In his chapter The Media System Goes Global, Robert McChesney stresses that hypercommercialism is a defining characteristic of the global media system as we know it. One goal of dominant corporations, like the “Holy Trinity” of News Corp., Time Warner, and Disney, is to secure the most profit for their shareholders. A good way to do this is to create products and merchandise featuring the content of media fare. Another goal of media firms is provide content on television that creates an audience for advertisers. Critical acclaim means nothing without ratings to prove someone is there to watch the commercials. One evident and logical means to both of these ends is to focus a great deal of attention to children’s programming.
Kids are more susceptible to be influenced by commercials for toys, cereal, and brand name anything. They also make ideal target consumers for products that feature their favorite cartoon character or tween starlet. It is no surprise then, that Disney is the leader when it comes to branding and merchandising and is characterized as “the ultimate global consumer goods company.” If you are reading this, chances are that, like me, you have a Disney related childhood memory, a favorite Disney movie or character (mine’s Gus Gus!). Children are the easiest audience for TNCs to capture on a global level, because as McChesney points out, animation is ideal for dubbing, which makes it easy to localize.
So, if Barbie, My Little Ponies, and Transformers can easily be localized globally, and can also be turned into consumer products, what’s to prevent Tony the Tiger, Captain Crunch, or the Hamburgler from becoming animated cartoons, and also taking advantage of a global children’s market? Well here in the US, it’s The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC). Last month they filed a petition with the FCC, to oppose the animated program Zevo-3 on Nicktoons (Read about it here). Developed by Skechers, Zevo-3 would feature characters which, up until now, children only knew as commercial spokes characters. The CCFC argues that the program is not in the public interest and violates the Children’s Television Act, by exceeding the allowed minutes per hour of commercials during children’s programming (as they consider the show to be one big commercial for Skechers).
The CCFC claims they are trying to “protect children from over-commercialization.” I think that boat sailed a long time ago- it was a freighter, and Dora the Explorer was on it, along with cases and cases of Dora merchandise, like DVDs, cosmetics, books, board games, dolls, apparel, play tents and kitchens, bedding, AND shoes! She sailed to many far away countries with her sidekick Boots, (inevitably got lost a few times) and, thanks to TNCs and localisation, is a world-wide phenomenon. Every time her cartoon airs on TV, is it not then, one big commercial for Dora merchandise? I don’t see the difference between a cartoon show that becomes a product, and a product that becomes a cartoon show. But, more importantly, how do we handle hypercommercialism in the global media system when it comes to children? Is advertising harmful content that should be regulated or is it an issue of media literacy?