Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Count down to Annual Black Friday Riots!

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For those of you who haven’t noticed we now have a new ritual here in America; every year after Thanksgiving we have riots at stores for people that want to rush to buy things then we blame the people without trying to understand why this is happening and how to prevent it. In the past there have been incidents where shoppers have pepper sprayed each other fired shots started stampedes and gotten in brawls in shopping malls. It has become so common it is almost routine; and it is escalating.

As usual we actually do have some research that almost certainly will shed some light on this but we don’t acknowledge it for one simple reason.

It might implicate people with an enormous amount of political power.

The simple thing is to look at all these people that are behaving in an irrational manner and say they’re crazy and that is all there is to it. This enables the people that did a lot of the less trustworthy research into marketing and other related issues to avoid considering how their own activities might have impacted these riots; and as I’ll explain I have no doubt that they do impact these riots although the exact details need more research and those of you who haven’t reviewed the details would be justified in being skeptical until you have time to think it through.

The following article is a reminder of one of the articles that were posted shortly after Black Friday last year.

Black Friday Violence Worse Than Ever As American Consumers Fight Over Deals Like Crazed Animals

We all knew that this was coming, didn’t we? Each year Black Friday violence just seems to get worse and worse. What does it say about American consumers when they are willing to fight like crazed animals just to save a few bucks on cheap plastic crap made in China? Not that retailers are innocent in any of this. It certainly seems as though many of them purposely create wild situations on Black Friday where customers will rush like crazy people into their stores and nearly riot as they fight over discounted merchandise. The more Black Friday madness there is, the more of an “event” it becomes, and the higher the profits of the retailers go. This year there was more Black Friday hype than ever and there was also more Black Friday violence than ever. It is being projected that this year a record-setting 152 million Americans will go shopping between Thanksgiving and Sunday night. That may be good news for the big corporate retailers, but the shocking lack of character being displayed by American consumers all over the country this weekend is very bad news for the future of this nation. complete article

You would think that after the tremendous amounts of problems that they had last year that the corporations would scale back on the hype or do something to prevent it from happening again. Perhaps they are doing some things but, if so those things are low profile and one thing they haven’t done is stop escalating the hype about sneakers, which is one of the things that seems to lead to the most violence for one reason or another, as the following articles indicates.

Nike, Sneaker Violence and the New $315 LeBrons

Last week Nike announced that a special edition of its version 10 LeBron James sneakers would be sold for $315 retail. Aside from the absurdity of charging three hundred dollars for sneakers, it strikes me as profoundly irresponsible to sell basketball shoes for this price given the nation’s history of sneaker violence. While i do not agree with the National Urban League’s insistence that the shoes not be released or bought, I do think Nike should think harder about pricing in the future.

I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s when people were regularly robbed or killed for Nike sneakers. When Air Jordans rose above $100 per pair, it was like dangling steak in front of the eyes of unruly young people in the D.C. area who coveted the shoes so much that they were willing to literally kill for them.

In 1990, both Sports Illustrated and The New York Times ran articles about sneaker killings. Just as recently as five days ago, Hypebeast ran a similar story that referenced 2008 stabbings in the U.K. over Nike’s aptly named Air Stab shoe.

Nike knows all about this. What is surprising is that they do not care. complete article

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Let me tell you a little something about these $315 sneakers; they’re crap!

Oh it looks pretty good but what is it that makes it worth $315 or anything close to it? How much did it cost to manufacture it? Ship it? Distribute it? Retail it? Market it? Pay Michael Jordan? Pay the person who actually did the work to produce it?

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Most people that take these sneakers seriously don’t even consider these questions nor do they consider whether the corporations that sell us these items compete against each other any longer to provide quality merchandise at a reasonable price. If they did it would be obvious that the corporations have consolidated into a small number of oligarchies that divide up the market and compete on hype and marketing. Most of what we pay when we buy merchandise no longer goes to the quality of the products; that is now a small fraction of the cost for those items; instead the money we pay goes to advertising, shipping and lobbying.

