Monday, November 06, 2006

Just another reason why Walmart is E.V.I.L.

When we were kids, we would wait with eager anticipation for the arrival of the Sears Wishbook. After Mom had a chance to peruse it, it was our turn. With pens in hand we would scan the glossy pages, skipping quickly over anything that looked naughty (like the lingerie pages), and heading straight for the toys. In awe of the world full of wonderful things that we had never seen or even imagined, we’d page through it carefully and with what was almost reverence. The first time through, we’d just look. The second or third times, we’d put little marks beside the ones that caught our attention. And then, when we were brave enough to mark up the shiny pages, we’d circle the things we dreamed of, going back several times to gaze upon the pure beauty of all those things we knew we’d never own.

It was all about the dreams, really. We were poor growing up. If we got one small toy (a doll, a second-hand bike) we were lucky. We never really believed those extravagant things in the Wishbook would arrive under our tree on Christmas morning. It was just too far out of reach. But that didn’t stop the dreaming. I remember the years I dreamed about the Barbie camper van that my cousin Christine was lucky enough to own. I coveted that camper van with every fibre of my being.

As much as we loved to dream about the beautiful things on those glossy pages, I don’t really remember it feeling too painful knowing that we wouldn’t own them. Sometimes dreaming is enough. Sometimes owning only serves to extinguish the dream. We were happy kids. Yes, sometimes we felt the sting of poverty, wishing we could have what some of the other kids had, but mostly we were content with our second-hand bikes and our hand-me-down clothes. Even though I never owned the camper van, I remember all the things my friend Laurel and I constructed for our Barbies to make up for its absence – three-story houses out of stacked chairs, cars out of cardboard boxes, you name it.

My kids have a lot more toys than I ever had, but still they have to live with less than most of their friends. Sometimes it’s about what we can or can’t afford and sometimes it’s about what we choose not to buy. Nikki wants a Gameboy more than anything else she can imagine. She knows she won’t get a Gameboy. Too expensive and too anti-social for my Christmas-buying list. And maybe it’s better for her to dream about it than to own it. If she owned it, she’d probably be bored with it in a couple of months.

Don’t get me wrong – I DO like to indulge my kids (and myself) now and then. When we sold the camper last year, every member of the family got to buy something their heart cherished. Nikki got an mp3 player, Julie got a bean-bag chair, and Maddie got some toy she had her eye on (I can't remember which). I got my digital camera. Marcel got a new bike. But that was a rare moment. I think the indulgences have to be rare and special for them to mean anything. In between, some of the dreams have to remain just that – dreams.

All of this is my meandering way of getting to the original point of this post – bashing Wal-mart. Have you heard about their new advertising ploy – Toyland? It’s a website where kids get to play a “game”, pick out all the things they want, and it then sends an email to their parents with their wishlist, saving them the time of writing it down, and helping them do some of the parent-nagging. Is it just me, or does this turn your stomach too? Maybe it’s no different from the Sears Wishbook, and maybe I should just chill out, but it bugs me how sneaky advertising is getting these days – especially when it comes to marketing for kids. To disguise a marketing campaign as a cheery little game, where little elves appear to tell you how cool each toy is, seems just a little too manipulative. I’ve gotten used to all the advertising on the internet, but I’m an adult and I can tune it out fairly successfully. Although we often talk about it with the girls so that they’ll be able to recognize clever marketing when they see it, they’re still very susceptible to what the advertisements tell them they should want.

In one of Anne Lamott’s stories (I think it was in Traveling Mercies), she talked about how it stunned her to realize how “entitled” her son seemed to feel – like the world owed him all kinds of things and he could expect to receive them. That’s what I fear in my kids – that with all this advertising being pelted at them thousands of times a day, they will begin to feel that owning all that stuff is the norm rather than the exception.

