Barking Up the Wrong Trees

bark wrong tree Given that they haven’t yet bothered to think through the basic labels and human relationships involved, it’s no surprise that “consumer” activists have a positive talent for hatching profoundly silly attempts at combating the big business marketing juggernaut.

The latest such windmill-tilt is the effort to support new regulations on advertising food to children.  The New York Times reports:

Lucky Charms. Froot Loops. Cocoa Pebbles. A ConAgra frozen dinner with corn dog and fries. McDonald’s Happy Meals.

These foods might make a nutritionist cringe, but all of them have been identified by food companies as healthy choices they can advertise to children under a three-year-old initiative by the food industry to fight childhood obesity.

Now a hard-nosed effort by the federal government to forge tougher advertising standards that favor more healthful products has become stalled amid industry opposition and deep divisions among regulators.

Of course, the new rules are being written by the U.S. Congress, so their arrival is long overdue, as the assembled representatives perform their duty and let their major donors nibble away at the proposed rules.

Meanwhile, always the naivest crowd in the room, “Some advocates fear the delay could result in the measure being stripped of its toughest provisions,” observes The Times.

How long have you been asleep, Activist Van Winkle?  This is what Congress does.  It represents money.

At the same time, the whole thing is a blatant play-acting farce in the first place.  Advertising junk food to kids, which the new regulations might possibly mildly impede but certainly not stop, explains at most 10 percent of the modern obesity epidemic.  A far larger chunk (pun intended) results from rampant addiction to television and televisual “new media,” all massively and aggressively sponsored by corporate capitalist marketing.  Another, also much bigger cause of obesity is cars-first transportation, without which corporate capitalism would implode.

There’s also something slippery about the gambit of trying to respond to fight all this by limiting what advertisers can say.  The First Amendment is not a toy.

A real response to corporate capitalist lying and killing would involve advocating aggressively competitive public media and public enterprise.  Quadruple the budgets of PBS and the NEA, and charge them with voicing the public interest, free from the need to keep private sponsors happy.  Launch public, non-profit enterprises that make and sell products designed to be cheaper and better and healthier than the most harmful corporate wares.  Fight for a program of radical reconstruction of the nation’s town and cities, to de-emphasize televisual addictions and cars-first travel.

These are serious, potentially meaningful answers.  Hoping that Congress will stop one particular advertising claim about junk food is a tempest in a very, very small teapot.  Given our moment in human history, it is simply a joke, coverage in The New York Times notwithstanding (or perhaps confirming).