The Notion That Commercialism is Now an Obscenity

mittyMy family doesn’t make it to the movie theater often. Let me rephrase that: We don’t make it to the movie theater AS a family often. My son and daughter are lucky enough to have a grandmother who loves taking them to see the latest animated, family flicks. And my wife and I, on occasion, will use a date-night to catch a new drama or comedy.

It’s not that we don’t enjoy going to the theater as a family. We do. It’s just something we don’t prioritize. One of the reasons is that there just aren’t many movies that all four of us find ourselves getting excited about. Cost is also a factor. Even a matinee viewing for four people is pretty expensive these days – and that’s before you add on the ridiculously pricy concessions. So when we do find an opportunity to go out and see a movie together, we’re pretty selective about which one we choose.

While my children were on Christmas break, we were considering “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” because the trailer looked interesting to me and my wife, and its PG rating suggested that the content would be age-appropriate for our kids who are both of the elementary school age.

Just to make sure, however, I did a Google search on the movie’s subject matter and found some detailed, parental information on Fandango.com, a popular film website. The content was very useful. The webpage’s description included a section entitled “What Parents Need to Know” that listed the five gauges Fandango uses to measure the family-friendliness of all films. A detailed scene-breakdown of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was listed under each criteria.

It was good to see that “violence” was one of the gauges used. After all, no one wants a family-day at the movies to include images of people getting beaten to bloody pulps or tossed in front of moving cars. The same goes for “sexual content” – especially considering that Ben Stiller was the star of the film. Neither children nor adults should be subjected to that. The information on “language” and “drinking, drugs, and smoking” was quite beneficial as well.

The last criteria, however, caught me off-guard and left me completely dumbfounded: “Consumerism.”

Consumerism? I wasn’t even sure what that meant until I read the scene-descriptions listed beneath it. Here is what was stated:

“The film is set in the Time and Life Building in NYC, which are the headquarters of Life Magazine, so there are plenty of mentions of the publication. Also: Dell, Papa John’s, Sony, Cinnabon, Careerbuilder.com, Facebook, Instagram, Heinekin, Zero attache case. It’s also practically an ad for e-Harmony, which is mentioned numerous times.”

I didn’t get it. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how “consumerism” could possibly be a parental concern. What exactly about a slice of Papa John’s pizza or the mention of a Cinnabon cinnamon roll is so offensive that it would prompt a parent to cover their child’s eyes or place a pair of hands over their ears?

I tried to rationalize this concern. I really did. But the only explanations I could come up with left me wincing over what they suggested about today’s society as a whole.

I considered that the unease over consumerism had something to do with the perceived evils of Corporate America. After all, we’re living in an era of class warfare sensibilities, thanks in large part to today’s Democratic Party who has spent the last few years shaming financial success and presenting it to the public as an inequitable outcome in a capitalistic society. I obviously don’t subscribe to that viewpoint, but unfortunately a lot of people now do. It’s been mainstreamed. And I fear that the threat of this “consumerism” concept stems from that shallow form of political activism or today’s sense of political correctness. I hope I’m wrong.

I considered that the concern was over children seeing appealing products featured in movies, and then nagging their parents relentlessly to buy those products for them. I’ve heard this argument vocalized on television before by unaccountable parents who blame the irresistible toys inside McDonald’s happy-meal boxes for making their children obese. I hope that’s not the explanation for the “consumerism” warning, because if an adult honestly can’t take some parental responsibility and stand up to their child’s whining over a simple case of product placement, they have far more serious problems on their hands than what’s being projected onto a large screen in a dark theater.

Could it be about false advertising? If there’s a scene in a movie where some kid develops super-powers after gulping down a bottle of Gatorade, is there an honest concern that the false perception left behind could have an inverse affect on our impressionable youth? Do parents really need to be warned about this kind of thing in advance? Would such a scene factor into a parent’s decision to let their child watch the movie? I can’t imagine.

I thought that maybe the list of companies was provided for consumers who don’t want to patronize a specific company whose practices they find objectionable. For example, someone might not want to see a movie that accepted marketing money from a corporation that engages in animal testing for their products. This, I could understand. But I don’t think that’s the rationale. If it were, consumerism wouldn’t be presented specifically as a parental concern under the category of “What Parents Need to Know.” It would be presented as a general concern for any type of movie, whether its target-audience included children or not. From a Dead Sleep by John A. Daly

So I’m at a loss. If I guessed correctly in any of the explanations above, it’s hard not to be saddened by the state of a society that would essentially liken commercialism to profanity. If I still haven’t accurately identified what the threat of consumerism is to our youth – or anyone for that matter, I’d love for someone to help me out by explaining it to me.

The only thing I’m certain of is that “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was a darned good movie – one that my entire family enjoyed. And the experience was in no way tainted by Papa John’s, Cinnabon, or e-Harmony.com.

