It’s Saturday night. The kids are in bed and their early-thirties parents are finally alone. She slips into a negligee while he opens a bottle of wine. She turns off the lights and waits for him on the sofa by the soft flickering light of a few candles. He programs some smooth jazz into the stereo, then sits down beside her. He tells her how beautiful she is.
Sounds like a great way to spend an evening without the kids, doesn’t it?
But not if you’re in a TV commercial for Fruit Loops, a Kellogg’s dry cereal with toxic contents: sugar is the first ingredient and you won’t find a single fruit or fruit product anywhere in the list of ingredients on the side of the box.
The commercial starts with an attractively plain-looking man and woman pouncing onto a plushy sofa, both with smiles as large as a half moon now that the kids are asleep and they are alone. But instead of getting amorous, she frenetically grabs a joy stick and starts playing a video game on the flat screen, while he excitedly spoon feeds her Fruit Loops from a large bowl which may or may not contain milk. They are completely into it, but not in a sexual way, but gleeful, like children at an amusement park having fun.
They do what boys and girls of all sexual proclivities do before they discover sex.
Kellogg’s is obviously targeting adults, but in doing so, they offer not an adult pleasure, but a retreat to a pre-sexual childhood. Contrast with the TV spot for Post’s Cinnamon Toast Crunch of a few years back that equated eating the cereal to scratching a dog’s belly, suggesting it was the highest of sensual pleasures.
Kellogg’s is only one of many advertisers who infantilize adults or present a juvenile world as the ideal for adults. Advertisers want adults to behave like children because it makes them better consumers. Children are more self-centered and find it harder to think long-term, so they are more likely to make an impulse purchase for themselves. Children have less sophisticated thought processes and are therefore easier to convince to buy or believe something. Children have not had rigorous training in economics, the scientific method and logic, all part of the core curriculum of any high school. Children tend to believe anything an authority figures says.
But as OpEdge has demonstrated in several columns, advertisers are not alone in supporting the infantilization of American adults. Year after year, the movie industry turns out movies about adults remaining children, behaving like children or returning to childhood. The “Harold & Kumar” movies, “Old School,” “Big,” “Grandma’s Boy,” “Ted,” “The Wedding Crashers,” “Billy Madison,” “You, Me and Dupree,” “Dodgeball,” “”Step Brothers,” “The 40-year-old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” all three “Hangovers,” the “Jackass” movies, “Bridesmaids,” “Hall Pass” and “Identity Thief” –these infantilizing movies dominate the playlists of the dominant cable networks. Marketers from the American Museum of Natural History to amusement parks are packaging childhood experiences for adults, as are makers of products for children such as LEGO and My Little Pony, who see a market in adult followers.
The 2006 satirical film, “Idiocracy,” depicts a future world in which humans have become stupid and illogical, basing most of their knowledge on what television commercials tell them. Thus they water their crops with Brawndo, a Gatorade like liquid they believe is good for everyone and everything because ads tell them “it has electrolytes.” Of course the crops fail.
When I see commercials like the one for Fruit Loops and movies like “Ted,” I wonder how far off we are from the world of “Idiocracy.” It wouldn’t be the first time that the educational levels and cultural sophistication has declined for a period of time. Think of the decline of knowledge and literacy in Western Europe after the death of Charlemagne.
It’s more than just the infantilization of adults in the mass media and mass entertainments that troubles me. There’s the virulent reaction of the religious right and their political factotums to scientific knowledge. There are the attempts by state school boards to sneak fake theories and false notions into curricula. There’s the retreat from modernism in poetry and other art forms. There’s the almost plague-like spread of celebrity culture stealing more and more news media space and time from real news and the discussion of issues.
Many signs point to a new dark age of ignorance falling upon the United States.