I found this 2005 article from BusinessWeek that not only said a lot of interesting things about companies marketing toward tweens, but also reflected a lot of interesting dilemmas in our society that are related to some of the theory we’ve read in class. To start off with, the article talks about how though tweens have a lot of purchasing power, it is only because they’re permitted to have it by their parents that this is so. This makes me wonder, does this reflect a wider cultural shift in American society? If it’s the Baby Boomers that make up the parents of the current tweens, it would make sense that they simply give their children more, because they grew up on more in the post-WWII economic boom. Also, they were the first generation to form a generational identity through popular culture (e.g. rock and roll), so it would make sense that they support the same sort of popular culture-formed identity for their children and future generations.
At another point in the article, I was struck by how blatantly these toy and clothing companies marketed to young girls reproduce culture and really make it into a ‘culture industry,’ as Adorno calls it. American Girl increased sales by 25% in one year by including the following in its stores: “a 150-seat theater for a live Broadway-style ‘American Girl Revue,’ hair salon for dolls, bookstore, and a cafe where girls can enjoy tea and lunch with their dolls.” Taking care of your hair, playing with dolls, and socializing–very gendered activities, and ones that are reproduced for the express intent of being marketed toward young girls and introducing them to adult society, where they will seemingly be expected to do the same.
A ‘positive’ factoid that the article brings up with respect to companies like American Girl that sell dolls is that the dolls are becoming more ‘diverse.’ The Manhattan Toy Company, for example, has a “Groovy Girls” line of dolls that have different skin tones, hair types, and facial features, “reflecting the real American ethnic landscape of today.” While this is seemingly supposed to make young women of color feel good about themselves (and make mainstream society feel good for ’embracing diversity’)–they’re finally being represented among dolls!–the knowledge that this is only happening because companies want their money diminishes the ‘positivity’ of this somewhat. It also brings up questions of if/how nonwhite tweens have been, and are now going to, enter the culture of womanhood.
Also according to the article, tweens now have so much purchasing power that companies are specifically targeting tween boys now! Apparently, they’re looking to “fill” the boys-only “niche.” This attention paid to tween boys is rare, because generally, ‘tween’ is talked about as referring to girls. Howver, just as products marketed toward girls acculturate them to typically feminine activities and skills, products marketed toward boys seem to reproduce the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality: “Riot Media is a website-turned-media and toy company that capitalizes on the ‘gross-out’ humor factor that boys so love.”
Towards the end of the article, the writer acknowledges the extreme level to which advertising saturates the everyday lives of tweens in particular. Some companies have gone so far as to locate focus groups made up of tween girls in their bedrooms, during slumber parties. Some parents commented on how some new marketing tactics are “Orwellian” and how they use the “child-as-guinea pig” approach. This brings to mind the idea of Foucault’s Panopticon and how we are always being watched, even if we don’t know it. Even if the adults know it, the children don’t, and so consumer awareness groups are being created for children. However, if we use advertising as the model for Foucault’s Panopticon, it is not the state that is watching is–it is culture. This then brings us to Althusser’s idea of Ideological State Apparatuses and how they reinforce the Repressive State Apparatus (the government), and how both work together to reinforce the ideology of the ruling class. In this class, the ruling class, whoever they may be, still deeply believe in a gendered dichotomy of what appropriate play activities and socializing methods for boys and girls are.
Althusser, however, posited that in a capitalist economy, it was the educational system that kept everyone in check. But it seems to me from this article that it is our consumer culture that keeps us in check–especially tweens, who are not only at a point in their lives where they feel a need to conform to their peers, but also don’t always have the rationality to make wise consumer choices.