Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Generation Logo

Consider this post part 4 in my How Capitalism Keeps on Winning Series. In this series I examine how parenthood has forced me deeper into consumer culture than I have ever felt comfortable being. I'm not concerned with sweet, Lucy-with-a-lemonade-stand, happy-go-lucky free enterprise, here. No, what I'm talkin' about is LUCY-WANTING-A-CHRISTMAS-TREE-THAT'S-PINK-AND-SHINY capitalism and its ever increasing bullying tactics that push us all towards conspicuous consumption despite our better judgment.

The topic on my plate today:

the corporate branding of babies
(awww, isn't he sweet?)

But first an image from simpler times:

In the mid-1990s, when I first heard about the Munchkin baby bottles that sported the Pepsi logo, I was decidedly ill at ease. Why, on God's green earth, would anyone ever think it a good idea to market bottles for babies with soft drink logos on them? Then I learned that not only did these bottles sell well but also that infants were four times more likely to drink pop from one of these bottles than from a non-branded baby bottle. Given the price of pop relative to milk, it was hardly surprising that some families turned to soda here and there as a substitute for proper nutrition.

Ah, but those were the good ole 1990s. Public outcry forced the manufacturers to stop making the bottles and, now, you're hard pressed to find even an internet image of the wretched things to plop into a blog post.

Oh halcyon days of innocence, how I mourn your passing.

Special Sauce

Flash forward a decade and we are so bloody immersed in consumer culture that we don't even notice its increasing march towards our children. I offer examples:

Exhibit A: My daughter's toothbrushes
Last Christmas, I put a toothbrush in my daughter's stocking. It was an Oral B, Stage 1 toddler toothbrush in a lovely yellow and pink colour scheme. This was her first toothbrush. She was about to embark on an activity that she will perform daily for the rest of her life. In case you haven't noticed already, I'm really big on object symbolism, so this whole toothbrush-in-the-stocking ritual gave me no end of warm fuzzies.

Two months later when I returned to the toothbrush aisle to replace it, everything had changed. Oral B has signed a deal with Disney and all their toddler toothbrushes are now plastered with product placement: Baby Einstein on the brushes for the under 2's and Winnie the Pooh for the 2-4 yr-old set. Because nowhere else in town stocks any alternative to this product, I suck it up every 2-3 months and buy the bloody things. Each night, now, I have to repeatedly tell my daughter to stick the wretched thing back in her mouth and BRUSH HER TEETH WITH IT. As far as she is concerned, the toothbrush is nothing more than a toy. As far as Disney is concerned, it's nothing more than cheap advertising to its most valued demographic.

Exhibit B: My daughter's diapers
The seed for this post was planted back in November. That's when the diaper brand that I had been using suddenly changed. The diapers used to have Snoopy across the top--a recognizable icon, for sure, but not one that is hip with the toddlers of today. In the switch from old to new market ethics, though, this diaper brand replaced Snoopy with some more sinister "Genius Baby" icons. And as if that wasn't bad enough, in their move towards progress the company also turned the world's most perfect disposable diaper into a crap rag that leaked every two hours AND they discontinued selling the diapers in the mega-box size, a size that minimized price and excess packaging. To sum it up, the diapers became more expensive per unit, far worse at doing their job and more insidious when it came to branding my child. I stopped buying them immediately.

But what then were my options? I had already tried and had a terrible experience with cloth diapers when Miss M was younger. The cloth leaked several times a day making the laundry levels (diapers, her clothes, my clothes) unbearable. Sure I could've bought better cloth diapers but I had already invested $150 on the only (and sadly ineffectual) cloth diapers sold locally. To branch out I would've needed to order online, experimenting with different brands and, frankly, with a then five-month-old, I opted for convenience.

Fast forward a year and a half and there I was in a disposable diaper pickle. The only other options available to me at the grocery store were Huggies and Pampers. Yup, that's more branding than you can shake a stick at. Elmo to the left of me, Grover to the right of me, Pooh up the rear. The result? My daughter now knows the names of all the Sesame Street characters and she has never once seen Sesame Street. It sometimes takes three times as long to change her diaper because she wants to play with Grover first OR she wants to wear Ernie when I've already scooped a Cookie Monster from the top of the pile. When we go to Toys'r'Us she points out all the Elmo products by name and loiters around them in a most unnerving way.

