Childhood Under Siege

First aired on Q (22/8/11)


In The Corporation, Joel Bakan's book and film of the same name, he made the argument that corporations are people too. Powerful people, psychopathic people, driven by self-interest, incapable of remorse and hell-bent on profit no matter who or what stands in their way. His findings scared the nation.

Now, almost a decade later, the University of British Columbia law professor is ready to shock the world again, by tackling something even more precious: children. In his new book, Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children, Bakan explores how corporations have targeted children as a new source from which they can mine wealth and profits — at any cost.

The relationship between children and consumption often came up in making The Corporation, but Bakan became fixated on this specific project after being troubled by what his own children were seeing and hearing online and on television. He was particularly disturbed by the website, which featured violent and aggressive games like "Whack Your Soulmate."

"I was quite shocked," he revealed to Q guest host Terry O'Reilly in a recent interview. "What is up with childhood today if an award-winning broadcaster — Nickelodeon, which owns Addicting Games — is presenting this stuff to kids?"

Bakan argues that the advent of children's marketing is directly related to the rise of television as personal entertainment. As televisions entered more and more homes, it became easier for corporations to market directly to children, creating "the ability to bypass parents and appeal to what's unique, to what children really want, not what their parents want for them."

Targeting children directly is step one for successful children's marketing. Step two? Manipulate them. Corporations "try to figure out what emotions are most ripe," Bakan explained. "What are the hot buttons to push? Then manipulate the hell out of these emotions."

As technology becomes more and more personal, with personal computers, tablets, smart phones and multiple social media networks, marketers are getting even more direct access to kids — and are getting savvier about how they access them and what they share with them. It's so scary, Bakan argues, that it's too big for parents and families to combat on an individual level.

"This is really a problem for us as a society," he said, "and we need to deal with it at that level."

Childhood Under SiegeChildhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children
by Joel Bakan

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"Childhood Under Siege reveals big business's discovery of a new resource to be mined for profit — our children. A journey through a world of unabashed exploitation, clued-out parents, and governments that look the other way, it tells the chilling and at times darkly humorous story of business's plans to turn kids into obsessive and narcissistic mini-consumers, media addicts, cheap and pliable workers, and chemical industry guinea pigs. Not to mention pharmaceutical pill poppers — psychotropic drug consumption by children has increased fivefold since 1980."

Read more at Penguin Canada.

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