Author Bio:

John Daly couldn't have cared less about world events and politics until the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks changed his perspective. Since then, he's been deeply engaged in the news of the day with a particular interest in how that news is presented. Realizing the importance of the media in a free, democratic society, John has long felt compelled to identify media injustices when he sees them. With a B.S. in Business Administration, and a 16 year background in software and web development, John has found that his real passion is for writing. His first novel, entitled "From a Dead Sleep", is now on sale! He lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and two children. Like John on Facebook. Follow John on Twitter.
Author website: http://www.johndalybooks.com/
  • RU

    That is the point, John. It may not be comparable to you, but may be to some other audience member. Another possibility is that you may be interpreting adjacency as equivalence. Just because it is listed with violence and foul language, it does not mean it is the same. Violence is not equally harmful as sex for some and may be for some others. It is just one more piece of information as far as I am concerned and I choose to ignore it. Definitely won’t make judgments about society’s values.

  • RU

    John, good article. How about assuming readers are heterogeneous and some of them view product placement information as important information? The comment on brands in Fandango is meant to address those readers, not you obviously. Are you okay with that? Why not? Just because you think product placement for Cinnabon does not hurt, should every parent assume the same? Isn’t free market all about your not reading the reviews on Fandango if you don’t like them and those who like will read them? I do agree with your views on parental responsibility.

    • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

      As I stated in a reply below, it’s not the information itself that was my issue. It was the fact that
      it was presented as something potentially harmful to children. It was
      listed as a comparable concern to violence, foul language, sexual
      content, and substance abuse. What’s the logic behind that?

  • JoAnneTea

    Capitalism and consumerism are good for our economy. But, I applaud Fandango for recognizing that today’s marketing uses techniques equivalent to psychological warfare. The adult brain is capable of recognizing such ploys, but children absorb attitudes about society and their self from input like movies. These disclosures serve at least as a reminder to parents, but I suspect many parents are unaware of the unscrupulous lengths brands will go to make money off developing minds.

  • therealguyfaux

    If the “Consumerism” basis were even-handed– in the sense of “Ben & Jerry’s is featured in this film prominently, in scenes where eating ice cream would not ordinarily be expected to occur in any real-life situation approximating that shown” (or some other product associated with Leftist causes seemingly needlessly displayed incongruously)– then I’d say all the more power to them. It may never be able to be proved that the product placement influenced the storyline or anything, but if one is adamant about not wishing to spend money watching a lot of plugola, especially of products of corporations one has antipathy towards (for whatever reason), such information should be capable of being accessed. So long as it is not merely a Leftie holier-than-thou type of “Boycott list” being promulgated, I have no problem.

    • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

      It’s not the information itself that was my issue. It was the fact that it was presented as something potentially harmful to children. It was listed as a comparable concern to violence, foul language, sexual content, and substance abuse. What’s the logic behind that?

      • therealguyfaux

        Having had time to consider it more deeply, John, I can come up with a rationale ( or rationalization, perhaps) which, although it may not have been foremost in these people’s minds– or even conscious, for that matter– can explain it and show that it may not be as bad as it might seem.

        Here it is: To what extent does showing all these products inculcate into children a feeling that they must engage in conspicuous consumption, as opposed to, by NOT showing them, inculcating a feeling that perhaps frugality is a more prudent lifestyle? For differing reasons, to be sure, parents both liberal and conservative might want to instill such a virtue– Left, for saving-the-planet, Right, for financial security. In both cases, parents may see “consumerism” as a modern-day Robin Leach rich-and-famous fantasy porn of sorts.

        Think about it: To what extent did Gen X’ers, growing up in the 1980′s and watching Robin Leach, imbibe in all that nonsense, somehow coming to think it’s true that whoever dies with the most toys wins– whether they really believe that consciously now or not? It’s possible they, and some older Millennials, might think they’ve been sold a bill of goods, so to speak, with the tacit implication of all this plugola reinforcing the spend-spend-spend message which hasn’t done them much good. MAybe they don’t want it to reach kids and keep the cycle going.
        My two cents, anyway.

        • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

          Thanks for putting forth the theory, but being that the products listed include things like pizza and cinnamon rolls (and for other movies, things like laundry detergent and soda pop), I’m pretty certain that the parental concern being addressed isn’t one of conspicuous consumption.

          • therealguyfaux

            The theory still holds, in the sense of, rather than save, spend on frivolous items. It’s a Paradox of Thrift argument– if nobody ever spent on anything discretionary, the economy would collapse. Some might find that a cola or a pizza or a bun is an unnecessary purchase and suggest that its presence in a film is merely promoting a convenience lifestyle when the scene in which the purchase takes place does not strictly require consumption of said products and appears only to plug the product in question.

