Frosted Hyman Points: They're Magically Malicious!
Why does Mark Hyman hate our kids?
That’s the question a recent Hyman editorial raises, in which he mocks the idea that advertising junk food to toddlers is legally or ethically problematic.
Specifically, Hyman makes fun of the Center for Science in the Public Interest for its class action lawsuit in Massachusetts which is intended to offer some financial disincentive for corporations to use cartoon characters that children love to sell them food that’s unhealthy.
The crux of Hyman’s argument is that parents make the choice to buy food, so who cares if the average five year old is bombarded with ads in which SpongeBob tells them to eat cereal that’s little more than clumps of sugar in a bowl.
Technically, this is true. It’s possible that a parent could ignore the nonstop whining of their child for Super Sugar Rush Glyco Pops, the public tantrums thrown in restaurants and grocery stores, the refusal to eat what’s put in front of them for dinner, etc. It’s also possible for the parent to follow their child around to her or his friends’ houses to make sure no contraband is eaten.
But isn’t parenting hard enough? Mom and dad have plenty to worry about without battling corporations who spend millions of dollars to find the absolute best way to get kids to feel they absolutely *must* have Super Sugar Rush Glyco Pops. We already have a national health crisis with overweight kids (who will tend to grow up being overweight and needing extra medical care). Why make things even worse?
Hyman and his ilk will likely cry “free market!” Shouldn’t companies be allowed to advertise products to potential customers?
Maybe, but the concept of a “free market” is based on the notion of customers making free and informed choices about what they want. However, advertising to young kids has more in common with brainwashing than with free discourse. CSPI didn’t make up the idea of television commercials having an adverse affect on kids. Study after study after study shows that younger children are unable to interpret commercials objectively. The American Psychological Association, the leading organization of psychologists in the U.S., notes that young children accept the claims of advertisers uncritically and that exposure to ads leads to unhealthy habits. This leads to serious ethical concerns about whether advertising aimed at young children is ethical at all.
That doesn’t bother Hyman. Why? Because to far right conservatives, the free market is the great arbiter of right and wrong. Despite paying lip service to the importance of values, many conservatives don’t adhere to a definition of “values” that most Americans would share. To them, being economically successful is an expression of moral rectitude and a solid work ethic. Any regulation that gets in the way of the successful businessman (the ideal democratic citizen, in the minds of conservatives) making his money is, by definition, morally repugnant (hence the animosity toward common sense environmental regulations, worker safety issues, etc.). Even if scientists have found a direct correlation between exposure to ads and unhealthy kids, it’s irrelevant when measured against the unquestioned right of the CEO of Kellogg’s to make unlimited profits.
My guess is that the average American, however, has a more highly developed sense of right and wrong. Sure, companies should be allowed to make money by providing goods and services. But they shouldn’t be allowed to do so in a way that leads to polluting the environment we all share. They shouldn’t be allowed to do it in a way that leads to the abuse and mistreatment of their workers who provide the goods and services (and profits). And they shouldn’t be allowed to do it in a way that takes advantage of the vulnerability of the youngest of their neighbors and fellow citizens. These seem to be commonsensical ideas about ethics that most Americans would get behind.
But the fact that they are commonsense is probably the best indicator that they have no place in Hyman’s personal worldview. After all, if consumers had rights not to have damaging products foisted on them over the public airwaves, he’d be out of a job.
And that’s The Counterpoint.
Hyman Index: 3.61