Frozen: Lessons in consumer capitalism

Santa Claus was well on his way on Christmas Eve and had probably already delivered presents to New Zealand and half of Australia when Katie announced that what she really wanted him to bring her were Anna and Elsa dolls from the movie Frozen and an Elsa wig and dressing-up dress for herself. But by then it was too late to get a message to Santa and, anyway, given how many gifts he had to load on his sleigh, he was unlikely to have any spare dollies or wigs or dresses on board.

DSCI0026On Christmas morning there was great excitement, but the absence of the Frozen dolls caused a little disappointment. But among the gifts from family and friends were four envelopes – two for each of the girls – containing €20 each. Now Lily and Katie each had €40 and, as talk of the Frozen dollies carried on through Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day, Julian and I decided that they should use the money to buy the dolls.

On New Year’s Eve, Lily, Katie and I took the bus to Toys ‘r’ Us in Roquetas de Mar. Katie knew what she wanted, but I tried to explain that her €40 probably wouldn’t stretch to two dolls, a wig and a dress (I had no idea how much any of this stuff cost). Lily didn’t know what she wanted and intended to browse before making her choice.

Immediately inside the door of the shop was a huge section of Frozen merchandise. Katie instantly saw a box containing an Anna doll and an Elsa doll. It cost €46. Six euro over her budget, but how could I deny her? The wig cost €26 and the dressing-up dress €45. I was shocked by these prices. Katie took the box containing the two dolls. That was it, she wasn’t interested in even looking at anything else in the shop.

Lily saw an ice-skating Elsa that she liked but, true to her word, she decided to browse some more before making her decision. She left the doll and went browsing but, after twenty minutes or so decided she really wanted the ice-skating Elsa and went back for it. It cost €30.

We carried on with our browsing and afterwards browsed through the shops in the rest of the Centro Commercial, the girls carrying their still boxed-up dollies under their arms. (Katie was keen to get home because there was no ‘blow-hole’ in the box for her dolls to breathe through!). A woman, about my own age, came up to us, pointed to Lily’s doll and asked where we’d go it. When I told her, she turned and almost ran towards Toys ‘r’ Us. I started to notice that other parents and children had Frozen merchandise – backpacks, t-shirts, notebooks, etc.

One wouldn’t have to be the most observant person in the world to realise that Frozen merchandising is everywhere. In Toys ‘r’ Us itself, apart from the dedicated Frozen section, there was Frozen merchandise scattered throughout the shop. A bin of soft-toy Olafs here, a stack of Frozen art sets there, Frozen backpacks, Frozen balloons, Frozen party ware. Often, the same item was to be found in multiple places around the shop, so if you missed it once, or tried to walk away, there is was again around the next corner. Outside of Toys ‘r’ Us, as we wandered around the shops we found Frozen merchandise in clothes shops, pharmacies, luggage shops, stationary shops, and we even found Frozen chocolate biscuits in the supermarket.

The merchandising is ubiquitous and it’s no wonder that every little girl I know is obsessed. It’s a great movie (despite some flaws) about the love between two sisters. The songs are infectious and there are lots of memorable lines and characters. But the Frozen-bombing of merchandise is troubling.

Katie loves her two dolls, but in the days after the shopping trip, they weren’t enough. She wanted more. She wanted things she never knew she wanted until she was bombarded by them on New Year’s Eve. For a few days, the dolls were not enough. The dress and wig were quickly forgotten and in their place was a longing for variations of the dolls – ice-skating Anna and Elsa; Anna and Elsa whose hearts glow when their hands are squeezed, and so on. ‘Can we go back tomorrow and get those?’ she pleaded. I explained that she had already spent all her money and then some. Could she bring her dolls back and get those others instead? It doesn’t work like that, I tried to tell her. You’ve already played with these, we’ve thrown away the packaging, Anna’s hair is a mess. As the days go by, though, she seems more content with her dolls and her initial desire to trade them in for something else seems to be fading.

