Dora the Conquistadora?

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?

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3 Responses to Dora the Conquistadora?

  1. jhenske says:

    My issue with the CCFC’s claims that they are trying to protect kids from “over-commercialization” is that I don’t understand what exactly the consequences of this crisis are. Unless I’m really missing something, the worst-case scenario is that kids now beg their parents for useless items. I was born in 1987 and begged my parents for useless things. Is the argument that now kids are begging their parents for more useless things? Is the epidemic that we are facing that kids do not have a good understanding of what constitutes good spending and what doesn’t? I read a statistic that in 2001, $300B worth of spending was influenced by kids, a 6-fold influence from 20 years prior, but does that mean that commercials are more effective or that parents spend more money on their kids?

  2. Mariam Samsoudine says:

    I propose that it is both- commercials are inevitably more effective , as a result of more sophisticated advertising (thanks to social and market research, psychology and trial and error) and parents are spending more money on their kids, especially with the emergence of educational and “tech” toys which are bound to cost more. I think the CCFC takes issue with perceived intent, in that they have accepted commercialism as a fallout of children’s programming, but reject the idea of commercialism being a driver of it. Simply put, it is just too blatant for their taste. Perhaps they don’t realize that this is already happening on a bigger scale, with TNCs managing their children’s programming to cater to advertising interests.

  3. Whenever I take full stock of just how commercialized just about everything in our daily lives are I breakout in hives. From product placement in movies and television shows to toys and product tie-in at every fast food restaurant to back packs for school. I fear parents and civic-minded organizations that advocate for children have very little recourse. I think the further away from the “core” teh more autonomy and freedom you have to self-determine. We as as individuals, not consumers, have to chart our own course. It’s hard to close the door on rampantly conspicuous consumption, worse yet for children. As McCehsnesy rightly points out, we are living in an age of hyperconsumerism run amok and we are viewed less as individuals and more as consumers with flexible Mastercard spending limit. Dora, Elmo, Barbie, Diego and the others (don’t forget the accessories and kid’s meal0 have become tools of corporate manipulation to helpp increase market share and keep fat shareholders happy. But we do have a choice even though it entails a circuitous route that may stray from the mainstream path. We have to become far more discerning and selective about what we let into our homes and psyche, which will mean reading more, spending time teaching our children and you know what – turn off the damn television.

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