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Complaints about “The Lorax” from Lou Dobbs and the CCFC

Posted on March 2, 2012 at 8:00 am

Dr. Seuss wrote The Lorax in 1971, around the time of the first Earth Day and the creation (by Republican President Richard Nixon) of the Environmental Protection Agency.  It is the story of the “Once-ler” who chanced upon a place filled with wondrous Truffula Trees, Swomee-Swans, Brown Bar-ba- loots, and Humming-Fishes. Thrilled by the beauty of the Truffula Trees and greedy with the opportunity to use their tufts to make things, he ignores the warnings of the tree-loving Lorax.  Finally, the Lorax goes away, leaving a rock engraved “UNLESS.” One Truffula seed remains.

This week’s release of a new film version has already led to complaints from Lou Dobbs, who says it is left-wing propaganda, and from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which notes that there is something inconsistent, even hypocritical, about the movie’s “partners,” which include an SUV and disposable diapers.

Dobbs complains that “The Lorax” is intended to indoctrinate children with liberal anti-capitalist ideas.  He calls it “insidious nonsense” and “environmental radicalism.”  It is heavy-handed at times, as I point out in my review.  But it is balderdash to make any claim of conspiracy or propaganda.  Time Magazine’s James Poniewozik points out that “The Lorax” book is actually pro-business.

he important thing that Seuss does in the book is not to simply decry business’ pollution and greed for what it does to cute creatures like the brown barbaloots and hummingfish. The real problem that deforester and Thneed-maker the Once-ler runs into is that cutting down truffula trees faster than they can grow back is also bad business. He makes money hand over fist for a while, yes, but: “No more trees… no more Thneeds.”

In other words, Seuss’ final argument against the way the Once-ler runs his business is a practical one: if you over exploit a resource, besides whatever damage you do to the environment, you eventually undercut your long-term interests. That’s not ideology so much as physical fact–akin to, say, the problem faced by the overworking of a fishery. It’s not inherently political to say: there is only so much of certain resources.

Neither the book nor the movie argue for government intervention.  They argue for personal responsibility, which conservatives often claim as their defining value.  Dobbs seems to say that acknowledging the need to consider the future in the use of the Earth’s resources is per se liberal propaganda.  Furthermore, as I have pointed out many times, most movies do not have political agendas because they are made by corporations who want to make money for their shareholders and themselves.  Universal Studios is a subsidiary of NBC Universal, owned by the gigantic corporate powerhouses GE and Comcast.  As noted below, the movie is being used to market many different consumer products. The idea of an anti-corporate political agenda is simply absurd.

The CCFC argues that the movie and its producers are too pro-corporate.  It has launched a campaign to “Save the Lorax!” from “an onslaught of corporate cross-promotions,”with dozens of corporate partners promoting everything from SUVs to Pottery Barn to Pancakes.  CCFC is urging anyone who cares about The Lorax’s original message to enjoy the story but pledge to shun the movie’s commercial tie-ins, including:

  • The new Mazda CX-5 SUV—the only car with the “Truffula Seal of Approval.”
  • Seventh Generation household products and diapers festooned with the Lorax.
  • IHOP’s kids’ menu items like Rooty Tooty Bar-Ba-Looty Blueberry Cone Cakes and Truffula Chip Pancakes.
  • In-store promotions featuring the Lorax at Whole Foods, Pottery Barn Kids, and Target.
  • Online Lorax games and sweepstakes for YoKids Yogurt, Comcast Xfinity TV, Target, IHOP, and HP.
  • HP’s “Every Inkling Makes a Difference,” a branded in-school curriculum produced and distributed by Scholastic.

“It is both cynical and hypocritical to use a beloved children’s story with a prescient environmental message to sell kids on consumption,” said CCFC’s director, Dr. Susan Linn.  “The Lorax that so many of us know and love would never immerse children in the false corporate narrative that we can consume our way to everything, from happiness to sustainability. Instead, he would join everyone who cares about children and the environment to give kids time and space to grow up free of commercial pressures.”

This concern seems far more legitimate to me.  The idea of tying the marketing of an SUV as a green initiative suggests that the Lorax’s message is more needed than ever.

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Avoid the ‘Nagging Nine’ and Over-Advertised Toys

Posted on December 13, 2011 at 2:33 pm

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has released their annual list of the toys that most outrageously over-advertise to children.  These are the products that clutter the channels most watched by children and the CCFC recommends parents not reward their efforts by buying their products.

