Monday, July 26, 2010

The Height of Cynicism: Target's Use of "Free to Be" Theme Music

I am so damn mad. This afternoon I was sitting on my bed making a birthday card for my one year granddaughter, listening to The Food Network, when all of sudden, bam. I hear it.

"There's a land that I see where the children are free

And I say it ain't far to this land from where we are

Take my hand, come with me, where the children are free

Come with me, take my hand, and we'll live

                                                       And you and me are free to be you and me."

For a second I was hit by nostalgia. Oh, Free to Be. Awwwww. Then it hit me.  I had instant heartburn. I look up to see the Target advertisement is using the song to sell products made in foreign countries by women making .50 cents an hour. In our money grubbing, greedy culture where everything is up for sale, (example: Christo's majestic artwork ripped off on AT&T commercials), some  things are just sacred.  And I really hate to think that some 30 something advertising executive, who heard these songs for the first time as a little kid, probably from a feminist mother, misinterpreted the songs, and decided to use it to sell products that exploit people, mainly women, all over the world.  A company that exploits the labor of women as employees and in the manufacturing of its products, using a song about freedom?  Damn it. What is wrong with us?

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Free To Be, was a children's album from the 1970's. It was produced by Marlo Thomas and the proceeds would benefit the Ms. Foundation for Women. The songs were written and sung by many famous people like Harry Belefonte, Mel Brooks, Michael Jackson, Rosey Grier, Carol Channing, and others. All the songs had a message for children about men and women being equal, doing what they desired in life, and treating everyone with kindness and tolerance. I raised my kids with it, as did all my sisters and friends. We were true believers-we wanted a new, freer, and better world for all our children.

I know I sound a little irrational to be so upset, but for God's sake, you and I have been watching the Gulf Coast for the last 90 odd days,  people, eco-system and animals, being destroyed by corporate bastards who find absolutely nothing sacred, but profit.  I've been working up to a slow boil about the trashing of our culture by people who care nothing about anything except money. The British Petroleum ecological disaster is the prime example in our lifetime.

Well, feminism is sacred to me. Idealism is sacred to me and social justice too.  Those songs were about letting people do what they want in life no matter what sex they are. The songs are about equality between men and women, showing emotions, sharing parenting and housework, about tolerance and choice to live our lives as we see fit. To see them used by a corporation who came in busting unions and paying minimum wage, who buys products from companies who run sweatshops is just too much.

To put it in historical context, the 50's and 60's  most girls were told to focus on their looks, be good listeners, and to make boys feel good. They were told to be good girls and to take care of others rather than themselves. When I grew up, newspapers featured classified ads had two classifications in the paper. One said "Jobs-Men" and the other, "Jobs-Women."  My first day of college the PE teacher, a woman, said to my all female classmates, " I know you are all just here to get your Mrs. degree." 

I never saw a man pushing a baby stroller or changing a diaper. I never witnessed  a woman doctor or dentist or a male elementary school teacher at work. None of my friends verbalized the desire to have a career. When I was 11 I told my friends I wanted to be a lawyer. We were walking down the street when I said it. My little gang of girlfriends all stopped, turned around to look at me. One of them said, "Girls can't be lawyers." I was dumbstruck.  I hadn't realized until then that was a weird thing to want. I don't remember what I said in response. I do remember it clearly because it's frozen in my memory as a defining moment.

When I was a young mother, in the early 70's, the "women's" magazines  like Redbook began to feature articles by Gloria Steinem and Letty Pogrebin, Marlo Thomas and Betty Friedan, discussing the unfairness and inequality of our culture towards women, how constricted their lives were, and how these expectations and limitations caused unhappiness, frustration and poor economic outlooks for one half of the population. It was so exciting to be on the forefront of social change. We were sure things would be better for kids.
Lordy, in the United States, forty years later and women still only make 79.9%  when compared to male wage earners. According to CorpWatch, Target's " image is more upscale, more urban and sophisticated, sort of a wannabe Pottery Barn,” said Victoria Cervantes, a hospital administrator and documentary-maker in Chicago who regularly shops at Target. “I’m not sure if their customers really are more upscale. But that’s the image they’re going for. They have a very good PR campaign. "

CorpWatch goes on to say, "In contrast to this image, however, critics say that in terms of wages and benefits, working conditions, sweatshop-style foreign suppliers, and effects on local retail communities, big box Target stores are very much like Wal-Mart, just in a prettier package."

