[Warning here for strong opinions, an Americanised slant despite attempts to keep it more broad, and social justice themes.]
There’s a video circulating the internets, and because Buzzfeed made and hosted it, you’ve seen it. For those who haven’t, here it is:
It’s from Buzzfeed and European car manufacturer Skoda, and it’s about how because they grew up with technology like cable TV, tablets, and the internet, children these days can’t identify obscure items like artichokes by touch alone. And apparently that’s terrible, and the solution is to go buy a car.
Now, we’re going to dismiss the logical vacuum of Skoda ownership teaching your children about artichokes(Is a glovebox full of them a standard feature?). This video always gave me that nebulous, uncomfortable feeling of being angry with something and not being able to pinpoint why. But the other day, I finally realised what it was, so I’m going to subject you to my issues with this video.
What I am going to get out of the way immediately is the standard anti-intellectual, anti-technological advancement trappings. Here’s a cool little factoid from the video:
And here’s another factoid: A study I just did found that the amount of cars produced annually in the USA has increased nearly 75 times itself in the last twenty years, as of 1927. Are we losing touch with livery? Have we forgotten what a horse is? Go buy a horse and buggy so your children don’t go without the experience of horse manure aromas clinging to everything they own.
Twenty years ago was 1996. You might remember this time as when you didn’t spend tons of time in front of a computer because the internet was very slow, loading anything took a long time, and the target audience was only starting to include people who were off the clock. As this Slate article put it:
You rarely linger on the Web; your computer takes about 30 seconds to load each page, and, hey, you’re paying for the Internet by the hour. Plus, you’re tying up the phone line. Ten minutes after you log in, you shut down your modem.
Yahoo was still relevant. There was no Chrome.
So yeah, time spent with technology has doubled as the quality of that technology improved. Same as my little automotive history snippet up there. What changed in that time period? The cars got cheaper, more comfortable, and Henry Ford rolled out the assembly line and the Model T. And then more people got them. The time spent with the new technology of cars increased as access to and quality of cars improved.
Cool, now that we got the luddite bias out of the way, we can move onto what really bothers me about this video, and the school of thought behind it.
Mark this in your calendars: It’s the only time you’re gonna see Family Guy on this blog.
The between-the-lines takeaway of this video, as far as I can tell, is that parents should be ashamed and have failed their children, by plopping them down in front of a television/computer/tablet/video game instead of taking them on family outings to enjoy nature.
People who were better parents than you. Probably.
Now, this is a lot to unpack, but what it basically boils down to is more bootstrap-style poor-shaming. This argument that parents need to stop being lazy and go naturing with their kids misses out on a whole plethora of socioeconomic reasons why people are probably not doing that.
Nature requires space, money, and transportation, as well as free time. These are things that are largely luxuries of the upper class. Let’s look at these individually, shall we?
We’ll start with free time and money. You might remember a small kerfuffle about an employee budgeting guideline McDonald’s put out a while back. It was ridiculous and insulting for a number of reasons, but it also tacitly admitted that anyone earning minimum wage is going to struggle to get by even while working two jobs. It lacks line items for childcare, gas for your car, or groceries.
American families spend on average $250 a month for gasoline, and it’s higher in other countries, like the United Kingdom. And Forbes reckons it takes nearly $800 a month to raise one child. Now, 3 million people are earning exactly at, or below, the national minimum wage in America. Couple that with the fact that people aged 25 or over were the second largest group of minimum wage workers. So you’ve got to have one parent working three jobs, or two parents with at least one working two jobs, in order to make ends meet.
This means they do not have time to pile the kids into the family car(which may or may not be reliable) and go find some nature to poke with a stick. Hell, they don’t have time to make, and eat, those wholesome family dinners we’re all supposed to be having, either.
So yes, kids are left to their own devices. And they’re probably not going to traipse out into the great unknown to look for bugs. Not when they have hours of homework even in primary school and every PSA, teacher, and parent is warning them of the dangers of going outside their home.
Not in this article: mild annoyance at putting the vaguely Asian girl in a yellow helmet.
Wealthier families do have free time, because they don’t have to work the gruelling hours. When they do happen to work long hours, such as in politics, journalism, and corporate executive positions, the children have access to care givers, child minders, and all the camps you can shake a stick-bug at.
That’s free time. Now onto money. Let’s go back to that McDonald’s budget. Not a lot of wiggle room. A large swath of the population can’t afford to take their family to a zoo or aquarium. I personally could only afford the Georgia Aquarium once a year because locals were given free admission on their birthday. Don’t believe me? I did some hunting. Here’s a selection of zoo and aquarium admission prices.
