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Enola Aird brings message of Mothers for a Human Future to GR audience

April 18, 2010

Enola Aird listens to audience members discuss points brought up in her presentation in Grand Rapids April 17.

Enola G. Aird , director of  Mothers for a Human Future, spoke yesterday about the connection between the commercialization of childhood and the commodification of children. In other words, how advertising that is raising today’s kids into self-indulgent, materialistic consumers is paving the way for a time when children will be genetically modified products with traits preselected by their consumer parents.

Born in the Republic of Panama, Aird is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Barnard College and received her J.D. from Yale Law School. She is a member of the steering committee of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and has worked for the Children’s Defense Fund as well as a variety of media organizations, including the predecessor entities of Time Warner and Viacom. She was hosted by the local grassroots coalition, Stop Targeting Our Kids (STOK).

Aird started her talk by relating a conversation she had with a Mexican exchange student who was surprised by American children’s lifestyles. He said, “In Mexico children are raised to be respectful of their elders, to take care of the younger children and to be family oriented.” Aird went home that evening and asked her then teenage daughter what American kids were raised to be. Her daughter answered, “To get good grades, a good job, to make lots of money and to buy lots of things.” Though joking, her daughter’s response was a correct analysis.

“The US is about material success. The purpose of life is getting lots of things, having material success,” Aird said. “What if we discover our way of life is inconsistent with being human?”

The commercialization of childhood

“Advertising and marketing are a crucial piece of the deadly puzzle we’ve created for ourselves,” Aird continues. “For the past 40 years, they have trained children to be lifelong consumers. Young people want nothing but things—and that is good for our economy.”

In 1980, Congress removed the FTC’s control over regulating advertising targeted to children. Around that same time, James McNeal, who is known as “the godfather of kids’ marketing” explained why kids are the best market to have. They buy things. They influence what their parents buy. And, they will be buying the rest of their lives.  (McNeal’s book credits include Kids as Customers: Handbook of Marketing to Children and Advertising to Children in China .)

Since that time, marketing aimed at kids has had less regulation than marketing to adults. Today’s childhood maladies—obesity, violence, hypersexuality and other behavior issues can be directly linked to this free-market, profits-over-people mentality that has no concern with children’s well being. As an example, Aird mentioned the child-targeted marketing of the new R-rated movie, Kick Ass, which she described as a “Kill Bill for kids starring an 11-year-old girl.”

“The marketers not only sell product, they sell values. ‘Gotta have it. Just do it. Obey your thirst.’ That ‘gotta have it, gimme’ attitude sells the values of self indulgence, materialism and instant gratification. These are antithetical to the values needed to live in community and in relationship.”

The commodification of children

Aird then gave the example of how consumerism has already begun directing us down the post-human road. Leading scientists, such as Lee Silver, professor of genetics at Princeton,  biotech entrepreneur, Greg Stock, and futurist Ray Kurzweil are already cashing in. As is the medical industry. The Fertility Institutes, with clinics in California, New York and Mexico already offer prospective parents guaranteed gender selection.

The technology will soon be here to offer parents the opportunity

The Fertility Institutes' poster child

to shop for the type of child they want: hair color, skin tone, eye color, and enhanced aptitudes. Many college newspapers feature ads for egg donors, with an emphasis on blondes of the right weight and height with high SAT scores.

“The real danger is that we are walking blithely into the commodification of human beings. Professors at University of Chicago and Princeton think it would be a good idea to make bigger, better humans,” Aird said. “When we talk about taking back childhood from corporate marketers, we’re trying to preserve our humanity. Technology and capitalism are very hard to stop … We have to stop it if we are going to preserve humanity.”

How do we stop it? While working through the legal system, staging boycotts and lobbying government all have their place, Aird believes the real hope lies with mothers. Since the dawn of humanity, mothers have carried on the particular way in which human life is brought to the world. Appealing to the “mother trust” held by women in every country of the world could be the best hope for humanity.

“The time is now . . . and it’s at the grass roots, with conversations like these” Aird said. “We have the patenting of life forms. Everything is for sale—kids, body parts, water. Is nothing to be set aside for the common good?  . . . I have two children who may bring me grandchildren and I want them to be human.”

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