Breaking free of consumer culture in North America

Breaking free of consumer culture in North America

By Ecumenical News International
26 Dec 2008

At a time of year when people will fight with each other for the latest toy for their children, and after the trampling to death of a store worker in the United States by shoppers who had queued overnight for post-Thanksgiving holiday sales, parents need help to break free of the consumer culture, says the author of a new book - writes Leanne Larmondin.

In Overturning the Tables: Consumerism, Children, and the Church, author Julie Kinkaid says most parents underestimate the influence that marketing has on their children. "They'll say, 'I grew up with advertising, and I turned out okay'."

Kinkaid says, however, the amount of advertising aimed at children has intensified with the advent of the Internet and new selling techniques like "viral marketing".

The numbers are clear: US youth influence at least US$500 billion spent each year on family items such as computers, cars and vacations. Similarly, Canadian children influence - through what the book calls the "nag factor" - 20 billion Canadian dollars (US$16 billion) of family purchases.

A fundraiser with the United Church of Canada, Kinkcaid says individuals must first examine their own behaviour before trying to influence their children.

"Start with yourself and ask, 'How do I approach a consumer culture? Why do I shop the way I do?'" she suggests. Kinkaid writes about "shopaholics" who shop out of boredom or for entertainment. She also discusses parents who overindulge their children with toys and clothes because they feel guilty about spending too much time working.

Next, parents must become aware how marketing and rampant consumerism touches their family, Kinkaid told Ecumenical News International. Children are disappointed "over and over" again by false claims in advertising, she asserted.

Her book takes its title from the biblical tale in which Jesus drove the merchants and money changers out of the temple in Jerusalem and overturned their tables. In the book, Kinkaid says churches, synagogues and temples are well positioned to connect the consumer culture to faith and to teach about the effects of consumption on the planet.

"In this setting," writes Kinkaid, "we are most able to see how the marketplace has taken over our relationship with one another, with the world, and with God."

The author suggests that parents seek out like-minded people at church and in the neighbourhood. Together, she says, people can share ideas how to change their relationship to the marketplace and how to simplify their lives. "We're all overwhelmed and we're all to blame," says Kinkaid.

Overturning the Tables: Consumerism, Children, and the Church, is published by the United Church Publishing House.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

Keywords: canada | consumerism | usa
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