In spite of all of this, though, I have to say that our kids are fairly well grounded and not particularly greedy. Oh, they beg for things like every other kid, but they don’t make a lot of demands. They know their parents’ buying-power is limited and they’re also well aware that there are a lot of things we choose not to buy even if we can afford it. Mostly, they’re okay with that. As much as advertising to kids makes me see red now and then, I still believe it is possible to influence your kids to not be overly materialistic. (In fact, I've so indoctrinated my girls that the running joke in our house is that I start to twitch if we get too close to Walmart. I boycotted it a couple of years ago and haven't been back since. In fact, they've been so influenced by my shopping choices that their favourite store is Ten Thousand Villages, a fair-trade store with cool stuff from all over the world.)

I guess I just get a little weary of fighting the Wal-marts of this world to re-inforce my values with my kids. Those mega-stores have got the big bucks behind them, and a bunch of highly paid marketing gurus. My arsenal seems a little paltry in comparison.


janniefunster said...

My autumn Dream Afternoon was going straight from the school bus to kicking-around clothes to a heaping bowl of vanilla ice cream and the Sears Wishbook for a couple of hours!

Was that a Canadian thing or did you States-siders have the Sears Wishbook too?

Liz said...

Yep, we had the Wishbook in the states too.

Actually, most websites have wish lists too. Especially the ones that market clothing to teenage girls, like Alloy and Delia's. Every once in a while I get an email with a wish list. I rarely open it except around birthdays and Christmas when there's free shipping and good deals.

Of course my girls don't ask for toys anymore and I'd rather get them clothes that they would actually wear.

tlawwife said...

We dreamed in the wishbook also and like you knew those things were not going to show up in our house. I do remember the advertisements around Christmas time of all of the things I couldn't have either. Mom was alway quite blunt about that.

I was a happy Wal-Mart employee several years ago. I worked in one of the very 1st Wal-Mart to be built and the thing that I remember most about working there was talking to the people who were there in the beginning. They would just get awe struck when they talked about Sam Walton. He had visited several times and they thought that he was great. As time went by, he died and the business just got bigger and bigger the support of those old timers, some who were barely in their 40's but with a substantial amount of money in their funds, got less and less. They were not happy with how their company was going. Now I do go to Wal-Mart but not unless I can't buy it at home (we have to drive 60 miles to get to one) I seem to be getting more and more anti big business.

andrea said...

I heard about this on the radio today and it made me think of the Sears Wish Book, too.

What's interesting about all this is the state of consumerism in the individual family. I was sweating it out on the %!#$@! elliptical at the gym today (the best cardio workout I can get with a foot injury) and eavesdropping on a couple of women beside me. The entire conversation was about home shopping parties and recreational hours spent at the mall, etc. It made me realize that we, as parents, control how consumer-oriented our kids become. I'm not a shopper and actively avoid taking my kids to shop for even the necessities, so we just don't have that recreational purchasing mentality happening here. Our kids are not deprived, we buy them music and music technology and instruments and bikes and they have plenty of good PC-related stuff, but not a Gameboy nor a Playstation be (Shakespeare does electronics?) under this roof. And they honestly have never really missed them because the exposure, outside of a few friends, has been minimal. Wal-Mart is genius at exploiting the recreational shopper so no wonder they extended that reach to the families that actually look at the Wal-Mart website.

Anonymous said...

I STILL love catalogs!

I got a Gooseberry Patch catalog today. I think of it as 'kitchen toys'.

Sometimes, I even circle the things I want. I don't GET them, but it satisfies something in me to make choices.

It used to work pretty well with my kids to tell them how many hours dad would have to work to buy a certain item they were begging for. When they started earning their own money, it help cut down on useless spending.

I STILL do that, too.

Gee...I really need to grow up.

I wish Wal-mart wasn't the only option for cheap drugs for my parents. I feel sort of at their mercy.

Judy - Anybody Home

Hope said...

"Sometimes it’s about what we can or can’t afford and sometimes it’s about what we choose not to buy. "

I love this statement. Sometimes parents feel if they can afford it, (or squeeze it on their charge card), the kids should get it.
I also agree that todays children feel entitled and their parents feel obligated.Dreamimg is 1/2 the fun.
My son won't be on the Walmart website.

