Washington Post Promotes Dickensian Marketing Experiment on Poor Children
This was in the "inspired life" section, presumably because this effort is supposed to be inspiring to the viewer who is expected to be surprised by the result:
Much like the popular " homeless guy does the right thing" viral "prank" videos, these PR stunts are fundamentally based on two flawed, rather vulgar premises: 1) that the poor are somehow expected to not be altruistic (otherwise, why not run this experiment at a private boarding school?) and 2) the cheap emotional pornography and shallow moralism these videos offer the average social media consumer outweighs the inherently cruel act of making poor children "choose" between obtaining material possessions they canĂ¢€™t normally have or stripping their parents of the same. The fact that the marketing firm behind the experiment ends up giving the child both gifts is supposed to make it OK, but it doesn't. This last-minute paternalistic gesture doesn't justify the voyeuristic act of watching a poor child suffer through such a task for no objectively worthwhile reason.
To make matters even more cynical, the effort--while in conjunction with the "marketing specialist: at the Atlanta Boys and Girls club--was designed to promote a schlocky, third-rate corporate network called UP TV. A media channel "dedicated to uplifting programming," it's owned by $1 billion private equity group, InterMedia Partners. Their senior vice president of marketing, Wendy McCoy, was "amazed" that the poors can be selfless:
Poor children subverting the glib assumptions of UP TV's marketing hacks are not particularly newsworthy, except for the fact that they expose the biases of the morally absent editors at the Washington Post--who somehow thought this cruel experiment merited an uncritical write-up. Indeed, it's bad enough an overzealous marketing firm in Georgia made such a tone deaf "viral" video; it's much worse that one of the biggest names in news decided to promote it.
The poor need food, housing, jobs and--not least of all--dignity. Billion-dollar companies playing their plight off the prejudices of the viral videoĂ¢€“sharing masses isn't just in bad taste, it's a perfect microcosm of how the media covers poverty. Typically, the right-wing press addresses it in cruel fear-mongering or poor-shaming, while the nominally liberal media all too often reduces it to this type of "inspirational" claptrap. But the poor aren't our props; they're not the raw material of viral content who, if edited properly, will subvert our "prejudices" and play the role of noble savage. They're individuals. Human beings. Complex and nuanced.
Indeed, had some of these children told the producers to fuck off, they were keeping the gifts they were promised==as I suspect some edited-out clips showed--all the better. Poverty isn't a marketing gimmick, it's a scourge, a cancer and a national shame. The media should be covering this decidedly uninspiring reality, not its exploitation by cynical marketing firms.
Adam Johnson is an associate editor at AlterNet and writes frequently for FAIR.org. Follow him on Twitter at @adamjohnsonnyc.
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