March 10, 2008

"It's 3 AM" and Your Children and Being Used to Persuade You: How Children are Used in Politics

At the mere mention of the word 'child,' people instantly make associations with happiness, innocence, naivety, among other qualities. Furthermore, people of all backgrounds and ages relate to children because everyone once was a child and many people have their own children. Due to children's common relationship with people universally, this topic evokes sympathy from many different types of people. It is because of this unique quality that kids are brought into heated political conversations. Playing the "kid card," or utilizing children as a persuasion tactic, has been in use for decades. Posters during both the Vietnam War era and the World War II era featured children in order to bring attention to the suffering that the wars were causing. Currently, Hillary Clinton has a campaign commercial that utilizes children to display Clinton's qualifications for presidency and her ability to protect families while in The White House. Children's impact on both the government and every day citizens' voting decisions is phenomenal. Thus, many sociologists have examined why children have so much influence. To fully understand this sociological phenomenon, one must begin by examining children's symbolic use in history and end by looking at the current use of children in politics.

Historically, the faces and stories of anguished children have been used to spotlight the cruelties of war. While wars cause destruction for all human beings involved, it takes the imagery of helpless children for people to understand the real consequences. During the Vietnam War, photographs of impoverished and endangered Vietnamese children were publicized in the United States. The war was extremely controversial amongst Americans and the photographs, like the photograph depicted on the left, revealed America's detrimental affect on Vietnamese youth. One poster created during Vietnam features a child's handwriting and the message that "war is not healthy for children and other living things." Lots of Americans had children of their own and empathized with the losses that Vietnamese families were suffering. Thus, the photographs and messages had a great impact on them. Similarly, photographs of children were used worldwide during the Second World War. The photographs and posters served the purpose of instilling fear into people so that they would take the war seriously and take the precautions necessary to stop the war from affecting their own families. One alarming WWII poster displays Adolf Hitler and the Japanese Prime Minister Tojo looking over the globe with weapons in their hands. The rhetoric of the poster states that "our homes are in danger now!" The use of the word homes in combination with the weaponry the dictators are holding is greatly affective in causing fear. People think of their homes as a place of safety where their children and belongings are secure, and Hitler and Tojo were threatening their shelter. In addition, elementary schools in Britain displayed similar cautionary posters. Some of these posters read that "Hitler will send no warning-so always carry your gas mask," "Still more bones wanted for salvage," and "Don't do it mother-Leave your kids where they are." Not only did these posters depict children in wartime, but they were exhibited in elementary school halls to get messages across to parents about the dangers of the war. This tactic of using children to communicate issues on a personal level is still being used today.

Currently, a television commercial run by Hillary Clinton's campaign boldly states that when "it is 3 AM and your children are safe and asleep," Clinton (depicted on the right) will be the best candidate to protect your family. The commercial displays multiple pictures of young children asleep in their beds, which is an image that is precious to all parents. This commercial is ironic because of course, any American citizen wants to feel safe while they are asleep at night. However, Clinton's commercial only directly addresses the safety of children. Family security is a highly sensitive and important issue to American voters. Thus, Clinton utilizes the emotional appeal of parental concern for their children in her campaign. She attempts to create anxiety in parents by capitalizing on their natural fear about their child's safety in her advertisement. This advertisement has provoked many strong responses amongst Americans. On CNN's blog, one person articulates that Clinton was having difficulty getting her foreign policy proposals heard. Therefore, she "[kicked] it up and [tried] to hit people where they live," using the impact of the homestead to draw people's attention. She was quite successful in her tactic, as shown by the coverage of the commercial by many news mediums, Saturday Night Live, and The Daily Show. Sociologists examine why children have the ability to bring attention to Clinton's cause and many other causes, even when multiple other persuasion tactics have failed.

Two renowned sociologists David Buckingham and Henry Giroux separately examine the way society views children. After studying their research, it is simple to understand how children have such a great affect on politics. In Buckingham's work, "The Death of The Child," he denotes that anxiety over youth culture began in the 1930s when children stopped spending all of their time under their parents' supervision and started to spend more time around peers. Because adults had such different childhood experiences due to the vast expansion of technology and growing independence of children, adults worry that childhood is in trouble. They project their biggest fears onto children. Therefore, they feel they must preserve and protect 'childhood.' Issues, like war, that threaten this entity are highly emotional for parents-politicians play on this reaction. Moreover, Giroux discusses society's concept of childhood innocence. Children are molded to be blank slates that adults can project their desired qualities and values onto. Children are supposed to be unknowing and protected. Their malleability is appealing to society because it maintains adults' power. War and other political issues endanger this innocence, which is why when children are brought into political issues, adults respond strongly.

Concisely, although children have no voice in politics, they have an immense impact on political decisions. They are symbols of citizens' greatest fears and hopes and they touch the hearts of nearly all human beings. Children are vital tools in political persuasion. This influential characteristic has been successful in the past, put into use in the current time, and it will surely be utilized in the future.

1 comment:

PAS said...

I think you did a great job by choosing this topic since there are so many perspectives you can have to approach the issue. Children are being used in so many interesting advertising nowadays, and recently the Clinton's campaign use children to persuade people to believe she is the one who can protect all families during the night if she is elected as president. The questions remains the same, is using children to persuade you effective? Are children the only universal way to get messages to get through us?
You did an excellent job in your last paragraph where you put everything together and says, "This influential characteristics has been successful in the past, put into use in the current time, and it will be surely be utilized in the future". This is a strong statement because since the beginning of the post you have provided the readers with many evidences that using children are effectives. You are not just using the recent examples, but you also provide examples from many years ago. What you can add to the last paragraph to have a good summary is possibly to give readers another solution for another persuasion way that will be appealing to us and why we should just use that option instead of using children.
Your graphics are good. For the first picture you should link back to the original source page and maybe find another picture that shows more threatening aspects of using children to persuade people at war time. And maybe instead of just putting a photo of Hillary Clinton with kids, you can a put a video link from YouTube that shows the whole commercials. I think that way it will be beneficial for the readers.
Overall your took a strong point in this post and you have provided us with a wide range of examples that are easily understood. Great job!!

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