I haven’t looked too closely at these particular sneakers but I’ve seen plenty of other designer merchandise and the marketing that surrounds them and it is enough to realize that they’re putting much more effort into advertising them than they are into producing a product that is decent and will last for a significant amount of time. In fact as a result of planned obsolescence they’re intentionally trying to produce goods that look good when you buy them but after people wear them for a while they fall apart much faster than they used to. This goes for designer clothes as well; which doesn’t seem to last as long even when people pay much more for them, nor are the more practical or comfortable. They even market pre-worn jeans which are clearly not going to last as long; if people ask why they fall apart so fast the answer is that what they were buying intentionally in this time.

They’re selling the hype not the merchandise!

That still doesn’t explain why so many people get so excited that they riot over these sneakers or any other items. Researchers that have studies marketing to children may have done a lot to explain that though; although in most cases they don’t attempt to draw a causal connection to the violence based on this research there is enough there to indicate that there almost certainly is some type of a connection. Marketers have found that in order to have the most impact on purchasing decisions they had to target children when they’re as young as possible. This is the same way cults operate in many cases due to the fact that young children don’t develop the thinking skills to recognize when they’re being manipulated.

One of the most famous studies done to manipulate children at an early age is the “Nag Factor” by Cheryl Idell. She studies how small children tend to nag their parents and how many parents tend to give in to them buying things that they wouldn’t otherwise buy including things that aren’t good for children. This was presented in the industry as a positive sales technique and even though parents were outraged when they found about it most of them became complacent in the long term. The research on this and many other efforts to manipulate children is considered proprietary which means that the marketing companies can conduct these studies in secret and even obtain the cooperation of many parents who don’t understand that they’re using the research the conduct to enable them to manipulate children at an early age. (see Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.34 and Juliet Schor “Born to Buy” 2004 p.61)

Marketing psychologists begin studying how to manipulate children’s emotions at a young age and they study how to take advantage of their insecurities and vulnerabilities as well; and in some cases they may even go further and try to ensure that these aren’t corrected so that they can continue to do so as indicated in the following excerpt from Susan Linn.

Marketing agencies are as relentless in their quest for knowledge about children as any academic institution-and they are certainly better funded than most universities. In fact, to the dismay of many in the traditional bastions of the social sciences, a great deal of the research currently being done by and for the corporate world; as Paul Kurnit, president of an agency specializing in marketing to children, states, “We’ve probably done more recent original research on kids, life stages and recognition of brands than anybody.” What’s missing, however, in reports of data collected for market research, or how those data are used, are the questions that should be central to all psychological research conducted with children: Am I using this information to make children’s lives better? How will this application of developmental psychology benefit children?

None of the articles quotes earlier questions the ethics, let alone the psychological impact, of inundating teens and preteens with images and messages designed to foster insecurity as the primary motivation for action, nor do most of the hundreds of articles and books I’ve read in the course of my research. It seems that no one in the advertising industry, whatever their private concerns might be, publicly questions either the ethics or the effects of marketing messages that play’s to a child’s vulnerabilities. In fact, for years most marketers have maintained that public concern about the impact of marketing on children is overblown. In a 1997 article in Business Week, tom Kalinske, former chief executive officer of Sega of America and Mattel, Inc., said, “I have a high regard for the intelligence of kids.” The article went on to explain that “Kalinske and others in the industry believe that kids today are more sophisticated consumers than the generations that preceded them, well able to recognize hype and impervious to crude manipulation.” Mr. Kurnit expanded on this point of view in KidScreen, explaining that “It’s a point of fact that today’s child is more savvy than ever before about wehat it’s like to live in a commercial society….And what parents are telling us is that kids are requesting brands and are brand-aware almost as soon as their verbal skills set in.”

By championing children’s “intelligence” and “sophistication” as a rationale for the escalating onslaught of child-targeted commercials, marketing experts reveal that their love affair with psychology is as superficial and deceptive as the ads they create.

Children’s alleged sophistication about media and marketing is also used as justification for product placement-the growing trend of embedding products as props and backgrounds in movies, television shows, and video games. Product placement has even led to such spin-offs as books for babies that look just like a Froot Loops box or a package of M&Ms. Commenting on the latter, Julie Halpin, CEO of the Geppetto Group, portrays such books as a marketing tactic with benefits for all: “For the marketer it’s creating affinity for the brand. For parents, the kid is learning to count. There’s no down side.”

