Just as we start a blog on kids, gender and pop culture, wouldn't you know something totally outrageous happens? The New York Times reported yesterday that The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has been booted from its home at the Harvard-affiliated Judge Baker Center.
Even if you're not sure that a "commercial-free" childhood is desirable or realistic –who can resist the joy of a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack? – you gotta love the CCFC. They've protested the marketing of militaristic toys and movies to kids, which many educators say has been fueling the rise of toxic violence among boys, even in preschool classrooms. CCFC has also called out the hyper-sexy culture of femininity marketed to girls – including Dora's distressing makeover from Explorer to Princess.
Why are these tireless advocates for children suddenly too radical for Harvard? According to the Times, it's because the CCFC was too successful in beating up on Disney. After CCFC exposed the Baby Einstein videos for the sham that they are – that is, they (news flash!) don't make kids into geniuses, and may even slow language development – Disney offered parents a refund, essentially an admission that its product was a fraud.
Disney then asked the Judge Baker Center to quit talking about the issue publicly. Instead of telling Disney exactly where to stick it, the Judge Baker Center asked the CCFC to tone down its advocacy. In fact, according to an indignant letter of resignation to the Baker Center from Dr. Alvin Poussaint, longtime director of its Media Center, the JBC told the CCFC it could "no longer criticize any corporations, even if they were exploiting children." When the CCFC refused to comply, the JBC severed ties with its longtime tenant and partner.
The Baker Center told the NYT it doesn't get money from Disney. But looking at who's on the organization's board, it's surprising that such pressure hasn't been more of a problem in the past: the finance world is well-represented, along with a couple corporate lawyers.
Still, it's crazy that Disney could pressure a mental health center – one associated with the most prestigious university in the world – to shut up about matters critical to the welfare of kids. Interestingly, Henry Louis Gates, so (rightly) outspoken about his own mistreatment at the hands of the Boston police, is also on the board of the JBC, along with Harvard Law School civil rights scholar Charles Ogletree and other luminaries. You'd think social justice and intellectual freedom might mean something to these guys.