But there is hope on the horizon. It won't be long before potty training begins chez Hat. Today I was out and about and noticed a bunch of size two, girl underwear in a discount bin. Calvin Klein underwear. For two year olds. And you know what? I scooped up as much of it as I could. Why? Because aside from the "CK" discretely written across the waistband, these underwear are plain: blue, pink, red and pretty patterned cherries. You see, I'll be damned if I will let Disney or whatever-the-hell-else company hawk its toys on my daughter's crotch. That's my line in the sand, Dora; that's my line in the sand.

Yes, yes, I hear your gentle scolding voices, oh wise mothers of the blogosphere. I hear the accepting mockery of "I told you so" that I know I am sure to hear next fall when I will no doubt confess to you all that "since starting day care my daughter demands Dora on her heiny" and if my daughter wants it loud enough or persistently enough, I will cave faster than the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man when the streams are crossed.

Exhibit C: My daughter's birthday presents
I recently bought two significant birthday presents for my daughter: a doll house and a table and chairs set. After all my moaning about the Christmas kitchen, I vowed I would stick to wooden toys for her birthday. Phhhft! No one in town carries wooden doll houses (or hardly any other wooden toys whatsoever for that matter). The independent toy store doesn't carry a single doll house. The Toys'r'Us at the mall stocks only two: the Barbie house and the Bratz house. Muttering something about a cold day in hell, I hit the internet and found the perfect (expensive, made with responsible labour practices and constructed of non-toxic materials) wooden doll house online. I ordered it.

I did manage to find one wooden table and chair set in town that wasn't Dora or Thomas branded. When I say one, I mean one. I bought the very last one in the city--and this was a product that wasn't even stocked in the store two weeks earlier. All of which brings me to the cranky conclusion that if I want to walk the straight and narrow as a consumer anxious to protect the environment and keep my child from being branded, I need to order all my products off the internet. In other words, I am forced to sacrifice my equal desire to keep my local economy vibrant.

Rock. [ME] Hard place.

It all makes me so freakin' cranky. Why, oh why, must it be so hard to raise a child without branding her in the process? Why does my desire to do so and to speak about it feel like an act of radicalism when, to me, it just seems like plain, old-fashioned common sense?

The branding of the toys, I can almost live with but marketing toys on diapers and toothbrushes--on the very products she MUST use--should not be legal, IMHO. Given the way things are progressing I can't help but ask, "What's next?" Her food? Will Elmo logos be mini-stickered onto all her fruits and vegetables? Heck why waste money on stickers? Why not just do what the ranchers do and burn or bruise the logo right into the flesh? I realize this sounds ridiculous. It is, but not for the reasons we all think it is. After all, the mega-corps don't really want us eating produce anyway, do they? Nope, they'd rather see us eating refined packaged goods that have a more stable price-point and that mess with our blood sugar levels thus making us always want more, more, more.

The other day a saw a child beat his mother down in the granola bar aisle, insisting on the sugary Tweety Bird granola bars over the cheaper, more nutritional package. And the cereal aisle? It's nothing but a minefield for intrepid toddler-cart pushing parents. So far infant formula and baby food jars are free from Dora's, Elmo's and any Disneyfied Einstein icon but how much longer can this last before there are no more people left who care enough to question it?

And what of our children? Will they grow up to think this kind of branding is nothing but the natural state of things? I want my daughter's first memories of her time on this earth to be of family hugs and story times; of snowmen and imaginative play. I don't want her memories to revolve around which muppet was her preferred piss receptacle.