Now, I know there are some among you who will think me the meanest mum on the planet for not buying them all the dolls they want. But if you think I’m mean, you miss the point. It’s not because we can’t afford them. We can’t afford them, but even if we could, I wouldn’t buy them. It’s not because we don’t have space aboard Carina. We don’t have space , but even if we lived in a mansion (or a super yacht), I wouldn’t buy them.

This is how consumer capitalism works – playing on the consciences of parents who want to satisfy their children’s desires. Corporations – Walt Disney in this case – bombard us with so many images of stuff, with promises of a better life if we consume this stuff, that we are brainwashed into believing how much happier we will be if own that stuff. Hook ‘em young, because today’s consumers of Frozen merchandise will be tomorrow’s consumers of iPads, Xboxes, perfume, make-up, jewellery, cars, TVs, throwaway clothes, junk food, plastic surgery, one-season football kits, and on and on and on.

I rarely expose my children to such insidious marketing. Our occasional TV viewing is generally advertisement free and our visits to shopping centres and other such cathedrals of consumerism are few and far between. My children are happy with what they have – which is quite a lot (read this post about essential toys for live aboard kids). And they don’t miss what they don’t have because most of the time they don’t know it’s even out there.

I’m not a mean mum. I’m a mum struggling to protect my children from global corporations that do not have their best interests – or the best interests of any of us – at heart. I try to protect them (and prepare them) by teaching them the value of money, and the value of our material possessions. And I try to protect them by instilling in them the knowledge that their own happiness and value does not reside in the consumption of material stuff.


8 thoughts on “Frozen: Lessons in consumer capitalism

  1. Ahh yes- that is exactly why we plan on sailing to the Arctic- well, at least one of the satisfying by products of a voyage into the wilderness!?! I try never to take my children to those kind of places- and I totally agree with your views on the excessive consumerism. My kids favorite play involves their imaginations so with very little we manage to play nicely for hours. Love it. The more “stuff” they have, the more squabbling there is and the more they want. 50 days til we pack up and fly to the UK and France to pick our boat! Can’t wait!

    • I recently read a story about a family with three young kids who decided to bring NO TOYS on a road trip across Canada. The result? Happy kids who played with each other, seldom fought and were far better behaved than usual! There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

    • Dinah…so great to hear from you. It’s not too late to wish you a Happy New Year is it? Alas, it is not us who are voyaging to the Arctic…I wish. We’re sticking with warm Mediterranean waters at the moment. If you’re in Dublin any time in March, would love to meet up with you xxx

  2. Well said.

    Globalism being what it is as we sit here in Sydney we are struggling with the same thing with Sophie.

    I don’t mind the movie and I am happy for the renditions of Let it Go (often sung loudly from the bow with a towel for a cape) but everytime we do go near a store there is a bombardment of merchandise and Sophie find herself desperately needing things she didn’t even know existed 5 minutes beforehand.

    As another case in point she got a Barbie for Christmas ( thanks Nanna, Barbie was on the banned list until then) the next time we were at the shops, she spotted all the other barbie’s she didn’t have. Trying to convince her that she has dolls ( including now one barbie) and that one does not get anymore satisfaction out of playing with 4 dolls rather than 3, or 3 rather than 2…..

    • Jinx…jinx again!! Lily and Katie also swan around on the foredeck with towels for capes! And we’ve had Barbies from grandmothers, I think in an attempt to ward of lesbianism, tomboyishness, gender-neutral play and other such social ills. There’s an inverse relationship between the number of dolls (or any toy) our girls have and their willingness to share them. More dolls = less sharing. More dolls = more fighting. I may have to put my theory to the test with some observational research, but I think my girls are most cooperative when they are not playing with toys. Those are the times when they work together to make games out of the aforementioned towels, and buckets, ropes, clothes pegs and whatever else they find lying around.

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