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Scholastic is Selling Coal Power — to Children

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood reports that esteemed publisher Scholastic is sending out “teaching materials” to schools that amounts to a commercial for coal power.  The coal industry, through the American Coal Foundation, has hired Scholastic to produce The United States of Energy, sent to tens of thousands of 4th grade classrooms around the country.  CCFC says:

Teachers are told that the curriculum aligns with national standards because it teaches children the advantages and disadvantages of different types of energy.  But while the lessons do extol the advantages of coal, they fail to mention a single disadvantage.  Nothing about the Appalachian mountains chopped down to get at coal seams.  Nothing about the poisons released when coal is burned.  Nothing about the fact that burning coal is the single biggest contributor to human-created greenhouse gases.

Schools should teach fully and honestly about coal and other forms of energy.  However, the materials produced by Scholastic are not genuinely educational; they are industry PR.

With budget cuts and inadequate resources, it is tempting to take advantage of these kinds of “free” materials created with industry support.  But schools should not present commercial material as a part of the curriculum — unless it is to teach children how to separate advocacy from objective, balanced information.  To protest this slanted information masquerading as a book and degradation of the Scholastic imprint, write to Scholastic CEO Richard Robinson.

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Say No to Informercials Masquerading as Programs for Kids

Posted on October 3, 2010 at 3:57 pm

The FCC has issued a call for public comment on the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s petition that the upcoming Nicktoons children’s television show Zevo-3 violates the public interest. It is the first children’s show to feature commercial spokescharacters; the stars are characters whose only previous existence was in commercials for Skechers shoes. CFCC believes the show violates the Children’s Television Act and FCC policies that limit the amount and kind of advertising in children’s television programs. Comments must be filed by October 18.
Zevo-3, produced by Skechers (the footwear giant) is scheduled to begin airing on Nicktoons on October 11. The animated series stars superheroes named Kewl Breeze, Elastika, and Z-Strap and a villain named Dr. Stankfoot who, until now, have only been used in advertisements to promote specific lines of Skechers shoes. The characters were originally created by Skechers for comic books distributed in shoe boxes and have also appeared in numerous Skechers’ television ads. Since the characters themselves have always only been ads, CFCC says that the show’s broadcast will violate the time limits for commercial matter in kids’ TV shows (12 minutes per hour on weekdays) and FCC policies that call for strict separation of commercial matter and programming.
Children are not clear on the difference between programming and advertising, and blurring the line further by putting advertising characters into programs turns them into an infomercial. Zevo-3 is the first children’s program based on advertising logos. Its main characters, Elastika, Kewl Breeze, Z-Strap and the evil Dr. Stankfoot have only appeared in advertisements for Skechers shoes. Zevo-3 violates policies designed to protect children from overcommercialization on television such as the limits on commercial matter (12 minutes per hour on weekdays) and clear separation between commercial matter and programming. It escalates commercialism in children’s media and will open the floodgates for a slew of children’s programming based on spokescharacters such as Ronald McDonald, The Burger King, and Tony the Tiger. The CCFC’s petition is asking the Commission to uphold the few laws and rules that exist to protect children–not asking the FCC to create new rules.
This isn’t the first time a corporation has tried this: In 1992, Fox planned to air a show based on Chester Cheetah, the Cheetos spokescharacter. However, when advocates petitioned the FCC, the show was pulled. In the intervening eighteen years, there has been no development of children’s television programming based on advertising spokescharacters – until now. Zevo-3 might be the first, but unless it’s stopped it won’t be the last. Public opinion will matter, and it’s essential that the advocacy, public health, and education communities weigh in on behalf of children. That’s why the FCC needs to hear from parents, teachers, and other concerned adults.
The deadline for comments in October 18 and it does not need to be more than a single sentence: I support the CCFC’s efforts to enforce the existing FCC regulations and policies by protecting children from commercials masquerading as programming in Zevo-3. Be sure to refer to #10-190.
If you are filing your comment as an attachment (Word or .pdf), you can upload your submission.
Or, type or cut and paste a brief comment into the FCC’s express form.
CCFC’s petition and the supplemental material provide more background.

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More Happy Meal Toys for Kids Promoting PG-13 Movies

Posted on August 5, 2010 at 8:00 am

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is asking McDonald’s to stop giving children Marvel comics toys that promote violent PG-13 movies.

The fast food giant’s latest giveaway for preschool boys features eight Marvel comic action figures, including The Human Torch, a man engulfed in flames, and The Thing, which menacingly roars “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!” at the press of a button.

It’s bad enough to use junk toys to sell children on junk food. But now, for preschool boys, a so-called happy meal at McDonald’s features the horrifying spectacle of a man on fire and a menacing figure that explicitly spurs them to violence.

To sign their letter to McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner, visit the CCFC website. You can also read the report issued by CCFC last month about food company expenditures of well over $1.6 billion to market their products to children and teenagers.

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