After all, the big black box on the wall serves a useful purpose at times. Dora the Explorer is skilled at keeping my toddler occupied – so is Dora’s cousin, Diego – and having a toddler who is occupied with something other than smearing lotion on the bathroom floor or removing every toothpick from the toothpick box can be a godsend some days
So, I always have a few episodes of both Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go recorded on our DVR. Gotta love the DVR. Rather than switching on the tube and having to wade through a sea of channels to find something suitable for a kid, as television used to be when I was young, now every show I have deemed suitable for my kid is readily available whenever I’m ready to let her watch one. Oh, the beauty of technology.
There is this interesting little glitch to DVR recording, however. After Dora or Diego sing their final goodbye songs, the recording doesn’t immediately end. A string of commercials begins spewing from the TV before I have a chance to locate the remote control and push the correct buttons to get them to stop.
I didn’t think too much about it, the little commercial blitz immediately following the end of Elle’s favorite television shows, until it occurred to me that my toddler was starting to watch commercials as readily and willingly as she watched her friends Dora and Diego.
“I want to watch ‘til it ends,” she would plead, imploring me to allow her just three-to-five more minutes to sit mesmerized in front of the screen before the recording finally did come to its end.
What, I wondered, was keeping her so mesmerized? I can understand why she adores following Dora as she saves Mermaid Kingdom from a littering octopus villain, or cheers on Diego as he gallantly saves a baby Humpback Whale, but I can’t quite get why my almost-3-year-old wants to watch a wide-smiling woman pour Splenda into a blender. Splenda with Fiber?
Or how about the rain-soaked lady standing in a grocery store parking lot, having a reverie about her ideal mini-van (a Chrysler Town and Country.)
To better understand why my kid likes watching commercials as much as toddler-friendly educational programs (they are marketed as “educational” because they count in Spanish and stuff) I started sitting down to watch commercials with Elle.
This is what I discovered: The people trying to get you to want to buy stuff are really good at what they do.
The flurry of commercials that follow every half-hour show on every kid-specific channel is an eloquently choreographed advertising bombardment. Whoever’s running the show at Nickelodeon utilizes this crafty equation: One commercial for something your kid wants (or should want), alternated with another commercial for something you want (or should want) to have in your life. Like more fiber or a mini-van.
But even I wanted a Tinkerbell Pixie Power Playset, after watching the little girls in the commercial magically transported into Tinkerbell’s mystical land of sparkling rainbows, spontaneously blooming flowers, and flapping butterflies (“Anything is possible with the help of some Pixie Power! Fly Tink around her pixie workshop and garden and watch her magically bring it to life with her Pixie Power!”)
Just for kicks, I looked up a few reviews of the Power Playset on-line. Ironically enough, the first review I read noted: “My 5-year-old daughter had to get ‘Tinkerbell's house’ after seeing a commercial about it. I've never seen the commercial, but the toy was probably a lot more impressive on TV.”
So big companies spend big bucks making fabulous commercials making their products seem bigger-than-life amazing. That’s no crime. It’s my fault, anyway, for letting my child watch “educational” programs on television (and not shutting down the advertisement-laden vortex immediately following those shows’ completion.)
But where does this commercialization end?
After making the intelligent decision to not order Tinkerbell’s Pixie Power Playset for Elle’s Christmas gift, I brought her to the grocery store to purchase a few things we actually needed (Splenda with Fiber not being one of them.)
She pushes that child-size cart around the aisles so self-importantly, thoughtfully considering which items should be placed inside.
“Look, Mom, Elmo!”
It’s hard enough to convince a kid that juice out of a jug tastes just the same as juice out of a box with a little straw (it’s just cheaper); throw a picture of Elmo on a juice box, and it’s virtually impossible to get a kid to believe otherwise.
“All right, you can get the Elmo juice boxes,” I mutter, convincing myself it’s not so bad: At least they’re “All Natural” (whatever that means).
Two aisles later, though, Elle is fully ready to abandon Elmo and his juice boxes.
“Look, Mom, Spongebob!”
Elle is overjoyed. There is Spongebob Squarepants, here in the grocery store’s dairy aisle, looking up at her with that goofy look of his, begging to be put inside her little cart.
Again, it is difficult to convince a child that yogurt that comes out of a plain-looking container is just as good – better, even – than yogurt that comes out of a little plastic tube covered with pictures of Spongebob Squarepants.
For Elle, the only thing better than Spongebob on a tube of yogurt would be Dora on a tube of yogurt.
I have to draw the line at squeeze-from-a-tube yogurt. It just doesn’t seem right to eat yogurt from a plastic tube. Nor does it seem right to eat yogurt that is green or blue. None of that matters to my daughter, however, because to her, yogurt endorsed by Spongebob is the only yogurt worth purchasing.
And so begins a battle – not our first, and definitely not our last – over what we should buy, versus what we’ve been told we should want to buy.