Really? When childhood obesity is a major public health problem, it’s hard to see that inculcating babies with an affection for candy, or sugared cereal, is so benign. And while there are laws prohibiting product placement on television programs directly targeted to children, there are no similar laws regarding films for young audiences, which is why, for example, the popular 2001 film Spy Kids contained an advertisement for McDonald’s disguised as a plot point. Susan Linn "Consuming Kids" 2004 p.26-7

Over the past twenty or so years they have even been trying to gain as much influence in the education of children at school through either advertising to children or Charter Schools. This has been studies by Roy Fox author of “Harvesting Minds” who has found that it has a detrimental effect on the development of critical thinking skills and he even cites one advertisement that equates Nike sneakers with religious worship as indicated in this excerpt.

The athletes on each end (the soccer star and the tennis star) are kneeling, with their hands clasped over their heart, as they gaze reverently upward towards the center pane-which is filled with and image of Michael Jordan, staring straight ahead, hands held together in prayer. Behind each jock’s head is his respective type of ball, which resembles a halo. The large type at the top of the ad labels the three panes of stained glass as “The Temple of Nike.” Just below that, the ad states, “Hours of Worship Mon-Sat 10-7 PM Thurs 10-8 PM Sun 11-6 PM.” Roy Fox “Harvesting Minds” 1996 p.85

Most people would almost certainly dismiss this as a joke and if it was a rare occasion and it wasn’t drilled into the heads of children over and over again along with an enormous amount of other advertising this would probably be appropriate; however this is part of a much more extensive advertising effort that is targeting children constantly and it ahs had serious impacts on their ability to develop critical thinking skills. Roy Fox’s study and many others have indicated that many of these children spend more time thinking about advertising than they do about their school work and it is having a serious impact on their grades.

There have been many other studies that have indicated that marketing to children from an early age has a negative impact on their education and it reduces their ability to recognize hype and propaganda in advertising. This is essentially what advertising is, propaganda, that is designed to convince the target audience to adopt the beliefs of the people creating the advertising or propaganda without scrutiny or question when ever possible. This hype that is constantly being targeted to children has encouraged them to want more products even when they don’t do much if anything to improve their quality of life. This is especially true when they prevent children from developing critical thinking skills and it encourages them to base their decisions on emotions without scrutiny. If they’re more likely to get excited about these products based on the hype it should be clear that this could potentially be a major contributing factor to the black Friday riots. Further more if it wasn’t then it should be clear that the commercials weren’t doing the job they were intended to do. The goal of the marketing person is to encourage people to get so excited that they rush out and buy it; when a significant percentage of the public does just that and goes beyond what the marketers claim they’re trying to accomplish it shouldn’t mean that we shouldn’t even consider the possibility that it is a factor.

Propaganda is even more effective when it suppresses alternative views. This is exactly what is happening for many people that get all their information from the traditional mainstream media. There are plenty of academic studies that could be used to raise some doubts about the issues that corporations are doing but the vast majority of them never get mentioned at all in the traditional media and in the few occasions where they are mentioned they’re practically never put in their proper perspective.

The following is a few excerpts from another one of those studies, “The Educational Cost of Schoolhouse Commercialism” by Alex Molnar, Faith Boninger, Joseph Fogarty, plus a link to the lead author’s other studies.

