So I was flipping through the “Orlando Official Vacation Guide 2008,” a glossy publication of the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Most of the pages cover conspicuous consumption, such as resorts, golf and shopping, although there are 6 pages about “Heritage,” including a pitch for the Orange County Regional History Center, which tells the “story of Orlando — from the Seminole Indians to Mickey Mouse — through interactive exhibits.”
Anyway, the “Attractions” section is fronted by a two-page spread that tries to guilt readers into consuming said attractions. I’ve scanned the pages below because I’m most interested in the way that the ad copy defines childhood, the supposed “problems” of childhood and “Attractions” as the cure.
As we know, every good story — and every good ad — starts with a problem. If a problem doesn’t truly exist, the ad must make you think there’s one. That’s why this ad spells it out in the very first sentences: “Childhood is fleeting. Our kids are more grown-up then we ever imagined being at their age.” The ad sympathizes with parents, who look at their children from a befuddled distance. The ad assumes that the experiences of today’s supposedly mature kids are literally outside the scope of the clueless parents’ imaginations.
Not only clueless, the implied parental readers of the ad are also powerless. “You wish you could tell them not to be in such a rush,” the ad goes on, “…but then you would just sound like a parent.” The unstated message is that you don’t want to sound like a nagging, bossy, know-it-all parent, do ya? DO YOU? The ad bullies you into not communicating with your kids, which makes its portrayal of a generation gap more problematic. If the ad suggests that you should refrain from talking to your kids, as a result, your kids will seem perplexing and distant. They might seem beyond your imagination. In other words, the very problem the ad describes — kids being foreign and supposedly mature and distant to parents — occurs due to the ad’s exhortation that you not sound like a sanctimonious parent. In other words, the ad is creating the aforementioned problem AS YOU READ IT. It’s rather sinister. It seems as if the ad is prescribing how to raise your kids wrong.
The ad goes on to list symptoms of the “grown-up kid” syndrome. “Teens” are attached to “the video-game controller,” that is, plugged in and pacified by electronic media. “Tweens” are “hard-to-impress.” Already their young hearts have been jaded and toughened.
Fortunately, the ad has just the prescription for shocking your kids out of their stupefaction. With the attractions available in Orlando, your kids can “ride their own rollercoaster” or go on “spine-tingling thrill rides.” That ought to shake ’em up.
But the biggest benefit of all, the ad promises, is that the attractions allow you to “reconnect” with your family. In fact, it is “easy” to do so at these attractions because “you’ll be the coolest parent ever for bringing them to this amazing place.” Instead of a maturer, older, wiser presence who provides loving guidance and discipline tempered with the wisdom of increased years, you, the parents/readers, are going to be “the coolest!” The attractions will “take you to the edge of your own childhood” so that parents and children can be equals in their glee. Attractions erase the vast differences in power, knowledge and experience between parents and children, and, so claims the ad, that’s awesome! With everyone running around like kids, the kids come out of their jaded shells, and the parents finally have some fun, and everyone’s happy. Right?!
I find this conception of family bonding through enforced regression problematic, to say the least. If your kids seem distant and preoccupied, sucked into electronic media, it is probably not the best idea to drag them off to a multimedia consumption fest. Here’s a novel concept — maybe you should try talking to them, even though you’ll probably come across as a dorky, uncool parent. I do believe, however, that children do not really benefit from hip, with-it parents who are just one of the gang. I mean, we have to treat our kids with respect, not talking down to them, addressing them as intelligent beings, but we can neither deny nor forget the power differential. We are older; we have more experience and knowledge. Though our children challenge your authority and, of course, have experiences that we will never have, they do depend on us for love, guidance and support. Often that love and guidance manifests itself as sternness, rules, restrictions, sacrifices and words that “make you sound just like a parent.” I do not have a problem with purely hedonistic vacations and rewards as such, but I do find this ad’s insistence on good parenting = consumption orgy = acting like a kid highly suspect.