Joel Bakan, author of the 2004 best seller The Corporation, has returned with a controversial sequel entitled Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children . His earlier book was also turned into an award winning documentary film that exposed the insidious evils of corporate influence in our everyday lives. If the modern corporation was human, Bakan claimed, it would be a certifiable psychopath. In Childhood Under Siege, he attempts to extend his now familiar thesis into the realm of childhood. http://www.5min.com/Video/Joel-Bakan-Talks-About-Childhood-Under-Siege-517127244
As a committed social progressive, Bakan claims to have been called into action to protect our kids from the faceless, soul-less, rapacious corporation. Since its publication, the book has attracted mostly favourable attention, particularly on CBC Radio and TV, where the Michigan-born UBC law professor is often treated as a popular media personality.
Today’s Canadian parents and families may not be so quick to swallow Bakan’s sweeping interpretation of their situation. When looking for guidance, they are more likely to find the answers in Carl Honore’s more compelling 2008 book Under Pressure: How the Epidemic of Hyper-Parenting is Endangering Childhood. It covers the same territory, offering a far more complex, multi-layered analysis and reaching radically different conclusions. http://www.carlhonore.com/?page_id=5
In Childhood Under Siege, parents and children are depicted as innocents who represent easy prey for the corporation. From the outset, Bakan comes-off as a rather naive and protective parent who is startled to discover that his 11-year-old son’s “really cool” Internet games site is a gateway to such appalling “kiddie” fare as “Whack Your Soul Mate” and “Boneless Girl.” That horrible revelation, according to the author, is really what prompted him to resume his war against corporate influence in North American life.
Bakan goes on to chronicle how “big business” targets and exploits children in a multitude of subtle and under-handed ways. It has happened, he claims, because of government’s failure to intervene, allowing child protection laws to erode and giving free reign to corporations and their heartless, money-driven “marketers.”
For today’s kids, Balkan shows that it’s a dangerous world out there. Spending hours and hours online exposes them to cyberworlds and social media which feed teenage narcissism and promote deranged, highly competitive and unhealthy values. Relentlessly targeted by red haired clowns (McDonalds) and hipster icons (Starbucks), they come to pester their parents for fast food, junk snacks, and sugary, high voltage drinks.
Sections of the book do deliver a profoundly important message. Bakan is at his best when exposing what is termed “Big Pharma.” Here his overarching thesis hits closer to the mark. In many cases, big pharmaceutical companies have not only smothered negative scientific studies, but also co-opted medical professionals to create a popular culture where drugs solve everything –and where kids actually label themselves “ADHD” before being seen by a doctor.
Balkan’s litany of sins perpetuated by big businesses knows few limits. It’s the corporations that pollute the child’s playroom environment with toxins, turn a blind eye to noxious gases, exploit child labour, and promote “market-driven” reforms in public education.
In taking a big scope, Bakan covers much territory and his sweeping analysis tends to reflect a clear presentist bias. Paying more attention to the history of childhood would have yielded deeper insights into the cyclical pattern of exaggerated parental worries, including the supposed corrupting influence of such blights as 19th century “dime novels,” The Simpsons, and South Park.
Though the book tends to focus on the United States, Balkan tries to demonstrate that Canadian children are also being victimized in similar fashion. He knows the law and effectively documents the holes in child protection laws in Canada as in the U.S. Raising red flags about creeping corporate influence in Canadian public education through privately-managed charter schools, standardized testing, and rampant commercialization simply does not wash.
Thoughtful critics have already begun to dismiss Childhood Under Siege as a sincere, well-intended book which falls short of expectations. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/childhood-under-siege-how-big-business-targets-children-by-joel-bakan/article2143228/ While The Corporation was very convincing in exposing the extent of corporate influence, the sequel runs aground in the complex, multi-faceted realm of childhood, parenting, and family life.
Parents play a much bigger role than Bakan ever acknowledges and, truth be told, “hyper-parenting” is threatening to produce a generation of “coddled kids.” Today’s kids teenagers are also mighty savvy when it comes to “The Pester Factor,” bugging their harried parents into buying the latest version of every consumer item.
The author shows a surprisingly naive faith in the capacity of government to safeguard our children. Looking to government to solve most matters, as Bakan does, will find little resonance with those who are already sceptical of the friendly state. After all, as German sociologist Max Weber once warned us, “parcelling out-of-the soul” is common to all bureaucracies, public as well as private.
Why is Bakan’s Childhood Under Siege being hailed as “an important book” for parents and policy-makers? How well founded are the scare stories aimed at exposing the supposed evils of corporate influence in Canadian public education? Who is really under siege — kids, parents, or the family? What’s the primary source of the problem – rampant materialism, big business influences, the decline of family values, or the stressful pace of life?