How Commercializing Activities Discourage Critical Thinking

Promoting critical thinking is the essence of what John Dewey termed an "educative" experience. 50 Educative experiences increase students’ ability to have fruitful, creative, and enjoyable experiences in the future. Mis-educative experiences, according to Dewey, are those that arrest or distort the growth of future experience. 51 They may be fun at the time, or even increase some automatic skill, but they narrow the range and richness of possible future experience. When for-profit corporations are involved in schools, irrespective of what the particular surface aspects of a given relationship may be, the heart of the relationship is mis-educative. This is because for-profit corporations must maintain a focus on the bottom line—they must make a profit. The mission of the school, on the other hand, is to provide educative experiences for students. The tension between the educative mission of schools and the corporate imperative to earn profits means that when corporations enter the schools, there is going to be pressure to create student experiences and shape student attitudes in ways that support, or at least do not undermine, the corporate bottom line. This pressure is inherent in the relationship. When Gary Gutting considered the implications of the corporate profit motive more generally in a recent New York Times op-ed, he pondered what corporations do in the case of conflict between profit and responsible action. He concluded: “Given their raison d’être, when push comes to shove corporations will honor their commitments to shareholders’ profit.” Moreover, he pointed out, from a profit perspective, the appearance of social responsibility is worth more than actual social responsibility. Both of these conclusions are relevant to corporate activity in schools, which is portrayed as socially responsible action but almost always involves an attempt to influence students to buy, either immediately or in their future. In their attempts to influence public policy regarding advertising to children in schools (through lobbying) and public perceptions (through advertising), corporations promote first and foremost their profits, even when that goal undermines genuinely educative experiences.52 And although it is true that all curriculum has limits, and that some of the schools‘ non-corporate curriculum may very well be mis-educative as well, all corporate commercializing activity in schools has a core element that is inherently mis-educative.

Commercializing activities in school foster a common-sense culture that favors both the specific brands that get their advertising into the school and a noncritical mindset that facilitates the effectiveness of such advertising. At their most simplistic, corporate commercializing activities discourage thinking of any kind (“Hungry? Grab a Snickers!”). When more complex, they discourage aspects of critical thinking that might lead to disagreement with or discrediting of the sponsor‘s message—especially critical thinking skills having to do with identifying and evaluating sponsors‘ points of view and biases, considering alternative points of view, and generating and evaluating alternative solutions. They insinuate sponsors’ points of view or products into the daily life of the school in a way that students accept them without thinking about them. They also (either actively or passively) inhibit critical thought about those points of view or products.

Even if teachers explicitly teach critical thinking in their classes, they would be unlikely to demonstrate its applicability with respect to corporate messages when those corporate messages are endorsed by the school or district.53 At best, teachers might be expected to be neutral with respect to corporate messages. While it is accurate to say that such neutrality may not explicitly inhibit students from thinking critically, neither would it encourage them to do so; thus by default, students would not experience an important opportunity to learn how the critical thinking taught in class can be applied to important, real-world issues. In effect, sponsorship allows the sponsor to set the agenda for where critical thinking is applied. Whether or not students are successfully attracted to a particular product is less important than the implicit lesson that there is no need to think critically about corporate messages, a lesson taught by the fact that teachers rarely, if ever, suggest that students’ critical thinking skills might transfer to that domain.

When Nike adopted the fourth grade at Rachel Cloues‘s school for a year, for instance, the company‘s employees played games with the children and gave them branded gifts. In an article she wrote about her experience with Nike‘s sponsorship in her school, Cloues described watching “… as our students were indoctrinated into a corporate culture, experiencing the lovely Nike Campus without being asked to consider where Nike products are made, who makes them, and under what conditions.” 54 She, however, was wondering about those questions that Nike was happy to avoid. Back at school, she tried to teach her students to think more critically about their consumer choices. 55 She designed a math lesson to help them think about where their sneakers were made and an advertising unit to help them see how media influences their decisions. This teacher felt, however, that such lessons were not supposed to be happening as Nike support flowed into the school. In the end, she wrote, "I didn‘t have the tools or the support to take either of these projects to any great depth. I also was not comfortable using Nike as an example for critical study. I worried that people at our school would view it as 'inappropriate.‘"56 If Nike had been aware of her efforts, it seems very likely the corporate sponsors would have found the lesson inappropriate." …..

That‘s a very good question. As matter of policy, the best way to stop is before you start. This can be accomplished by changing the current tacit presumption that commercializing activities in schools are not harmful unless proven to be so to an explicit presumption that commercializing activities are harmful unless proven not to be. This is, in fact, the way new drugs are tested and reviewed before being allowed on the market. Pharmaceuticals are not approved for use until they are proven to cause no harm to potential patients and that they provide the benefits claimed. So too, commercializing programs in schools should not be approved until they are proven to cause no harm to the children who will be their targets; and further, that they demonstrate a clearly understood educational benefit for those children.

