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How Do Our Kids Get So Caught Up in Consumerism? (page 2)

By — Center for a New American Dream
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

But at a deeper level, what we need to confront is the power of the advertiser to promulgate a world-view, a mini-cosmology, that is based upon dissatisfaction and craving.

One of the cliches for how to construct an ad captures the point succinctly: "An ad's job is to make them unhappy with what they have."

We rarely think of ads as being shaped by explicit worldviews, and that precisely is why they are so effective. The last thing we want to think about as we're lying on the couch relaxing is the philosophy behind the ad. So as we soak it all up, it sinks down deep in our psyche. And if this takes place in the adult soul, imagine how much more damage is done in the psyches of our children, which have none of our protective cynicisms but which draw in the ad's imagery and message as if they were coming from a trusted parent or teacher.

Advertisers in the corporate world are of course offered lucrative recompense, and, with that financial draw, our corporations attract humans from the highest strata of IQs. And our best artistic talent. And any sports hero or movie star they want to buy. Combining so much brain power and social status with sophisticated electronic graphics and the most penetrating psychological techniques, these teams of highly intelligent adults descend upon all of us, evening upon children not yet in school, with the simple desire to create in us a dissatisfaction for our lives and a craving for yet another consumer product. It's hard to imagine any child having the capacities necessary to survive such a lopsided contest, especially when it's carried out ten thousand times a year, with no cultural condom capable of blocking out the consumerism virus. Could even one child in the whole world endure that onslaught and come out intact? Extremely doubtful. Put it all together and you can see why it's no great mystery that consumerism has become the dominant world faith of every continent of the planet today.

The point I wish to make is not just that our children are such easy prey. It's not just that the rushing river of advertisements determines the sorts of shoes our children desire, the sorts of clothes and toys and games and sugar cereals that they must have. It's not just the unhappiness that in many cases leads to aggressive violence of the worst kinds in order to obtain by force that their parents will not or cannot give them. All of this is of great concern, but the point I wish to focus on here has to do with the question of how we are initiated into a world.

Advertisements are where our children receive their cosmology, their basic grasp of the world's meaning, which amounts to their primary religious faith, though unrecognized as such. I use the word "faith" here to mean cosmology on the personal level. Faith is that which a person holds to be the hard-boiled truth about reality. The advertisement is our culture's primary vehicle for providing our children with their personal cosmologies. As this awful fact sinks into awareness, the first healthy response is one of denial. It is just too horrible to think that we live in a culture that has replaced authentic spiritual development with the advertisement's crass materialism. And yet when one compares the pitiful efforts we employ for moral development with the colossal and frenzied energies we pour into advertising, it is like comparing a high school football game with World War II. Nothing that happens in one hour on the weekend makes the slightest dent in the strategic bombing taking place day and night fifty-two weeks of the year.

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