Listen, it took me years to get over Beatles songs on Visa commercials. . This just makes my heart  and my head hurt.  Oh, Marlo and the Ms. Foundation, tell me you didn't sell the song to Target.   In the album, all the songs had messages for children about gender stereotypes and how to avoid them. It had all the big stars singing songs about people's lives and how we can do anything we want regardless of sex.

Well, maybe that's the point of the commercial, eh?  Our own Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have the same free speech as humans. Tell me, how can that make a world better for children when companies have the same rights as a citizen?  Well, I want to use my own free speech while I still have it. I'm done with you ,Target. I won't spend another cent in your store.

Friday, July 9, 2010

I Love You More Than the Stars and the Sea

When my daughter was born, my son was just about to turn three years old. Randy was crazy about his baby sister until at one, she began to walk, talk, and demand her fair share of  attention from the world and from me. The sibling rivalry between them lasted until half way into their teens. (I take that back. It's still going on in a milder form.) For years neither one of them could walk past each other in a room without a comment, a jab, a waving of hands, a pretend tickle,  just enough to make the other scream, "Stop it. Mom, he/she is TEASING  me!"  They would demand that I take a side in all their fights.

If I wrote a little note in one lunchbox, I did the same with the other child.  At Christmas, I would stack all their presents into two piles on my bed, carefully counting and recounting how many they each would be opening so that it was even, so neither would feel slighted. I did the same with their Easter baskets...two Reese's peanut butter eggs, 1 rabbit Pez container, 3 yellow marshmallow peeps, blah, blah, blah. It is sad to say that all my scrupulousness was wasted.

Sibling rivalry is as old as Cain and Abel. I thought I was over the worst of it, but no. My two oldest grandchildren, Aiden 4 1/2 (my son's son)  and Rebecca 5 1/2 (my daughter's daughter), have begun the battle anew. We all went over to my son's to swim on Sunday. If I gave one of the kids a ride across the pool on their swim circle, the other asked for  three rides. I bought both of them new swim rings, one larger than the other because Rebecca is bigger. Well, she hated the one I bought her because it wasn't girly enough. It was red with flames, Aiden's blue with pink flowers. He relished the idea that Rebecca was coveting his. It made him love it all the more. 

I picked them both up from Castle Tales Camp yesterday at noon. The night before, I had carefully packed a picnic of homemade brownies, bought Capri Sun lemonades, cut off the crusts of the little peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and cubed fresh pineapple and blueberries. I was determined to have a day without competition. 

Rebecca brought her Barbie pink Boogie Board that I bought her for her 3rd Christmas to use in the pool. The other children, being Northern Californian kids, were enchanted and had never seen one before. They were all asking, "What is that? Is that really yours, Rebecca?"    Aiden was flummoxed.  They climbed into their respective car booster seats. Rebecca mentioned that Aiden's was really a "baby" seat. I said, "Listen up, gang. I don't want to hear the word baby anymore unless you are talking about your own baby sisters."  They both laughed. I knew it was headed south if I didn't intervene.

My own mother, even into her 80's, used to have certain things she would say to compliment myself or my three older sisters. Joanie was dubbed the "hard worker."   Lois was " so smart."  Sandy was  "so funny, so intelligent..."  I can't remember  what she said about me. But every time she started saying, "That Joan is such a hard worker," I 'd be arguing in my head, "Yeah, but I'm working full time and going to college full time and I am raising two children and...."   I believe I was 46 years old at the time.

You have different relationships with all your kids and grandkids. Some need a little of this and a lot of that. Aiden needs his confidence boosted. He always fights trying new things, then once he does it he loves it. I take him to the library and he loves tools.  Rebecca needs to relax more. She loves to curl up and have me read to her. She loves to make me laugh or to draw together. They are both so different. I've tried telling them I have enough love in my heart to love them  both "more than the stars and the sea."  (My daughter wrote that when she was 7 on my Mother's Day card). I barely got the words out of my mouth before they were talking about Rebecca's Boogie Board and by the way, "Um, Gramma, will you get me a Boogie Board, too?"

Yep, I promised him one for next Christmas. Just because I think he'll love it if I can get him into the ocean. I know I can't convince them that loving one doesn't take away from the other. It's time I stopped this nonsense of being so careful to be even handed, and yet I have no idea how to stop. Even as I write this, I can hear my son saying, "Do you remember anything I wrote as a kid?"