Go get 'em: Selling everything to children

Is it a good thing that children are becoming more empowered consumers? What are the moral, spiritual, political, and social consequences of the relentless transformation of just about everything–  from a bio-engineered baby to the post-9/11 image of America– into a product for sale?
Where’s the “free” in free market? Are there still some things that money can’t buy?
These are the type of tough questions tackled in a seminar, “The Commodification of Everything,” sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Renowned sociologist Juliet Schor kicked off the series.
Schor, author of The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need, informed, entertained, and provoked a crowd of eager listeners with her compelling research on recent trends in teen/child marketing.
Did you know that 4-12 year olds spent $30 billion of their own money on goods last year? Or that peer-to-peer marketing seeds products with trendsetters and uses friendship as its most effective sales pitch? Penny candy is a thing of the past. Only costly, cool-brand goods like Nike and Nintendo can really create a “buzz.” 
A sign of the stimulating nature of these colloquia, which tend to raise more questions than they answer, Schor concluded her talk not by encouraging the audience to save children and fight manipulative marketing magnates, but by highlighting one of the positive elements of the kid-consumer trend: the fact that it makes kids into empowered economic actors.
“We’ve had critiques of male authority over female, critiques of racial authority-– what we need now is a critique of adult authority over kids,” she said.
 Over the next few months, five more speakers will continue the creative, in-depth analysis of the topic of commodification from several different angles. Mark your calendars for the next colloquium on February 27 at 3:30pm.
George Ritzer, University of Maryland sociology professor and author of The McDonaldization of Society, will talk on “The Globalization of Nothing.” On March 21, Graham Ward speaks on “The Commodification of Religion,” and the series concludes April 10 with speakers Kiku Adatto and Michael Sandel. Their talks are, respectively, “Selling Out Childhood” and “Are There Some Things that Money Can’t Buy? The Moral Limits of Markets.” 
Established at the University of Virginia in 1995, the Institute for Advanced Studies is a nonprofit, interdisciplinary research center whose mission is to examine the profound changes taking place in contemporary American society and to map their implications for individual and social life.
The Spring Colloquium Series is intended to provide the public with an interdisciplinary public forum for exploring and discussing issues of enduring significance and common concern. Past topics include, “The Question of Evil” and “Technology and the Human Person.”
 “The Commodification of Everything”continues on February 27 with a talk by George Ritzer on “The Globalization of Nothing.” Two more colloquia take place  March 21 and April 10. All talks are at 3:30pm in Minor Hall. For more information about the series and the Institute’s other projects, visit virginia.edu/iasc/colloquia.html