Copyright 2003 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
The Un-Family Channel
With Christmas only two months away, we'll soon be bombarded with
TV commercials for all sorts of noisy, motorized, and expensive toys, toys
that anxious parents of spoiled tots will go to great lengths to purchase for
their demanding and trend-conscious children, lest the kiddies be scarred for
life by not having the latest version of the Cabbage Patch Kid, Furby, or
PlayStation. This year's annoying toy front runner looks to be the Hokey-
Pokey Elmo; not only are we subjected to the commercials, but, adding
injury to insult, that stupid song gets stuck in our heads for the rest of the
day. I didn't live through all the stupid songs of the Sixties, just to have
them pop back up as toy tunes in my middle age. Damn you, Fisher-Price! I
didn't like "Walking on Sunshine" thirty years ago, and, now that it haunts
my insomniac nights, I loathe it even more.
Basically, I don't like children, so I never spawned any of my own.
For a few years, I served as a Wicked Stepmother; the kids turned out okay,
and neither of them seems to harbor any long-standing grudge against me,
although, if pressed, they will admit that they often used to think of me as a
witch, or something that rhymes with it.
Now that the little birds have left the nest, and it's just us two goofy
grown-ups watching the tube, I've begun to notice how many commercials
are devoted to family-oriented products or services, or that use familial
concerns as a purchase motivation tool. I don't need or want any of this
stuff, and I don't want to see or hear children used in the selling of it.
Children are optional, the world is already over-populated, and I feel that
fewer people would reproduce without first giving childlessness serious
consideration if the popular culture did not so tacitly and constantly present
it as the expected and normal thing to do. Please, sell me something besides
kids, and the stuff that goes with them.
To this end, I propose a TV channel for all those folks who, like me,
have no interest in "family" matters. How refreshing it would be, to be able,
with the flick of the remote, to escape all mentions of children for a time! I
want an Un-Family Channel, one that would show adult programs and adult
commercials, programs rated "M" and up. By "adult programs," I don't
mean X-rated, just things like prime-time dramas, or comedies that might
include, but are not totally based upon, the process of childrearing. Most of
all, I want a respite from "family" commercials.
If you think I'm exaggerating the saturation of the "family" message
that spreads in daily mega-doses via commercials, let me lead you through
it, from before conception until the kids leave for college.
I haven't seen any commercials for pre-pregnancy vitamins lately, but
I know that I have seen them, for supplements women should take even
before they attempt to conceive, to insure a healthy offspring. Then there
are EPT and First Response pregnancy tests, for that "baby? ....maybe" stage
of uncertainty. Once you're certain that you're expecting, you can follow
those up with a fetal photo session at the Ultrasound Institute and a shopping
spree at USA Baby, where they "deliver everything but" the incipient infant.
Once the Little Darling is actually a separate entity and breathing on
its own, you can expect it to cry. Why would anyone, who either does or
does not have a crying baby of their own, want to hear one on TV? I don't
want to hear a screaming brat in an anti-smoking commercial, in a "never
shake a baby" public service announcement, in a carpet commercial, a
propane commercial, or even in a Century 21 Realty "sponsorship
announcement" on PBS. Is there no escape?
Maybe they're crying because they're hungry, and just can't tell you.
Shut them up with Good Start baby formula, and move on to Gerber
Graduates. If they reject strained peas, supplement with nutrition-packed
PediaSure; if they might be dehydrated but won't drink water, give them
What goes in must come out, so we need Pampers, Huggies, Luvs,
Desitin, Johnson's Baby Powder, and all the rest. Come potty-training time,
will they like Convertible Huggies with the opening side tabs, which are
more convenient for you to change after the inevitable accidents, or will they
prefer Pampers Pull-Ups, which are more like "big kids' pants"? If their
bladders don't keep up with the rest of their growth and bed-wetting is a
problem, pack them off to sleep in Good Nites, leakproof and absorbent, so
they're not embarassed and you don't have extra laundry to do.
