Exploitative Commercials in Children’s TV Programming

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Alcohol. Obesity. Violence. For kids today in the United States, these are only a few of the problems linked to the child-targeted mass media, especially the multi- million dollar business—television commercials in children’s programming. With the disappearance of a TV-free environment, a typical American kid sees about 40,000 television advertisements each year, most of which are for soda, candy, video games, fast food and their free toys. In order to collect some information, I sat down on a Saturday morning on July 16, 2004, and recorded several kids’ TV ads for further analysis. Needless to say, the results were quite shocking—aside from the obvious, I also noticed that most ads featured active and aggressive boys while the presence of girls was rarely to be seen. Being a girl myself, I felt the need to take a close look at such inequality. I began to wonder if commercialism has overlooked the importance of gender issues, which would then create negative impacts on children by sending out harmful hidden messages. For example, these ads can promote a polarization of gender roles that portray the sexes in stereotypical and traditional ways, which will unconsciously affect young viewers’ attitudes and values. In his article written in 1988, “What Are TV Ads Selling to Children,” John J. O’Connor asserts, “Things haven’t changed much in the television business of children’s merchandising, and some aspects of the scene are even more appalling.” Indeed, though not as prevalent as in earlier years, TV commercials aimed at kids still contain underlying themes such as sexism that’s extremely harmful to the development of the youth. Stereotypical images permeate kids’ television commercials, giving young chi... ... middle of paper ... ...ey’re being preached of becoming the gentle, pretty, sensitive and domesticated “dream-girls” who are submissive to boys. It is as if females’ lives revolve around males. On the other hand, boys tend to get the wrong impression that men have to be physically strong, competitive, rational and superior to women. As illustrated by stereotypes, roles, and representation, boys always seem to be the winner in the unequal gender portrayal on kids’ TV commercials. Many kids try to emulate such characteristics from role-models they see on the screen, which can be very misleading and harmful, for they hinder the development of children’s innate talents and abilities. As O’Connor indicates, “Commercials in children’s programming [are] exploitative and a disservice to society.” Despite recent improvement, sexism remains to be a major problem in the child-targeted commercialism.

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