Nov 21

I hate to be cynical about a commercial that is so sweet (okay – that’s a lie… I love being cynical) but there’s a reason why McCain has to make up a fairy tale about the creation of their fries – or more specifically, their smiley faces.¬† Would any mother want to buy from a company if they showed minimum wage workers dropping tons potato slices stamped with happy faces into massive vats of boiling canola oil?¬†Duh, nope. Bring on the potato dusters and affectionate oven mitts.

The reality is that I actually do enjoy McCain’s spot.¬† Heck, I watched the entire 60 seconds, which is pretty lengthy for a fry commercial.¬† Certainly, my younger boys will asking for those greasey grinners as soon as they see this ad because they’ll no sooner doubt the authenticity of the commercial than question the existence of Santa Claus (particularly around Christmas time.)¬† Typically, I keep away from any fried potato products, preferring to purchase a kilogram of PEI spuds for two bucks and, over the course of a month, peel, mash, bake, slice the versatile orbs for frequent dinner side dishes.¬†

Yet, does McCain get what it wants from the commercial? That is: will I buy a pack of frozen smiley faces next time my kids stand by the freezer section of the grocery store, nose pushed against the glass, begging “Ple-e-e-e-e-ease.¬† Can. We. Have. Smiles?”¬†
Well…¬† All right. I’ll get them.¬† But just ONCE.¬† Okay, maybe twice.

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Movie Ratings Confusion

Jul 22

I’ve got a beef with those things called movie ratings.  Seriously, folks.  They’re confusing. They’re confusing the heck out of parents across North America.

You disagree.  I see you disagree.

There’s PG and there’s R, you say.  What else does a parent need to know?  Oh yeah, and that really nice rating called G for General.  A parent’s dream, that one.

Your certainty is the confusion.  Trust me.  You’re confused.  How do I know?  Because that guy from Rogers Video – you know him – that guy that’s always working the shift who knows every movie in the store. The one you always overhear bragging to his co-workers that he knows every line in Star Wars 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. I mean, you and I don’t know that kind of stuff ’cause we’re not the guy from Rogers Video.  Yet even THAT guy is confused about movie ratings.

I tossed Ghostbusters on the counter and asked him, Is this appropriate for kids?

Oh yeah, well, should be okay, he says.  How old are your- I cut him off… I mean, what is its rating? I ask.  Is it from the old ratings system or new ratings system?

That’s when I got the blank stare.  Is it PG or PG-13, I ask.  I’m not doing this to screw with the guy – I’m serious.  Oh, he says, you mean AA? Uh,PG.

This is troublesome. If the “Rogers Guy” doesn’t know his movie ratings, how can the world expect busy parents who are just dying for any opportunity to plunk our antsy kids in front of a talking screen for hours – to learn them.  I mean, we’re still trying to figure out the features on our cell phones.  That’s right.  Cell phone – not Blackberry. Not iPhone. That’s how behind the times WE are.

So, following is a brief overview of the movie ratings, which by the way, are completely voluntary.  That is, the movies don’t need to be rated if they don’t want to be (but it tends to help with the marketing of the movie) and the cinemas don’t need to enforce the rules.  So, your kid could probably take you to court and win if you ban him from seeing Saw V.   I mean – if that’s the kind of child you’ve raised, which is probably not the case.

Here they are:

G – General Audiences. All ages are admitted.

We parents love these movies. Often, their only offense is a lame plot, but that, thankfully, goes right over the kids’ heads.   No worries of stunting their intellectual growth, here.  No nudity, sex, drugs – all good from a parents’ standpoint.  Violence is minimal.   And some of those G movies are A-OK.   Think: Finding Nemo, Toy Story.

PG – Parental Guidance Suggested.   Some material may not be suitable for children.

What this really means is it might have some scary parts for younger kids, or some questionable language.  You’re getting into the grey zone here, where some movies may be completely suitable for six year olds (The Incredibles), and others rather terrifying (The Chronicles of Narnia:The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe).  The small amount of violence in these movies, however, are all within the context of the film.   That is – good fighting evil, rather than image after image of senseless killings.

PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned.   Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

This is what the Rating Board considers a “sterner warning.”  For some reason, they decided to do away with the older AA (Adult Accompaniment) rating and just add the number 13 beside the rather harmless PG rating.   Just an aside here – I wasn’t permitted into the theatre to see the movie Footloose when I was 13 years old (even after my own mom told the ticket girl that she ALLOWED me to see it.  Thanks for trying, Ma!)   This rating should read more like Don’t Let Your Pre-teen See This Movie Before You Get A Chance to Review It.   I know it’s a mouthful, but it’s kinda’ catchy don’t you think?   The theatres do not even require parents to accompany their children, as the AA rating did.  PG-13 is basically a friendly reminder to parents that THIS MOVIE MAY SCARE THE PANTS OFF YOUR CHILD.  Many parents do not realize there are two PG ratings that are immensely different from one another.  The Dark Knight is PG-13.  Slightly creepier than The Narnia Chronicles, dontcha think?

R- Restricted.   Children under 17 require accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Boy, times have changed.  When I was 17, I could not get into a rated R movie, regardless how many grandparents came to sit with me. No one was getting into Silence of the Lambs, back then, without some proper I.D.  We all know¬†what this rating is about.   Recent movies include Gladiator, Something About Mary.   Just your average violent or sexually explicit flicks that most kids start watching in their mid-teens.  There are actually a lot of great movies in this rating, once your kids are old enough.  But, as with all Hollywood fodder, you really need to wade through the muck to find the gold.

NC-17 – No one 17 and Under Admitted.

This is, basically, the new level for Rated R movies.   You’ve got to be 18 years old to get in.   This is also the death rating for any movie hoping to make some profits.  When’s the last time you went to a movie with this rating?  Yeah, exactly.  What the heck kind of movie gets this rating?   There’s a movie called Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!  (Apparently in the top ten grossing NC-17 films of all time).  Oh, you haven’t seen it yet?  If you have, well, keep that tidbit to yourself, wouldja?   Interestingly, Zack and Miri Make a Porno was given the NC-17 rating, but the directors appealed the decision and won the lower, more profitable R rating.   Hmmmm.   Just how trustworthy are these ratings folks?  Just whose interests are they really looking out for?  No one knows.  Their identities are a SECRET.  Seriously.  No one is allowed to know their identity so they can maintain their objectivity.  You know… Hollywood, after all, needs to be protected, right?

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Staycation in Toronto

Jul 05

On friday my husband and I brought the kids to downtown Toronto for a day trip.  The kids have never travelled further than the Sky Dome or Rogers Center any time we ventured out of our suburban nest and we thought it would be an eye-opening experience for them to see how big city folks lived.  Here was our itinerary:

We drove to Kipling Subway Station and rode the subway to Spadina.¬† From there we rode the streetcar south and got off at Dundas, in the center of Chinatown.¬† Surprisingly, the garbage strike didn’t create as putrid a mess as I’d feared.¬† Aside from the garbage receptacles overflowing, the street looked no less unkempt than usual.

We travelled along some of the streets, browsing through the shops that offered various trinkets and trash until each of them chose to purchase a miniature sized crystal ball that came with a small wooden stand to keep it from rolling right off their cluttered dressers at home.  Two of my boys picked green coloured balls and the other liked white.  At $3 each, they were a bargain compared to the souvenirs sold at any of the parks in and around the GTA. 

After about 45 minutes of wandering through the Chinatown crowds, we found a small Chinese diner that served dumplings.¬† For $30 we each had several dumplings (some steamed, some fried), slurped wonton soup and shared a large plate of noodles.¬† The kids also each had an iced tea and my husband and I drank Jasmine tea served in large tupperware glasses (the only inauthentic Asian aspect to our meal.)¬† The kids even ate with chopsticks… sorta’.¬† Although the lunch began with the usual whining about not liking “that kind” of food, we all found the food delectable and left with stuffed bellies.

