The local consensus (well, consensus-minus-one, since I disagree) is that I'm only stunned by this because we don't have television. Therefore, when I DO see TV, I'm more susceptible to its messages. Tell me what you think -but please be on my side ;)
It's one of the Wal-Mart Christmas commercials. A little boy is opening Christmas presents in a sort of happy frenzy, only to discover that he got underwear and fruit and school supplies. Then we flash to his bedroom, and he wakes up and realizes that it's all a nightmare. He really got all kinds of toys -obviously from Wal-Mart- and the gifts of things he needed were just part of a bad dream.
I don't even know where to begin to unpack this. First, there are plenty of children who will be getting things they need and they'll be delighted. Secondly, are parents who can only afford needs rather than wants supposed to believe they are providing a nightmarish Christmas? Thirdly, a hundred years ago, kids got an orange in their stocking and were thrilled. What happened?
And finally, I reject the notion that children are naturally crass consumers, driving the spending of the family disposable income. We've all seen the exact opposite a hundred times. You buy a baby or a small child something, and she plays happily with... the box it came in. In fact, the long-suffering spouse reports that three new toys have been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame: Candyland, the jack-in-the-box, and the large appliance-size cardboard box. That simple brown box is still, apparently, play-yard gold. Children can be happy with very little. They have to be taught to be consumers and allowed to become rapacious at it.
And maybe the reason that we parents let children learn this kind of behavior is because places like Wal-Mart encourage us to believe that we're less than optimal parents if we don't indulge their every whim. Of course, on most levels, we know better. But parenting is a project that creates its own vulnerabilities. We compensate where we shouldn't, sometimes.
So, what next??? Turn off the TV. Don't go to Wal-Mart. Put an orange in your kids' stockings. Let go of shopping as a recreational activity. Surely there's more than that we can do, without becoming Jerry-Falwell-esque "they're trying to steal our religious holiday" grinches.