Television ads on soft drinks and other kinds of junk food are on the increase. They are becoming more aggressive by the day. Admittedly, the young people, who are the main target of the promoters of those food products, are being very successfully taken in by the companies peddling such foods and beverages. The young people are not just fond of those advertised foods, they also believe that to be fond of those foods is part of being smart and up to date. It is not surprising then that the sale of Coca Cola and McDonald's has gone up even in such countries where anti-Americanism is the reigning political discourse. The outcome of this madness is parents who are more worried about their children-about their getting obese and taking the wrong cue about what is proper in their lives. Although we are yet to turn into a fully-fledged consumerist society, if only for our lack of purchasing power, the concern is not totally out of place even in our particular context. True the vast majority of the population of this country will be happy to have just a square meal at the end of the day, but that is not true for the large majority of the urbanites, specially their younger members. Consumerism is all the rage in our cities. Those who cannot afford costly cars and clothes to go with the stream can at least enjoy themselves with a sip at a bottle of coke or a bite at the burgher. That would be the poor man's version of the consumerism that the heroes of the Mumbai and Hollywood films and dramas are putting out day in, day out through cable channels. In absence of anything better to do, the young people are naturally drawn towards the glittering consumerist ads and propaganda about what should be the motto of life! But what about the old guard of consumerism in the West? A story by Dave Hill in the Guardian, UK some years back, tells of how children as young as the three-year-olds are being swamped with consumerist ads. Some "69 per cent of the 3-year-olds know the golden arches of MacDonald's. Half of four-year-olds don't know their own name," the writer goes on. Is it a matter of any concern for the people who are the pioneers of consumerism? It is not only the psychological impact of these ads on the young mind that is of concern. Are all those articles of consumption of any real value to whom those are targeted? Most of the foodstuffs being so advertised are 'fatty, sugary and salty' and '8.5 per cent of the six-year-olds and 15 per cent of 15-year-olds' using them have been 'classified as obese'. But there are other areas of concern other than food. The fashion ads, for example, have been setting the trend for the successive young generations about how they should look and what they should wear. But it does not simply end there. The commercials are so designed that even the very young feel like making themselves sexier. Do these children, who are still in their pre-pubescence, understand anything about such consumerist fetish? But they are still being bombarded with large doses of such ads. And the children being so targeted are yet to prepare themselves physically and mentally for those weird objects of little understood desires or needs. One may still recall the moralist and conservative outcry of the West in the eighties of the twentieth century. The concern was about children skipping their childhood owing to excessive consumerism and its propaganda blitz. The suggestive songs and dances that go with the commercials for the commodities of consumption are not the only things that allure the children into early adulthood. The powerful product of technology, the television itself, brings into the bedroom the private world of the adult before the full glare of the children. Why then complain about the commercials only? The commercials after all do not explain anything. If the commercials are not too obtrusive, like the ones on the use of pills or condoms for safe sex, they usually leave a subliminal impact on the subconscious mind of the children. But what would one say about the products of the cultural industry, such as the drama serials that portray the intimate private lives of the adult males and females or the films of violent love, sex and what not? What may be the end result of such overexposure of the innards of life before the young ones? When the parents of these same children try to lecture and teach them a lesson or two, is it any surprise that they resist those with the presumption that as they (the children) have already had an overdose of that adult stuff what new may their parents have on offer? And one cannot also blame them for such assumption and the precocity that such an attitude implies.
Though the psychologists may have their own explanations about this new phenomenon of premature adulthood of children, while the sociologists and the social psychologists may continue in their debate over the impact of such development on society at large, what has, meanwhile, possibly gone beyond all argument is that the child of today may not ever know what childhood was like before the encroachment of television and with it the cultural and commercial products of consumerism on its life.
Should we then lament the loss of innocence that childhood was in days of yore? Or is what has been lost not worth the remorse? Should we not then revel in the fact that our children are getting smarter and wiser rather early on compared to the previous generations? Returning to the original question of consumerism that is basically at the root of whatever is happening to our children or even to ourselves, what is the quintessence of all the message it has been disseminating all through? If it has anything at all to say is this: Consume more. And even our emancipation (!) lies in consuming more and more and, man has, as it were, no other purpose in life than to consume only. Is it not a very distorted outlook on life? If anything, it is the culture of the sybarites. The Epicureans of the ancient Greece or the followers of Charvak philosophy of India in antiquity held such a view of life in which pleasure is the ultimate good. But they did not represent the mainstream. The majority of the people, however, had no fascination for such a life, even if some of them could afford it. On the contrary, most of them followed the path of moderation and also sacrifice with the belief that there is a greater social goal in life than only living for its own sake. And such people as believed in such a greater goal of life built the civilisations-in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, India, Greece and elsewhere.
The protagonists of the consumer culture, however, try to project the human effort on which the edifice of the entire technological civilisation stands as their own. But the truth is, it is again the billions of hardworking and sacrificing people, who rightfully own it. And deep down they believe that there is still some greater social purpose in the labour they have been putting into creating what they have created, although they have practically nothing under control-they cannot decide or plan the use of the resources they create. At the same time they also do not own the spendthrift culture that has been foisted upon them, or the entire population for that matter. But everyone is being compelled to share the pernicious fallout of this irresponsible, wayward way of life all the same. This is an inherent contradiction of the consumerist culture and society. The contradiction is relentlessly producing social tensions. The aimless pursuit of pleasure is turning the individual into an insensitive hedonist and ultimately a self-destructing cynic. In absence of a common social goal or any greater meaning of life, the individuals are getting more alienated from one another. To get out of the abysmal hopelessness, the individual is looking for escape routes through addiction, violence and various other forms of perversity. But the politics that control this sick social structure is identifying the very symptoms of the disease as its cause. They are condemning the malignant growth but nursing the cancer. They are also not stopping just at condemnation.
With the revolution in information technology the advertisement industry itself has undergone a qualitative transformation. It not only serves the traditional clients it used to serve. It has by now turned into a self-serving industry. The commercials, as result, are becoming more aggressive and more insensitive to the needs of society. The media, too, is at the service of this industry. The wave of globalisation is knocking down the remaining national and cultural barriers to the intrusion of this consumerist spectre on our lives. So, it comes as no surprise that it is now our own children's turn to be the early victims of this consumerist onslaught.
Is there any way out?