You might recognise this as pretty expensive. The cheapest option in the Skoda’s geographic region is the Berlin Zoological Garden. And that’s still 29.50 Euros for one parent and two children, just for admission. That doesn’t take into account public transit tickets or gasoline in the car to get there, doesn’t factor in feeding those kids, and doesn’t even touch on the gift shop. I understand that zoos and aquariums have astronomical upkeep costs, and that’s fine. I would rather have healthy, happy animals and well-funded conservation research than cheaper tickets. But it’s still expensive(how about using taxes or lottery money to subsidise ticket prices???). A good cause doesn’t put the money in a parent’s bank account.
But wait, you say! It’s not zoos or nothing! What about parks? What about national parks and public green spaces?
Good point. Where are those, largely? Rural areas. Places far from city centres and suburbs and usually poorly served by public transit routes. So you’ve got to have the luxury of time off from work, a car that can go longer distances, and which they can afford to fuel to the country and back. And no, they probably don’t already live in the countryside, as they then would not be able to afford their daily commute to the service industry jobs which have left rural landscapes in a sort of work drought.
On the flip side, you have the side of humanity that gave rise to yours truly: the rural poor. People who live in backwater areas, y’know, ‘paddle faster, I hear banjos’ territory.
I always miss this guy between family reunions!
And the same thing applies. It’s down to socioeconomic capability. They can’t afford luxuries like tablets, and reception both for cell phones and satellite TV(they’re normally outside the coverage area for cable companies), is poor and largely determined by location (wedged between two mountains? no service), which the poor often cannot choose for themselves. Left with little else to do, they go explore nature.
But even this, I’d argue, is a window backwards through time, to an era before we saw a flip in the economics of the countryside. Long ago, the rich lived in the cities and poor people lived in the agricultural and mining dominated country. These days, the poor work service industry jobs in the city and live in cramped council estates, housing projects, and small apartments. The rich live in sprawling, picturesque country estates, decommissioned farms, or hell, even relatively spacious suburbs.
And here’s where you encounter the space issue. The lower classes can’t necessarily afford a place with a roomy garden, or even a sunny balcony. And have you seen an allotment waiting list? Land is a premium in the UK, and there’s too much of it in America(isolation of urban areas by suburban sprawl).
So, yes, kids are losing touch with nature, but don’t blame technology. For so many children, PBS, Netflix, Youtube, and other media outlets are their only access to nature, science, and other critical forms of education. And don’t blame parents; nobody wakes up and says ‘damn, I wanna be the worst parent I can be’. They’re doing the best they can in a system which is stacked against them. These attitudes of blaming the poor for their own situations have to end, and the poor have to learn to stop letting upper classes gaslight them into thinking they can just bootstrap themselves into an idyllic lifestyle with leisure, money, summer camps for kids, and paid vacations.
Speaking of the bootstrap rhetoric, Skoda has a companion website for this video, full of cute little craft and activity ideas to reconnect children with nature. Here’s a screencap from the lite version of the website:
You might realise this looks like a hipster’s vision board. You might also notice that it’s white as the freshly driven snow. And you may even notice a few things which only a small portion of children have access to:
These are great ideas, but unless Skoda is also going to help with initiatives to bring this to all income levels(a free summer camp, for instance, which would be a boon to parents who rely on schools to feed their children) it comes off as a bit trite.
So if I wouldn’t blame parents, or children, or technology, what would I blame? I’d blame economics which prioritise productivity and consumption. They tie a person’s worth to their output levels and contribute to work cultures where manual labour is massively devalued as both ‘easy’ and ‘cheap’. I’d also blame a deep-seated societal hatred of the poor. They’re taught it’s their fault they’re poor, it’s their fault they can’t give their kids a well-rounded natural education, and they learn that because they’re horrible people for being poor on purpose(????? who the hell chooses to be in poverty?), they deserve these awful jobs that continue the cycle.
In conclusion, parenting is hard. Making ends meet is hard. I have so much respect for all of you out there, striving to provide the very best for your kids. Don’t let these types of videos and such make you feel like a terrible parent because your kid doesn’t know what an artichoke is like without seeing it. You’re doing great and your kid is gonna turn out great.
There. That’s my rant over. Back to your regularly scheduled light-hearted writing and review related content. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this campaign, too! Do you find it easy to get out into nature?