Next, we headed to Kensington Market which was only a five minute walk away.  A fantastic little musical shop sold everything from a blue maple leaf shaped guitar to bongo drums.  I considered picking up one of the intriguing instruments, but the price tags were quite steep.  A bongo drum went for about $100.  That seemed a little much for something that would likely have ended up at the bottom of a toy chest in our basement. 

My husband rummaged through the used clothing racks in the consignment shops, but the biggest thrill was watching a fifty-something man yell at a truck driver for blocking his car and thus, preventing him and his wife from driving through the street.¬† It culminated with the angry little man jumping a meter into the air and slamming his foot against the exterior of the truck before finally returning to his seat and driving past it.¬† Don’t see that too much in Oakville!

Rain started to fall so we decided to get back to the subway and head to the Royal Ontario Museum.¬† All Ontario students received a handy coupon book that offers discounts to various tourist sites.¬† Luckily, we thought to bring the coupons for free child admission to the ROM.¬† The five of us got in for $60.¬† Not bad, considering we stayed there from about 1:30 to 6pm.¬† The boys had a blast – particularly in the Biodiversity area.¬† I hadn’t been to the ROM in at least twenty years and wasn’t so sure that it would be kid-friendly.¬† It is… and I have three rowdy boys under the age of ten.

After much begging, the kids talked us into allowing them to peruse the museum souvenir shop.¬† We agreed they could each buy something for $3 a piece.¬† Of the hundreds of items on display, they could only afford two things – a flashing rubber frog ring or a small piece of granite.¬† We talked them out of those purchases, reminding them of their super cool crystal balls.¬† Just can’t beat those Chinatown prices!¬†

When we exited the ROM, we were hungry and our feet (uh, my feet) were aching.¬† My husband remembered a great pizza place called Cora’s¬†that¬†we used to order from when we lived at St. George¬†& Bloor.¬† So, we headed to Cora’s and ate pizza (not quite¬†as good as we remembered) on a bench facing onto Spadina.¬† By 7pm we were back on the subway heading home.¬†

We all had a great time, give or take some bad behaviour.¬† And the whole adventure only cost us about $120.¬† Canada’s Wonderland is great – but sometimes the real world is just as much fun.

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Shoot-em Up Game Based on Iraq War

Apr 16

¬†”I think video games are the most powerful communications tools that have ever been created because I can make you that guy.¬† I can put you in the exact dilemma and situation he was in, and when you have to make those decisions yourself, you will get insight¬† you cannot get from any other means. You will understand that situation on a deeper level.”

 

War video game based on real Iraq battleThis is quoted by the president of Atomic Games regarding the video game, Six Days in Fallujah, to be released in 2010.  As its name infers, the video game is meant to replicate the experience of soldiers during one of the bloodiest battles in the Iraq War by creating a documentary-style video game. 

 

 Huh?  Let’s try to picture this.  A guy (girls aren’t prone to play shoot-em up video games) sits on his couch after polishing off a soda and a slice of pizza (maybe lets out a belch or two) then turns on his console and unloads his “gun” on his “enemies.”  At least until his mom calls him for dinner (‘cause the pizza was just a snack.)  

 

The game, no doubt, will do a pretty good job of re-creating the adrenaline rush of killing (fake) enemies in a (virtual) war.  But is it going to humanize the tragedy of war for those who have never fought in one?  If so, would that mean video game junkies will be the world’s leading pacifists in the next ten years?  I wouldn’t count on it. 

 

Here are some starting statistics on the real effects of war, compiled by Huffington Post

  • Number of troops who tried to commit suicide or injure themselves increased from 350 in 2002 to 2,100 last year. [US News and World Report, 2/25/08]
  • 11.9 % of noncommissioned Army officers reported mental health problems during their first Iraq tour [Los Angeles Times, 3/7/08]

  • 27.2 %¬†of noncommissioned Army officers reported mental health problems during their third or fourth Iraq tour [Los Angeles Times, 3/7/08]

Recreating an event that has caused so much pain and continues to fracture the lives of Americans doesn’t make much sense.  And chances are, those people who do understand the horrors of war aren’t the ones running to Best Buy to pick up the newest shoot-em up game. 

