Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Consuming Babies

Last week, when I ranted about the problems inherent in the Beyaz advertisement, one of the issues I raised was the popular feminist conception of the baby as a product to be consumed--an accessory to be added to one's life like one adds a fashionable condo or a Gucci handbag. Then, yesterday I received the following print advertisement in the mail. The well-chosen name of this new store in our area announces the problem in another way:

I see three ideas being proclaimed in this advertisement, all of which are symptomatic of a culture with very warped ideas of what children and motherhood entail.

First, as stated above, the view is reinforced that the baby is a product for consumption. I think this is an unavoidable implication when the name of the store can easily be read to say, "Buy [a] baby!"

Second, the baby is seen as an excuse for consumption. And, if we're honest, conspicuous consumption. Stores like this one can stay in business because lots of people having babies (and the families and friends connected to them) will spend lots of money on products for their baby over and over and over again.

Third, the mother is being encouraged to consume because motherhood without consumption is a pitiable condition. (I say "mother" here and not "parents" because I think its self-evident that advertising of this sort is targeting women more than parents in general. But, even if that's not the case, I think the point stands.) This idea is a little more subtle, but I think we can read the name of the store as addressing the mother, as well: "Buy, buy baby!" (as in, you've come a long way, baby, so buy from us!) If you're having a baby, then you need the products this store is selling. And, if you can't buy a brand new bedroom set, that special kind of bouncer and swing, and all the other fashionable products that babies "require," then you might not be a good mother. At the very least, you're a poor mother--someone to be pitied. Because in American society, babies = consumption. If you can't keep up with that, then perhaps you shouldn't be having babies at all.

That's all for now. Feel free to set me straight if you think I'm reading this wrong.


Karla said...

I completely agree about babies and consumption. It was so freeing when I realized I didn't even have to have a baby bed for several months when I had a baby. If you don't have all those fancy equipment items, they might just play on the floor and develop faster. (unless they're in your arms!)

Another observation I've had related to this but maybe a contributing cause instead of a result, is that when an affluent society reduces its reproduction rate to 2.1, parents, grandparents and others are going to lavish upon those two all the love and attention (and gifts and products) that would have or could have been dispersed to several children. In effect, a large majority of children receive the material provision that historically was reserved for the rich, spoiled or only children. There is, of course, the option for informed parents of small families to resist this urge, but it is very, very difficult, especially to control the relatives.

Steve said...

I had never tought of this, but Karla's got me thinking. In the South, at least, we are still culturally prepared to shower children with toys, clothes, etc., and the fact of fewer children per home really hasn't caught up yet with the culture, at least as far as many grandmothers are concerned.

(Stick it back for those college calculus and chemistry textbooks, grandma!)

Anonymous said...

Why can't we get your blogs on the AP and get them into every newspaper? So much better than what they now print in general. They would actually consist of things everyone needs to hear and contemplate!!

You are awesome, Emily!

Linda J.