Commercializing our kids – from junk food to junk mail
Every Monday we arrive home from school pick-up to find a pile of junk mail sitting on top of our mail box. Neatly wrapped, bound with an elastic band, sparkling like candy in the sun, we dutifully pick it up and put it straight into the recycling bin without even looking at it. Inside the mail box there is yet another real estate calendar with a red-jacketed, middle-aged woman smiling at us, hungry to sell our house; a stapled booklet of coupons for a buy-three-get-one-free pizza offer, and; a carefully disguised, official looking addressed letter that turns out to be from an optometrist offering a similar offer to the pizza joint, only this time for cheap – and generally ugly – spectacle frames.
My phone bleeps to reveal a message from my phone company advising me to phone them about a new phone offer that is available to me only over the phone. Another message – pretty much the same – arrives in my email inbox, alongside a reminder from an airline about just how infrequently I’m flying with them, and another from a company who disguises the amount of paper they waste by naming themselves after the very rainforest they chop down in the name of wasting paper. The part of their business that doesn’t waste paper is named after the small bits of wood, left over from chopping down trees, used to light fires and contribute to global warming, made worse by the fact that, you guess it, there are less trees… but I digress.
In my kids’ bags there are notes about Book Week, International Day, Earth Hour and the importance of finding thirty minutes to exercise. There are flyers for tennis lessons, soccer clubs, cubs, brownies, scouts and guides, and one about the price of learning the recorder, which doesn’t disclose the true cost of learning the recorder, which, as we all know, is that you lose you mind. There is a pamphlet about wearing hats and wearing sunscreen and not wearing jewellery and not wearing thongs. I’m in Australia: so that’s footwear rather than underwear. There’s an order form for cheap books, an order form for the school canteen, an order form for uniforms and an order form for any order forms that we’ve forgotten to order. There is a request for donations for a Father’s Day stall, a cake stall and a book stall. There’s a call to help staff a barbecue outside a hardware store to raise money, notification of a gold coin donation required to dress normally for a day and a school newsletter asking if anyone wants to host exchange students, sign up for a la crosse team, learn guitar or sell their children to slave traders. It seems the way to go.
I could, but haven’t, put an “Addressed Mail Only” sign on my mailbox. I can, and do, block spammers sending me junk email. I reply STOP to every damned text message I get trying to flog me something. But short of sending my kids to school with a “No Junk Mail” badge or head-band, I’m stuffed if I know how to stop the flow of crap through them. They already come home with their head full of junk – mostly from their peers, but also from their teachers – so the last thing I need from them is more advertising material disguised as some sort of important note. We’ve had flyers for a “Monster Truck” show at casino resort, ‘bookmarks’ which are really ads to buy whatever the latest series tweenies are into, and repeated ‘invitations’ for us to open bank accounts at the local Bendigo ‘Community’ Bank. Last time I checked, Bendigo was a pretty, but faded jewel of a place outside of Melbourne, more than 3000km away. This bank is about as active in my community as the generic branded ATM built into the wall of the pharmacy that is so passive it doesn’t even accept deposits.
And yet I am the one who is nuts. I am the one who, when given a sponsorship form to raise money for new computers at the school, was the only one who asked why, given computers are part of the curriculum, that the education department didn’t actually provide computers for the kids to learn on, and why we had to fundraise for them. It’s like saying that they need to learn spelling, but not giving them words to spell. You can teach music by singing, sure, but it’s pretty tough to teach kids anything about computers without, well, a computer.
Then I read the sponsorship form. It was for the “Adidas School Fun Run”. A glossy colour pamphlet, complete with Adidas logo, a double-page spread about Adidas shoes and a chance to ‘win’ a trip to Disneyland by logging on, registering your child as a participant (!), handing over all their information to the company running this farce and maybe – maybe – winning a prized pair of three-stripes or a trip to the happiest place on earth (conditions apply). In the same brochure was an ad for a credit union – again, telling me to set up an account for my kid – and one for a chain of bakeries, because… well, who knows, really.
I gritted my teeth and read further. Hmmm. What’s this about “the more you raise, the more you win”? Hmmm. Oh. The kids are sent out to squeeze money from grandma and Mrs Potts next door and the poor unsuspecting dude that runs the corner store all in the name of helping the school, when what they’re really doing is raising money to buy themselves shit. Yes. 30% of what they raise goes straight to the kid to buy a piece of shit toy from a list in the catalogue. Apparently this is an incentive. The more you raise, the more shit you can have for yourself. Yes, that’s precisely what we should be teaching our kids… charity really does begin at home, or, in other words: “What’s in it for me?”. So, actually, the school only gets 70% of the money raised… no… hang on… what’s this…
Oh, of course, the ‘coordinators’ of the Adidas School Fun Run also take 10% as an administration fee. Of course they do, because collecting all my kids’ personal details and keeping them on record to send them fucking promotional deals for Adidas shoes isn’t enough for them – they want cash.
So the school gets 60%… and 40% gets pissed up against a wall.
But do you reckon the kids tell grandma or Mrs Potts or the dude at the store that 40% of the money they’re donating is going to get pissed up against a wall? Of course not! Nanna, Potts and the store guy all think that the school’s getting 100%! I mean why wouldn’t they – particularly given that the pamphlet actually provides the kids with a script that makes no mention of the money going anywhere else, other than to the school.