Consumers in Training

consumer in training

In blatant defiance of my mission statement, this post contains no intentional lies.

A pint sized shopping cart with a plastic pennant that says “Customer in training” on it. Apparently they’ve been at Trader Joe’s for a while. I’ve only just now noticed them, because I don’t go to Trader Joe’s often. They are deeply, deeply horrifying. Knock me over with a feather. Shine a light in my eyes and my pupils won’t contract.

I get how this would be cool for kids. I loved pushing the shopping cart when I was a kid. I was doing it when I still had to really engage my thighs to get it moving. I get how it could even be useful for parents. The child might be engaged with their task instead of making a fuss, and it could be a genuine learning experience. I get how many people could benignly smile at the children playing at being adults. It’s a callback joke to “Driver in training” signs on cars used by Driver’s Ed facilities.

That’s why this is deeply horrifying. Like when children play house and “mother” cooks all the meals.

Commercials are corporate propaganda. Corporations pay for the right to broadcast them, we accept them for the sake of watching stories. They most often are stories themselves, which is nice, and it would be a bankrupt life if we didn’t tell stories about the things in the world. Not ideal, but whatever. This takes it a step further. This is roleplaying. “Aren’t I just like mommy, buying stuff at the store.” She is, of course.

Customer means consumer. “Consumer in training.” Consumption is more good than bad. Consumption is a decent definition of life. That is not the bothersome part. It’s why the other part is bothersome. Consumption is hugely important, and who here is doing the training?

The parent is a trainer of course. She or he (all of the parents with ‘in training’ kids I saw were women) might actually do a fantastic job. Consumption of corporate goods is a huge facet of our lives and we should be taught how to do it. Doing it poorly causes a lot of trouble. But supposing most parents don’t seize on this as the teaching opportunity it is?

Left on default, the training is constructed mainly by the store. They provide the carts of course, so that children can be so very proud of their participating in the shopping process. The provide the environment (which is in no way different from the environment adults have, except that it’s viewed from a little lower.)
Okay, that isn’t actually detailed construction. The store is suggesting the game, that’s true, but is doing little to run it. “One day I’ll grow up and be a consumer too!” It’s true. But the unspoken addendum is “One day I’ll grow up and be a consumer who passively accepts the consumption/production paradigm I was born into! I’m being enculturated!” But of course enculturation is almost a synonym for well-adjusted. Ah well. But I’d rather we didn’t play games that made children enthusiastic about it. Much better to be resigned. At least playing monopoly teaches you to want to be in charge.

But I’m no longer convinced that the carts are a horrible thing. I’ve talked it through to myself, on this screen, after people IRL called me a crazy marxist even though I’m not a marxist. I see the potential for redeeming social value. It was simply the symbolism of a child walking around with “customer in training” that got me. Like a line from my own fantasy, or a cut scene from “They Live.” I glanced around wildly for Roddy Piper beating up aliens.

I don’t know. I don’t have kids. I dislike concluding without really observing. Do the carts really bring the child into the decision making process? Is my initial slack jawed astonishment the right reaction? Or am I off my rocker entirely?

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