Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Marketing and Age Compression

compressAs anybody who spends time around kids knows, the problem of “age compression” continues to worsen in this market-totalitarian society.

Age compression is the result of incessant indoctrination toward perceptions, preferences, and self-presentations that big business marketers call “aspirational.”

Boston-based K-8 teacher Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin reports at the excellent Rethinking Schools website:

“I saw you on My Space!”

“Yesterday after school Trina and Shayla got in a catfight over Brandon!”

“My butt is hot!”

“I got his phone number!”

“She thinks she’s cuter than me.”

These comments may or may not raise an eyebrow in any middle school classroom, but the year they became a common occurrence in my kindergarten and 1st-grade classroom threw me for a loop. It was just a few years ago, and at that time I had been teaching for 18 years.

In case you wonder how well-indoctrinated we are to the demands of our bail-out-taking corporate overclass, consider the weakness of McLaughlin’s conclusion from her own experiences:

Children are complex, and pop culture and media are not the sole cause of their troubles.

OK. Cigarettes aren’t the sole cause of lung cancer, either, are they?

The facts, meanwhile, could hardly be starker. Big businesses not only commonly seek to anchor their sales efforts in aspirations, but, by good capitalist logic, they choose the least attainable aspirations as the anchor points.

As I learned in researching my book, The Consumer Trap, the marketers of Pepsi-Cola have conducted long-running marketing/anthropology research projects to discover how best to boost sales by tying their sugary product (which they know kids “shouldn’t drink”) to psycho-social fantasies. One finding from such studies was that “the twenty-three-year-old image” was the best one to shoot for.

This, of course, makes eminent sense, from the perspective of sales imperatives. Being 23 is not only a fleeting moment of maximum health and exuberance, but is also the pinnacle of the kinds of aspirational “looks” on which capitalist modeling is based. Plus, it’s old enough to drink alcohol. Who wouldn’t want to be 23, already or again?

Of course, as anybody who’s spent a moment critically observing adults also knows, corporate capitalist age compression is certainly not confined to kids. If you wonder why the society acts like a late-teen/young-adult who expects mommy and daddy to swoop by and pay off the overdue credit card, go out and take a peek at all the 50-year-olds dressed and coiffed and talking like high-schoolers.

Money is not a viable basis for human culture, after all, it would seem.

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Posted by Michael Dawson | Filed in A Culture of..., Brain-Conditioning, market totalitarianism


2 Responses to “Marketing and Age Compression”

  1. May 20th, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin said:

    “Children are complex, and pop culture and media are not the sole cause of their troubles…” I meant here that there are many obsticles to healthy development…poor health care, parents in crisis, NCLB, cycles of oppression, there is an endless list. I don’t consider myself one of the “indoctrinated”. Thanks for your comments, thoough!

  2. May 20th, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Michael Dawson said:

    I don’t consider you one, either, Geralyn. Quite the contrary.

    My point by using you as an example was to show how even we rebels feel the need to blunt our analysis. Corporate capitalism is a terrible influence on children’s culture, for extremely deep and direct business reasons. One effect is age compression, as you so powerfully explain.

    Thanks for your comment. Keep us posted on your education struggles!



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