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Friday, April 27, 2007

My thoughts on Shrek

I had hoped some readers would offer their opinions on whether Shrek is a bad influence in the anti-obesity movement before weighing in with my own, but it seems I will have to be the first.

I find it interesting that anti-obesity groups would rather spend time and energy nitpicking the government's choices instead of creating programs that promote their purported goals. Then again, maybe nitpicking the government is the only way they know to promote their own agenda.

The question at hand is whether the government erred in choosing Shrek as its "spokesman" to encourage children to be more active when the character is also involved in the endorsement of McDonalds Happy Meals and sugary breakfast cereals.

According to an Associated Press article released Thursday, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood says the upcoming Shrek sequel has too many promotional ties with unhealthy foods.

"There is an inherent conflict of interest between marketing junk food and promoting public health," Susan Linn, the group's director, wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt.

"Surely Health and Human Services can find a better spokesperson for healthy living than a character who is a walking advertisement for McDonald's, sugary cereals, cookies and candy," Linn, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, was quoted as saying in the article.

I have to give Linn credit for her idealism. In a perfect world, there would be numerous healthy role models for children. But our world isn't perfect. And let's be realistic here: Kids listen to cartoon characters, whether adults like that fact or not. I remember first trying canned spinach as a kid to mimic Popeye, and my niece and nephew begging for cucumbers and tomatoes because of VeggieTales.

Based on that experience, I'd say the government is smart to use a cartoon character in its anti-obesity campaign. So what if Shrek also endorses Happy Meals and candy? If kids can remember that McDonald's has Shrek Happy Meals, then I'm sure they can also remember Shrek's recommendation that they exercise at least an hour a day.


Andrea said...

I missed your post yesterday or I would have been happy to offer an opinion.

As a mother, I know that advertisers are marketing to my child(ren). It's a fact and one that I deal with ever increasingly as my son gets older and identifies more and more with licensed characters.

I also know that these characters influence his behavior. But here's the thing: so do I. I am the one with the money to determine what does and doesn't come into my house, whether it has to do with food or toys or clothes or whatever else. But if I have the ability to tell him that Shrek said to go outside and play, to show him Shrek telling him to exercise, I consider that help. Whether or not I give in to the other marketing schemes Shrek is involved in is entirely up to me. That's the beauty of parenting: I get to pick and choose the ideals that I would like instilled in my son. That may not last forever, but I'm hoping to get the foundation laid while he's young so when my opinion doesn't matter as much when he's older, he'll still be influenced by what he learned as a little kid. I'll take the help with that wherever I can get it.

I also think that the protest about it makes the assumption that Americans are not capable of making good choices (though our track record isn't always great, I'll admit) and are just pawns of marketing campaigns. I say Linn, give us a little credit.

Tonya said...

Excellent point, Andrea. We as consumers have the power to "vote" with our money. And I agree with you, Linn doesn't give the American public much credit.