“Why do all the girls have to buy princesses?” Riley asks. “Some girls like superheroes; some girls like princesses; some boys like superheroes; some boys like princesses.”
Riley explains that, “They try to trick girls into buying the pink stuff,” though she’s not really clear on the why. (Maybe a little young for the breakdown on market segmentation, etc.)
Yes, it’s clear that she’s repeating what her parents have taught her. However, I’m unclear why some viewers find that negates her viewpoint or gives reason to vilify her parents. Lack of media literacy is widely considered a huge problem in our country. When I taught freshman composition on the college level a decade ago I was shocked by the lack of awareness the young adults in my class had toward advertising, and the messages of race, class, and gender embedded within them. From all accounts it’s only gotten worse – children in the US soak up advertising at a rate never imagined by past generations with little accompanying education in critical thinking about advertising.
From the University of Michigan Health System: According to a Kaiser Foundation study, kids spend the equivalent of a full-time workweek using media each week. As parents, we need to make sure our kids know how to “read” the media, so that they learn what we want them to learn from it, and don’t learn things we would consider to be the wrong messages. Knowing how to “read” messages in the media (including TV, movies, magazines, advertisements, computer and video games, popular music, and the Internet) is called media literacy. (follow the Univ. of MI link for lots of resources.)
PBS’s page on kids and media recommends pretty much exactly what Riley’s parents are doing — question the commercials, explain how your family’s purchases reflect your values, point out when ads promote stereotypes, speak out against aggressive advertising.
So yes, Riley was probably coached — and that’s exactly the kind of coaching all parents should be engaged in.
Current state of teaching media literacy in schools
Tips for starting media literacy with preschoolers (many educational efforts target middle-schoolers, which gives advertisers an 8-year head start!)
Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood – these folks are unsung heroes, whose campaign against Disney’s false claims about Baby Einstein products got them evicted from their offices last year. Undeterred, they keep on speaking up.
New Media Literacies – blog, resources, and more from USC – Annenberg’s School for Communication and Journalism
transmediakids – Lots of links – ties into the dilemma of preparing our kids for the future’s tech integration (elementary students creating iPhone apps) without becoming uncritical about technology and media.