Once they're walking and talking, they start having opinions,
especially about food. If you ask them what they like to eat, they'll answer,
"candy, hot dogs, pizza, chips, ice cream," but Campbell's Soup thinks that
they will charmingly slurp their way through a bowl of chicken noodle, if
that's what's in front of them at the time. If you worry about too much sugar
or high-fructose corn syrup, but "little girls and boys are sweet when they
get the sweet things they love," you can fool them by baking or using items
sweetened with Splenda sugar substitute. They might like Kix, Cheerios,
and Teddy Grahams enough to eat them without prompting from you, but
another commercial shows Dad, pressed for time before the school bus,
negotiating with munchkin daughter about her toast-and-eggs breakfast,
"two bites of toast, four bites of egg?" Unconvinced, she mouths off, "forget
the egg!" after which the commercial suggests Quaker Toastables as an
alternative to daily debates. Well, she won't starve to death if she skips
breakfast; it might be the most important meal of the day, but is a "toastable"
even remotely a meal? And what could be in a Kentucky Fried Chicken
"kid's laptop pack" that you couldn't order from the regular menu, except
perhaps more plastic packaging?
Dads show up in more commercials now, promoting that family
image about getting involved in childrearing, but they are often pictured as
incompetent, nevertheless. J.C. Penney advertises One-Day-Only sales by
showing a dad surrounded by screaming kids, asking, "where is your
mother?" A FluMist ad shows Mom sick in bed, while Dad sends the kids to
school wearing summer clothes in a snowstorm, making a mess of the
kitchen, and bewildered by laundry. What is the message? That they should
mean well, and try hard, but that Mom is more competent? Sheesh.....it's
Poor behavior, presented as cute or normal rather than something to
be avoided, marks many "family" commercials. A baby in a high chair
flings food, but Mom has Lysol Wipes handy to clean up the mess. A kid
drags his bookbag through mud puddles and whatnot on his way home, then
up the carpeted stairs, but Stanley Steemer carpet cleaners will take care of
that for you. An annoying teenager bellows "where's the Coke?" instead of
going to the other room and asking nicely. A kid too dumb not to do
anything another kid dares him to do licks the mouthpiece of a payphone,
and then chews used gum from the bottom of a table, but Mom tends his ills
with Triaminic cough syrup. And why would Peg be so calm about son
Mark, who runs around with crayons, scribbling on the furniture, even if she
follows behind him with a can of Pledge, efficiently cleaning off his marks?
I want to choke the little monster, every time I see him.
Maybe they'll turn out all right, after all, if their parents have the
means to buy Hooked on Phonics and to send them to Montessori schools or
the Sylvan Learning Center, all while they're also investing in the College
Advantage savings plan. Once Junior is safely off to his first dorm room,
they'll be free to use their Master Card and take a vacation. Maybe it's
priceless, but it's not without a price.
Even products that aren't child-specific are marketed with a "family"
slant. Owens-Corning has a basement finishing system that anyone might
want, but they promote it as a soundproof pit in which to stash the kids.
Cottonelle toilet paper probably doesn't mind if bachelors buy their product,
but the ad shows a baby and puppy acting cute, because they claim to be
"looking out for the family." Britta water filters might appeal to coffee
gourmets, but, by using cute remarks from children who think that there are
mermaids and octopusses in their drinking water, they imply that you would
be neglecting your family's health if you forced them to drink ordinary,
I'm tired of it all, and I resent having the standard, Mom-Dad-and-2.5-
kids notion of what constitutes a "family" thrust before me at every turn. I
don't need my local news padded with Connecting With Kids, Kids Count,
Family Connection, News for the Family, or Ask the Pediatrician. If we had
a channel for child-free adults, some of us could see more movie reviews, or
night club reports, or enjoy Asking an Expert, "what's my antique
thingamajig worth?" Sell me a two-seater sports car instead of a mini-van; I
want to watch the Un-Family Channel!
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