Pamela said...

We were Sears Catelogue wishers, too. I was the youngest of 8 -- and had a dad who knew the value of his hard earned dollar.
So, Christmas was more about singing and enjoying family -- with some dreaming mixed in. I think my mom would have like to filled our house with gifts - just wasn't an option.

I'm not a WalMart fancier either -

cv23 said...

I think that its good to dream , and I also believe that treating your self once in awhile is something that helps you appreciate it more......

BarnGoddess said...

I remember those 'wishbook' days!!

Wal-Mart is evil. I worked for several years as an insurance case manager out of their Home Office....eventually, I decided I was not Wal-mart material and Never would be.

I do my major X-Mas shopping in 3 shopping trips in December, spread thruout the whole month. It is easier this way-hubby gets his bonus at the beginning of the month.

Each time I go on my gift shopping trips, I buy 2 toys for Toys For Tots(which equal 6new toys). I also pick 3 Angels from our local Angel tree for needy children and elderly people. It makes me feel better giving to someone who is less fortunate.

I am thankful for everything I have!

Karla said...

I have fond memories of doing the exact same thing with the Sears wishbook as you. It was like the Christmas bible, yet oddly enough, we too knew that we would probably never see most of the toys we circled under the tree.

That walmart website is terrible! Just terrible. I watched a documentary on Walmart, and was amazed at their sophisticated computer systems that even track weather patterns so they can be sure to order extra sunscreen for sunny days or strawberry pop tarts during hurricane season (apparently they have done studies to show how well pop tarts sell when people stock up on non-parishables).

They really stop at nothing don't they?

Vicki said...

Great post Heather.

Sears wishbook was the best. We'd look through it with much awe and want knowing the whole time we'd not get much of what we were wishing for. I don't ever remember asking my Mom for any of it.

The difference between the Sears Wishbook, and Walmart Toy scam is that the Wishbook was for the CHILDREN to look at. It didn't have a rip out page for you to hand your parents a list of things you WANT! The design is different. Maybe the intent is the same, but not as direct.

Coll said...

Advertising does draw kids in.. but it has been my experience that kids watch their parents closely and the example the parents set is the one most likely to be remembered. It is not easy raising children these days with all the many outside forces at work. Sounds to me that you are doing a commendable job.

Dale said...

I remember that Wishbook. We loved it too. And The Eaton's catalogue, Canada's very own retail giant. But it's all gone now. The Bay too. Swallowed up by American big business. I am absolutely enraged by it. Walmart will NEVER get my business. I don't much fancy Sears either. My recycling box fills quickly with unread flyers from unwanted, and bulging local newspapers. (Fear for sale. Get yer propaganda here.) And all that cursed advertising!!

There now. See what you've done with this post?

Anvilcloud said...

You're sooo young. The older ones among us tend to recall Eatons more than Sears. Actually, catalogues weren't too big in our house. I don't remember having them about at all. I think we were too poor to even bother looking. I do remember buying somethign from the catalogue, but we looked through the book from within the store.

Swampwitch said...

We called it a Sears & Rareback catalog...and when we were finished with it, we took it to the out-house...

J said...

I pretty much recycle catalogues as soon as they arrive...and we get several every day from now until after Christmas, I'm sure.

This was a great post. It's nice to remember that we don't have to buy them everything they want or need. I don't buy Maya things that I don't really like, but I will allow her to buy them with her own money, within reason. So she bought herself a Nintendo last year with money she earned catsitting, birthday money, etc. But I have veto power on what games she can buy, and she can only use it one hour a day. That goes for all electronics, TV, etc.

Our problem is, I think, that our family really likes to buy her gifts...and they mostly live far away and want to get her things she really wants, so she will think well of the people she rarely sees. No one wants to be the relative who gave her money for college. But they are willing to give books rather than toys.

It is defintely different than when I was a kid...

Erin said...

I'm almost 25 years old, and I have my own child and another on the way, and my highlight of fall/winter is getting the Sears Wishbook!!!!