            The point is that it is not unreasonable for people to question whether showing a behavior in film “normalizes” it– the Left say that, e.g., cigarettes in films influences kids, if the characters are “cool.” The Right say that cross-dressing done for a purpose other than comedy may influence kids if the character is sympathetic and not shown to be an emotional wreck. Whatever you might think, this question may be considered a legitimate subject of debate. So too with showing people engaged in making “convenience” purchases, such scenes perhaps implying that when you have it spend it, and the only reason to have it is so that you CAN spend it on frivolity.

  • Josh

    The last movie I caught at the theaters was in 2005 on a date. I figured, hey, it’s gotta be cheaper than dinner. Wrong. And as for a Ben Stiller movie, the last one of those I saw was on accident. Not to hate on Ben, but I’ve always been a Vince Vaughn guy.

    As for the anti-consumerism, I think it might be the fault of voices like Cinema Sins. Now, I don’t know if they started the trend; I just know they perpetuate it. They make little cutsie YouTube videos decrying everything everyone might enjoy about movies. And the love they receive shows just how many people love to nitpick and whine over mere entertainment.

    They pick through every small detail and come back with an overgrown complaint about why it sucked, how it sucked, and how altered reality now is due to the sucking. My favorite: They griped and moaned about how unrealistic it was that Lois Lane defied the laws of gravity in the Man of Steel Superman reboot. Superman. An alien with super powers who defies everything we know about life. And that’s the part that got ya? Lois? Yikes.

    Hipster I-hated-it-first nonsense. It’s become trendy to find and complain about the “Sears” sign in a movie. They go into a 2-minute rant about having an IHOP in the movie. I suppose it should just be called “Pancake House.” Or, even better, a huge sign that says “Selling Food is Bad but Taxing You More to Give Free Food to the World is How Life Should Work.” Tight squeeze on a sign, but I think that gets the message across.

    What gets me is that these people who do their online complaining about consumerism are probably doing it from the latest iPad Air or on the Galaxy they gave up lattes for a month to afford. I can’t speak for Fandango though. I’m not aware of the minds behind the site. But with a consumerism warning, they don’t sound too far off the haughty world haters at places like Cinema Sins.

  • stmichrick

    I hope, in the next national election, that Republicans take aim at the basic stupidity, ignorance and illogic of liberal Democrat thinking. Too much time is wasted on the personalities involved, which in many cases is not the strong suit of our side. The true vulnerability of the Left is in things like anti-capitalism and income re-distribution which is personified by a resistance to ‘consumerism.’ If these things are made the issue, we’ll do just fine.

  • Sheila Warner

    I never knew that Fandango.com had movie reviews. It might have saved me some time and money. Is the category of “consumerism” on all of the rated films, or just this one? There are some people who hate capitalism so much that any product placement is considered immoral. We live in a crazy society, that’s for sure.

    • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

      I don’t think the system is used for every film, but all films that have information on parental concerns list all five criteria, including consumerism.

  • Skip in VA

    I wonder how the great movies of days gone by would be rated by Fandango? How about “Gone With the Wind”? Racism, elite-ism, and perhaps even profanity: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!” How about “From Here to Eternity”? Violence, sex, and God knows what else. Just a thought on a cold and windy day.

  • VermontAmerican

    I find John’s first postulation (political correctness and the left’s disfavor of corporate America) more reasonable. Capitalism is under attack to the point where this most moral of social forms is, ironically enough, labeled “immoral.” It would help to know the political leanings of the people at Fandango.

    • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

      I think most people in the entertainment industry tend to lean left. Regardless, I agree that political correctness seems the most reasonable explanation. And that’s a pretty sad statement on our culture.

  • Legal Eagle

    Consumerism, in movie terms, is another term for product placement. It takes the mind of a true right wing cultist to turn that phrase into a political discussion defending the greatness of the fast food industry……

    • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

      Why do parents need to be warned about it then?

      • Patrick H.

        He’s beyond hopeless John, “right wing cultist”? Oh please! As John Stossel might say, “Give me a break!”

        • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

          Yeah, it’s actually his default categorization of anyone who doesn’t parrot left-wing sensibilities. I’d bother challenging the assertion if I believed that he actually read my columns and was delivering an honest assessment.

          • Jeff Webb

            Credit LE for not calling you a bitter, old, white Archie Bunker. That had to be difficult as hell.

            Hmmm, I’m suddenly reminded of a column I wro…I mean read, back in the day: http://www.bernardgoldberg.com/episode-displacement/

          • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

            >>Credit LE for not calling you a bitter, old, white Archie Bunker. That had to be difficult as hell.

            lol. I think he’s trying to sound fresh.

            >>Hmmm, I’m suddenly reminded of a column I wro…I mean read, back in the day: http://www.bernardgoldberg.com

            Entertaining column and oh so true.

  • Rosemarys Baby

    Glad you liked it as you were one of the few to see it…LOL

    • http://johndalybooks.com/ John Daly

      I thought it was great.

    • Jeff Webb

      Hey, I’d hardly call my estimated 200+ readers “few.” (Okay, I rounded up from 14.)