Saturday, June 18, 2011

I'd Rather Be Uncool

I'm not a believer in corporal punishment for children. But in the case of the kid in these two commercials for the Toyota Highlander, which were posted on the Free Range kids site, I'd easily make an exception. That kid needs to be slapped and put in his place.

These commercials are wrong in so many ways. First of all, they assume that a factor in parents being considered "cool" or "lame" by their children is the car that they drive. With preteens and teenagers, it just doesn't matter what cars their parents drive. When kids get to a certain age, their parents are automatically considered "lame." That's called being a teenager. If parents are too cool, then they are being the child's friends instead of his parents. Parents are supposed to be a child's parents and not his best friend.

Toyota also sends the message that kids are smarter than their parents and therefore should be the ones to pick out the family car. I've always hated movies or TV programs with smart-ass kids who save the world because the adults around them are too incompetent. These commercials remind me of those shows. The kid obviously knows what's cool while his dad doesn't. But guess what, boy? Dad may be an incompetent buffoon and the child's slave (in the second ad), but he's the one paying for the car, gas, maintenance, and insurance. When you're old enough to buy a car and keep it filled, maintained, and insured, then you can choose the car. Until then, you just have to suck it up and ride in whatever your parents decided to buy.

Both ads also give the disturbing message that the attractive blond-haired, blue-eyed rich kid is the cool guy in his school. He has to be rich if his parents bought an SUV and can afford the gas for it, right? The girl in the second ad who gets the ride also has blonde hair and blue eyes. The kid in the first ad with the lame parents and car has dark hair and brown eyes. Popularity and coolness should not be a function of money or hair color. My fantasy ending for the second ad was much different. It would be the  kids in line seeing another kid with an even cooler car and all running over to line up to ride in it, leaving the Highlander kid all alone. It would serve him right for trying to charge the other kids an admission fee for the "privilege" of riding in his dad's new car.

Another thing that I thought was disturbing in the first ad was the kid in the Highlander wearing headphones and promoting the entertainment system. The kid is sitting in the car watching TV instead of engaging his parents in conversation or doing something to entertain himself. It looks like he's on a short drive on a suburban street instead of on a long highway drive. Does he really need to watch TV while driving through the suburbs? I realize that a lot of American cars now come with entertainment systems. They can be useful for very long road trips. But do the kids really need to be watching TV every minute of the day? Last year I took a trip to Italy. My son entertained himself by reading or playing with his Nintendo. We also had a lot of opportunities to talk about the scenery (Austrian and Italian castles, apple orchards). He was not bored on the 4-hour drive. When I take short drives with my son, I turn off the radio and spend the time talking to him. What a concept!

The last disturbing thing was that the kids all considered it cool to ride in a car instead of a bus. The kids who got rejected for a ride in the Highlander were viewed as "losers" and had to take the bus. It really shows the influence of the car culture in the States. In Germany there's the opposite perception of riding in a car at the secondary school level. The wimps or lazy kids are the ones who are driven to school by their parents in good weather. It is much more cool (and grown-up) to take the train, ride the public bus, ride a bike, or walk to school. Here in Garmisch cool bicycles, and not cars, are considered a status symbol with the kids.

I must admit that my very first thought after viewing those commercials was, "Why would anyone in their right mind want to buy a big gas-guzzling SUV these days?" With gas in the States being about $4 a gallon, and European prices being about twice as high, one would think that a small car with good fuel economy would be a more sensible and "cooler" choice. When I went to Italy last year, my husband  filled the tank of our Skoda (by the way, my son had no say in its purchase) before leaving Garmisch. We drove to the southern part of Lake Garda, drove around the Garda area, and came home without having to fill up. I also can't imagine a vehicle like the Highlander in Europe with its narrow roads and parking places that were designed for cars the size of a Smart. Trying to maneuver a Highlander through narrow European streets would challenge the best driver.

I'd rather be uncool with my Skoda and bicycle and save my gas money for other things. Just because I'm a parent doesn't mean I have to be lame and drive an impractical and environmentally-unfriendly vehicle.

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