Please come to mama. Please?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Bored? No Board

Um, hi everyone. Miss M here. Listen, I was doing a bit of web surfing the other day, trying to find pictures of frogs and toads and the like when I stumbled upon Beck's blog. Anyway, I noticed in the comments that my mother (such an embarrassment) brazenly stated that she could likely recommend 100 good toddler books. Personally, I think it high time that someone took that "I'm a children's literature librarian" smug look off her face. C'mon, without me she wouldn't have a blessed clue about books for the under three set. Nope, she'd likely have her nose in some YA piece of crap or a Nancy Farmer fantasy or, most likely, she'd be watching yet another Mandy Moore, coming-of-age tear-jerker on DVD. You know and I know that she'd be nothing without me.

So, for those of you who are interested, I'd like to share my list of the 100 best books I read in my second year of life. Heck, my mom doesn't even like them all but let me assure you, I have read each of them at least 100 times and can offer nothing but a whole-hearted endorsement. To make it easier for you the next time you're headed to the library, I have listed the books in rough order of my liking them. At the top of the list you'll find all titles I loved when I was a newly minted toddler. If you want to know what I read now that I am older and wiser(23 1/2 months) , move toward the bottom of the list.

Miss M's Guide to Toddler Books
1. Anyone of a dozen books with pictures of babies or toddlers getting up to crazy antics. I could not get enough of that stuff. Might I recommend Baby Talk! or What Do You Do With an Orange?
2. Goodness, how I loved my vocabulary books. Bright Baby published some of my favs but, really, if the book had a single picture matched with a single word on each page, I was lovin’ every minute of it.
3. Did someone say lift-the-flap? Did someone say peek-a-boo? I have some very, very fond memories that I won’t bother sharing with you right now. Let’s just say, “the classics never get old.”
4. Listen, I didn’t care what the books were called but if they had photos of puppies, kittens or farm animals my heart melted. Ooooo the wittle animals were sooo cute. I remember a book called Busy Kitties and another called Puppy Love. The rest is a blur.
5. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
6. Time for Bed by Mem Fox
7. Yo Baby! by Roslyn Schwartz *
8. Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (laugh? I thought I’d die.)
9. I Can, I See, I Hear and I Touch all by Helen Oxenbury
10. One Gorgeous Baby by Martine Oborne
11. Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton
12. Moo, Baa, La la la by Sandra Boynton
13. Blue Hat Green Hat by Sandra Boynton
14. The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton
15. But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton
16. Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton (you’ll notice that I take an academic interest in the oevre of certain author/illustrators.)
17. The Belly Button Book by Sandra Boynton
18. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss (I had the tubby book version)
19. Hand, Hand Fingers Thumb by Al Perkins
20. Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee; illustrated by Nora Hilb *
21. Willoughby Wallaby Woo by Dennis Lee; illustrated by Nora Hilb *
22. Silvery, Silvery/Good Night by Dennis Lee; illustrated by Nora Hilb *
23. Jelly Belly by Dennis Lee; illustrated by Nora Hilb *
24. Carry Me by Rosemary Wells
25. My First Mother Goose compiled by Iona Opie; illustrated by Rosemary Wells
26. Here Comes Mother Goose compiled by Iona Opie; illustrated by Rosemary Wells
27. Read to your Bunny boxed set with Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Old MacDonald, The Bear Went Over the Mountain, and The Itsy Bitsy Spider
28. Peepo by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
29. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
30. The Day the Babies Crawled Away by Peggy Rathmann
31. No David! By David Shannon
32. Little Gorilla by Ruth Lercher Bornstein
33. Little Quack by Lauren Thompson
34. Little Quack’s Bedtime by Lauren Thompson
35. Food For Thought by Saxton Freymann (now this is what I call ART)
36. Baby Food by Saxton Freymann
37. Dog Food by Saxton Freymann
38. How Are you Peeling? by Saxton Freymann
39. Goodnight Country by Susan Verlander
40. Good Morning City by Susan Verlander
41. The Owl and the Pussy Cat by Edward Lear (I had the one illustrated by Jan Brett. Pure delight.)
42. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
43. Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too? by Eric Carle
44. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do you See? by Bill Martin Jr. Illustrated by Eric Carle
45. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Bill Martin Jr. Illustrated by Eric Carle
46. Love and Kisses by Sarah Wilson
47. Kiss, Kiss by Margaret Wild
48. Good Dog Carl by Alexandra Day
49. Carl Goes Shopping by Alexandra Day
50. Carl’s Afternoon in the Park by Alexandra Day
51. Carl Makes a Scrapbook by Alexandra Day
52. Baby Beluga (whoa cool it’s like my favourite Raffi song as a book! Can life get better?) *
53. The Wheels on the Bus (ohhhh yesssss, more Raffi in print) *
54. Maisy’s Best Friends by Lucy Cousins
55. Maisy’s Snowy Christmas Eve by Lucy Cousins
56. Max and Ruby’s Snowy Day by Rosemary Wells
57. Max’s Christmas by Rosemary Wells
58. Max and the Chocolate Chicken by Rosemary Wells
59. Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
60. The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss
61. Jamberry by Bruce Degan
62. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen; illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
63. 10 Minutes ‘til Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann
64. Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin
65. Eloise’s What I Absolutely Love, Love, Love by Kay Thomspson
66. Bud the Spud (yup. That’d be the Stompin’ Tom classic--illustrated. Oh and can you believe this? My sitter had NEVER even heard the song before. Shame.) *
67. Corduroy by Don Freeman
68. Corduroy’s Street (a cheap knock off but frankly I was a sucker for it)
69. Corduroy’s Busy Day (ditto)
70. How to be a Cow by Bo Vine (seriously, that’s what it says on the title page. It also says that the illustrations are by Shelly Meredith. Mom and I found it in a discount bin at the grocery store)
71. I love you because you’re you by Liza Baker
72. My Dad by Charles Fuge
73. Click, Clack, Splish, Splash by Doreen Cronin
74. Red is Best by Cathy Stinson *
75. Oh! by Kevin Henkes
76. Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes
77. The Pop-up Mice of Mr Brice by Theo. LeSieg
78. My Nest is Best by P. D. Eastman
79. If you give a mouse a cookie by Laura J. Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond
80. If you give a pig a pancake by Laura J. Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond
81. If you give a moose a muffin by Laura J. Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond
82. Mole’s Hill by Lois Ehlert
83. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
84. Simon and the Snowflakes by Gilles Tibo *
85. Simon and the Wind by Gilles Tibo *
86. Simon in Summer by Gilles Tibo *
87. Simon and his Boxes by Gilles Tibo *
88. Tales from Parc La Fontaine by Roslyn Schwartz *
89. The Complete Adventures of the Mole Sisters by Roslyn Schwartz *
90. Stella, Star of the Sea by Marie Louise Gay *
91. Stella Fairy of the Forest by Marie Louise Gay *
92. Stella Princess of the Sky by Marie Louise Gay *
93. Good Night Sam by Marie Louise Gay *
94. Good Morning Sam by Marie Louise Gay *
95. Ella Takes the Cake by Carmela D’Amico
96. Colours by Shirley Hughes
97. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (vroom vroom, vroomy vroom, vroom)
98. Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gilman *
99. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
100. Frozen Noses by Jan Carr
101. Elliot Gets Stuck by Andrea Beck *
102. Elliot Digs for Treasure by Andrea Beck *
103. Elliot’s Noisy Night by Andrea Beck *
104. Elliot Takes a Bath by Andrea Beck *
105. Spot’s Giant Treasury by Eric Hill

Criminey, I somehow made it to 105. The problem is I'm getting sick of all these books now. Mom keeps going on about how there are plenty more by these authors. She also sometimes gets all feverish and starts speaking in tongues: Burmingham, Wadell, Browne, Weisner, Lunn, Reid, Van Allsburg, Alborough,Yolen, Wood, Steig... She goes on and on and it scares me.

The thing is, I don't always like what she brings home. I don't suppose you moms and dads could do me a favour? Could you ask your toddlers for suggestions and then report back here and let me know. Once I have a list, I'll try to subtly bring up names the next time we're at the library. Knowing ole mommy smarty pants, she'll likely think the ideas were all hers in the first place. She's that way.

* BTW, I'm a cultural nationalist in training. The ones with the star are Canadian.