tools to assist in their creative development.

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Rebooting the classroom with DIY social networks

Anastasia Goodstein of YPulse and author of Totally Wired refers to a great article in Wired about how some classrooms are getting smart about incorporating online social networks rather than resisting them. At the center of this paradigm shift is an interesting software package, Elgg. I think the idea of a DIY social network in your classroom could get students to direct more energy and attention to what is happening in the class program than outside of it.

Here Goodstein discusses some ways teachers could jump to the new paradigm in an imaginary Web 2.0 bootcamp:

Ypulse: Media for the Next Generation:

The challenge for teachers is to find ways of adopting and integrating technology students are fluent with outside of class inside the class room in ways that are educational and help them accomplish their core teaching objectives (vs. just make class less boring). All of this got me thinking again about a post I did a long time ago where I suggested that the big tech companies join together and create “bootcamps” for every public school teacher in this country. Instead of just giving them more free versions of Power Point, immerse teachers in the technology their students are fluent with and explain how young people use it and why they love it. Here’s a sample “teacher bootcamp” schedule:

Let’s get social. Teachers learn how social networking got its start, tour the most popular sites with teens and create profiles on MySpace and Facebook. Teachers or librarians who have used social networking successfully in an educational capacity come in and present case studies.

Teens & their iPods, a love story. Every teacher gets an iPod. They tour the sites where teens download music for free and then go to iTunes and get to create their own playlist. Teachers who have integrated iPods into the classroom successfully present case studies.

Blog it! Teachers are given a virtual tour of the most popular blogging sites/software with teens. Every teacher sets up a blog, learns how to link and upload photos, comments on each other’s blogs. Teachers who have used blogs successfully in class present case studies.

Game on. Teachers are given a virtual tour of the most popular video games and online games with teens – including virtual worlds. Case studies then given on how educational games or educational activities in some virtual worlds are helping teens.

You get the drift. The idea would be immerse teachers, let them play with the technology in the same way kids do, then have the trailblazing teachers show them how these technologies can be used in ways that are educational. I think every teacher at bootcamp should also have a teen partner who does all of this stuff with them — and ideally who can be a TA (and help with tech support) when teachers go back to the class room, hopefully armed with more than just free software.

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10 myths about school shootings

As the horrible tragedy in Virginia unfolds, we as media watchers must immediately guard against the tendency of the pundocracy to use this as anecdotal evidence for their various causes, especially those who demonize youth. MSNBC.com has a really good article on the ten myths about school shootings. Please read it via the link below. I highlighted the last point, because despite the sensationalism of the event, this kind of violence is extremely rare. Meanwhile, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims and the community at large.

10 myths about school shootings – Crime & Punishment – MSNBC.com:

Myth No. 10. “School violence is rampant.”

It may seem so, with media attention focused on a spate of school shootings. In fact, school shootings are extremely rare. Even including the more common violence that is gang-related or dispute-related, only 12 to 20 homicides a year occur in the 100,000 schools in the U.S. In general, school assaults and other violence have dropped by nearly half in the past decade.

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Kidzania: branded career paths for the young

I hope this is one Japanese trend that doesn’t catch on.

Advertising Age – Martin Lindstrom Video Reports:

TOKYO (BRANDFlash) — Kidzania, a theme park offering intense brand engagement with young children, is a new twist on branded entertainment. It charges a $30 admission fee to allow children to “work” in one of 70 different kinds of jobs for a day. Young customers are outfitted in uniforms, hats or helmets as they take up their places in child-sized brand venues ranging from a Coca-Cola bottling plant and a Mo’s Gourmet Hamburgers restaurant to a Johnson & Johnson hospital ward and a Mitsubishi auto world. Admission is now sold out months in advance and marketers are fighting to become part of this branding bonanza.

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The age of compression


USA writes about an interesting new youth media phenomenon: age compression. The article states:

Jill Brown almost cried the day her 9-year-old daughter sold several American Girl dolls at a yard sale so she could buy a Juicy Couture sweat suit.

It was a painful reminder that the emotional and psychological distance between childhood and the teen years is far shorter than ever.

“It was such an indication of her moving to a different place,” says Brown, a marketing consultant in Northbrook, Ill. “It was also a little bit of an indication that she was starting to solve things for herself.”

Chalk it up to “age compression,” which many marketers call “kids getting older younger” or KGOY. Retail consultant Ken Nisch says it shouldn’t be a surprise or an outrage that kids are tired of toys and kid clothes by 8, considering that they are exposed to outside influences so much earlier. They are in preschool at 3 and on computers at 6.

One of the sad by-products of this trend has been the increasing sexualization of younger and younger kids, as evidenced by the controversy around Bratz dolls. There has also been much written about the “disappearance of childhood.” For me the jury is out. I think often times it’s the parents who act more like kids, and the problem is not that childhood is disappearing, it is that responsible adulthood no longer exists.

You can read more here:
As kids get savvy, marketers move down the age scale – USATODAY.com:

Generation Y, those between about 8 and 26, are considered the most important generation for retailers and marketers because of their spending power and the influence they have over what their parents buy. But just as the 8- to 12-year-old “tweens” are pitched with a dizzying array of music, movie and cellphone choices, the nearly 10 million tween girls also are getting more attention from fashion, skin care and makeup businesses. Last year, NPD Group says 7- to 14-year-old girls spent $11.5 billion on apparel, up from $10.5 billion in 2004.

With their keen but shifting senses of style, tween girls present some of the biggest rewards and challenges for retailers and brands. What’s called for: a delicate marketing dance that tunes in tween girls without turning off their parents, who control both the purse strings and the car. Retailers to tween girls also must stay in close touch with the fashion pulse, because being “out” is even more painful for girls who haven’t hit the teen years, say retailers and their consultants. They’ll drop a brand faster than you can say Hannah Montana if the clothes become anything close to dorky.