And now a message from your culture: You’re no good

Culture:  The customary beliefs, social forms and behavior patterns of a social group passed on to succeeding generations.

Have you ever sat down to a bowl of Louisiana shrimp gumbo soaked in Tabasco?  How about a plate of Southwest tamales?  Or fresh salmon from the Northwest?  How about black-eyed peas from the South?  Or a Chicago-style pizza?  Or a Philly cheese steak sandwich for dinner, followed by a fresh New York bagel for breakfast?   Or, of course, a beautiful baked Idaho russet?

Every region of the country has its own food, geography, weather, speech patterns and culture.  Think Hollywood glitz, Delta blues, cowboys on the range, Southern hospitality, and Northeastern standoffishness.  As children we absorb our own regional roots, and feel pity for those unlucky enough to have grown up anywhere else.

Our American culture is made up of all our different regions.  To be honest, Idaho natives may not have a lot in common with the New Yorkers of Park Avenue.   But we all share an American heritage—founded in religious freedom, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, and our slow but steady efforts to form a more perfect union.  This is the American culture.

But there’s another culture we all share in America—our commercial culture.  It may be the most powerful culture of all.  It’s certainly the most visible.  And it’s not doing you any favors, Mom and Dad, in helping you raise your children.

Our commercial culture reaches every corner of America.  Its clever lines become part of the language.   Where’s the beef?  You deserve a break today.  It’s the real thing.  Breakfast of champions.   In a country where kids from 8 to 18 watch television for four hours daily, a lot of commercials are watched by young eyeballs—about 130 a day.

But, as you know, those 130 commercials a day are just for starters.  Marketers hit you on your phone apps, billboards, in magazines, and on the edges of your computer screen.  Your brain will spend much more time today absorbing advertising than it will pondering anything worthwhile.

“Apples and oranges” you’re thinking, probably harshly.  Maybe.  But bear with me for few more sentences.

Our cultures teach us who we are.  They show us our place in the world.  They give us a sense of where we belong, and why.  Cultures enrich our self worth.

Or at least they should.  But our ever-present commercial culture exists for only one bottom-line reason—to convince you you’re not good enough.

You’re not pretty enough, handsome enough, strong enough, or shapely enough.  Your hair’s a mess and you don’t smell very good.  Your clothes are out of style.  Members of the opposite sex are secretly laughing at your car.  You work too hard.  Your brand of beer isn’t cool.  You’re not blond.  You don’t know the secret of inner confidence.  You’re missing the fun.  Your dog hates his dinner.  Your cat hates you.

These are the messages you’ve been absorbing all your life:  that you’ll never measure up until you buy the stuff they’re telling you to buy .

Frankly, I don’t worry too much about what this has done to you, or to me.  We’re adults.  But think for a moment what it’s doing to your kids.   Imagine your son or daughter being told two hundred times a day during the impressionable years of childhood that everyone else is better than you because they’re out buying all this stuff that will make them smarter, prettier, stronger, and more popular.

Sure, this is happening all over the world, but it’s happening more in America because we’re the richest nation on earth, so advertisers are chasing our wallets all the harder.

The smothering intensity of this modern battle for your child’s self-esteem has no historic parallel.  It might be a very good idea to sit down with your children and explain to them why they’re being told all day long they’re not good enough.  Talk about the commercials you watch, and the billboards you drive by.  Teach them to ignore or laugh at the negative noise surrounding them.   Teach them to be strong enough to overcome their culture.

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