 

And finally, what the heck has this got to do with parents and their kids?¬† (This blog is, after all, supposed to relate to parenthood in some way!)¬† Well, this apparent ‚Äúdocumentary‚Äù style video game, as presented by the creators, is just the start of a new and disturbing trend.¬† We can expect to see an increase in life-like violence, like we’ve not seen previously.¬† By marketing these games as documentary-style they will angle the games as beneficial to society, as the term documentary tends to convey.¬† Any sensible-minded person will see this as what it really is – a way to irresponsibly create and market games without accountability for its negative effects on individual lives.¬† Hollywood has done it for years – and succeeded.¬†

 

The game will be rated ‘M’ for mature.  But many parents ignore these ratings either out of ignorance or carelessness.  In my house, war games will be banned.  There are better ways of learning about the horrors of violence in society (like helping the victims, rather than shooting them.)  I’ll be teaching my kids to value real life experiences over the “unreal” experience of sitting on a couch sipping a Coke, killing everyone in sight.  It’s entertainment, I know.  I just don’t get it.    

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For Every Screen, A Commercial

Jan 18

When I hear one of my kids singing a commercial jingle, I cringe.¬† It’s not that I don’t enjoy their high pitched, bouncy voices; but rather, I resent the ease with which a giant corporation can brand their unblemished minds with a typically useless product.¬† As many parents can attest, a catchy tune and a few special effects is all it takes for a child to turn their glazed eyes toward Mom and Dad to plead, “Can I have it?”¬† Until the multi-million dollar marketing campaigns shift their power of persuasion to benefit, rather than burden, parents, the desire to shelter kids from advertising will persist.¬† In today’s age of the glowing screen, however, that effort is bound to grow more challenging.

Mobile phones have become the latest vehicle for product promotions

When my kids were toddlers, their TV viewing was limited to commercial-free stations, like TVO Kids, where advertisements are limited to a quick thank you to their sponsors.¬† As they’ve drifted away from The Wiggles and toward SpongeBob, the ban on ads is gone and kids are exposed to a slew of new toys and sugary cereals that they’d otherwise never know about.¬† Parents may take some solace in their children’s replacement of television with video games which have fewer, if any, commercial interruptions; however, advertisers have crept into those forums, as well.¬† In fact, the smallest, most personal screens – mobile phones – have become the latest vehicle for product promotions.¬†

According to a recent article in Advertising Age, companies like Kraft and Nike are offering interactive applications, such as dinner menu planning or ski reports, on mobile devices to better engage consumers with their top brands.¬† Rather than force-feed their audience an ad, they provide free online (logo-heavy) programs that conveniently integrate into recipients’ daily lives.¬† It’s an interesting concept and even die-hard anti-corporate crusaders will be hard pressed not to use a product if it makes their life easier. Parents should be concerned, however, that as more children join the population of mobile device owners, companies that sell children’s products will be salivating at the prospect of reaching them through those mini screens.¬† ¬†¬†

Advertisers are also likely to engage in tactics that are more intrusive and less welcome than the voluntary downloadable programs.¬† Last week, AT&T sent a large portion of their 75 million customers a text message promoting the season premier of the reality show, American Idol.¬† It’s sort of like having a telemarketer join your phone conversation with your spouse to let you know of a sale on ventilation cleaning.¬† It’s no wonder the backlash by its customers was swift and fierce.¬† However, this experimental effort by AT&T to promote its offerings via texting will likely become a regular occurrence as more companies discover the ease with which they can capture the eyes of millions of consumers.¬†

It’s a shame there are no profits to be earned by encouraging children to be more obliging of their parents’ requests.¬† Every kid in North America would be getting a mobile device for his next birthday if that were the case.¬† But that’s the stuff of fairytales.¬† In reality, parents who want to limit the forces competing for their children’s hearts and minds may want to dim some of the screens in their lives.¬† One added benefit?¬† Fewer targets on your wallet.

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