….. Their harm becomes apparent only when we look for what is most hard to find, because it resides in what is not there rather than what is. What is not there—with any and all types of corporate engagement in the schools—is dedication to the best interests of the children. It bears repeating and keeping at the forefront of any discussion of corporate involvement in the schools: corporations are self-interested entities in business for one purpose—to make money. Publicly traded corporations are required by law to put the interests of their shareholders first. Educating children is not their mission. …. “The Educational Cost of Schoolhouse Commercialism” by Alex Molnar, Faith Boninger, Joseph Fogarty

Additional studies by Alex Molnar

As far as I know none of these academic sources have tired to claim that corporate activity in schools are a direct contributing factor but a close look at many of these studies clearly seem to indicate that they almost certainly are, although it is hard to tell exactly how much. Determining this would almost certainly require more research and a willingness to acknowledge the evidence that is presented from that research. In many cases when research contradicts the best short term interest of corporations that are only interested in short term profit they routinely argue that it is inconclusive and they often finance their own research which is generally biased; in fact a review of many of the studies, including one about BPA, that was done by Lawrence Lessig in “Republic Lost” clearly indicates that studies that are financed by corporations are much more likely to come to conclusions that support the agenda of the corporations whether there is a Quid Pro Quo or not.

Another issue that should be considered is the fact that many of these marketing techniques and intrusions in schools are targeted towards lower income areas that have fewer educational or economic opportunities to begin with. This should be considered an additional aspect to the class conflict which they routinely attempt to blame on their victims even though it is the most powerful people that make the policy decisions that deprive poor or middle class people of the education they need as well as a fair wage for their work so that they can pay for their own education. Then once they deprive them of the resources to develop properly they use these spectacles for entertainment purposes without acknowledging the contributing causes involved in marketing to children.

This doesn’t mean that this is the only contributing factor nor does it necessarily mean it is the leading contributing factor. As I explained previously in several blogs including “Child abuse and bullying link in study long over due” I have no doubt that early child abuse is a contributing factor to violence later in life; this blog also reviews the different methods that academic sources come to this conclusions and these methods can also be applied to research into whether marketing to children and media violence has an impact on the Black Friday violence as well. A Report on Media Violence PDF that was reported at The Consortium for Media Literacy provides some indication that that is almost certainly a contributing factor although my best guess is that it isn’t as much of a factor as early child abuse of marketing to children in school. Additional research can be found at the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Public Citizen's Commercial Alert.

These sources have little or not opportunity to address that vast majority of the public which is why I have been arguing that at least until we have major media reform that enables a much more balanced presentation of the news and these studies to be presented to the public alternative media is an absolute necessity and we should do more to let more people know how unreliable the corporate media is and how to find more reliable news outlets. With or without help from the corporate media we should have a Public relation campaign for child abuse prevention as well as education on how advertising and media violence impacts children and this shouldn’t be controlled by the corporate media which has a profit motive that has repeatedly prevented them from doing a good job at it.

Without this we can get much more reliable information about the subject from satirical web sites like “I survived Black Friday” that do a much better job covering this topic than the corporate media does.

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Unless more is done to acknowledge the most reliable facts about any given subject including this, our son-stop obsession with one war after another or pollution that is contributing to Climate Change as well as many other problems then we won’t be able to solve any of these problems in an effective manner and there will continue to be a high price to pay for it whether we admit it to ourselves or not.

There are at least three things that we can rely on off the top of my head right now.

The sun will rise in the east tomorrow.

There will almost certainly be more Black Friday riots or other problems as a result of a lack of effort to understand it and prevent it.

Eventually, if we don’t acknowledge inconvenient facts and change the way we make decisions, when the sun sets in the west or society will be in ruins due to lack of solutions to problems including the environment, war and corporate indoctrination of children as well as other problems or a combination of all of them.

The following are a sample of the articles that have appeared in the past three years about black Friday violence; there are plenty more where these came from if you start Googling for them.  

Black Friday riots 2009  

Black Friday riots 2010  

Black Friday riots 2011 


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