“How do you know about Gucci, Reverend Mims”, one of the youth asked me as he saw the familiar symbol on my sunglasses. “Gucci has been around way before you were born”, I responded. The real question was not how I knew about Gucci as a brand, but how did this 16-year-old, with no job, know about Gucci, and what did this brand symbolize to him. This youth’s parents are not particularly brand conscious to my knowledge. They live in a modest home where the father is a teacher and the mother works in the government as a supervisor. I suspect the youth learned about this brand from music, athletes, and rap videos. In 2018, Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson showed up to the NFL draft in a green Gucci suit that was all the rage.
Brands and their logos are symbols which are easily recognizable by the youngest of children. Many young children can recognize the golden arches of McDonald’s before they can read due to the many commercials targeting children during the shows they watch. The developing of different age groups as discrete market niches allows for the ongoing consumption of goods (Mercer 2004, 71). The more the children see on television and other media sources targeted at them, the more they want the items displayed. Although those of us from the late Boomers generation may have been the first to experience this direct advertising on Saturday morning television shows and print advertisement like Seventeen magazine, our parents were generally not swayed by our request. However, that is not the case today.
Mercer describes how “children easily become yet another “consumptive choice,” themselves functioning as commodities through which their families can demonstrate distinction, gaining access to identity and symbolic forms of capital” (Mercer 2004, 71). Participation in any baby shower today will reveal the many designers or brand name clothing purchased for infants who will be unaware of the clothing they are wearing, but within a few years will be able to recognize and request these same brands. Mercer states, “children constitute a future market, and are ripe for the establishment of brand loyalty” and “the development of consumer behaviors that will shape how they spend money as adults” (Mercer 2004, 75).
Even our religious beliefs are not free from the consumer forces which have developed in our nation and globally. Vincent J. Miller states in Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, consumerism is a multifaceted problem, calling for a variety of responses to counter the pernicious effects of consumer culture (Miller 2003, 72). Miller further states that “Although theology is most familiar with the task of clarifying meanings and encouraging believers to act accordingly, there are other practices involved in the preservation and handing on of religious tradition” (Miller 2003, 72). Instead of using theology to assist in freedom from consumerism, it has become a victim as well. Miller mentions the sale of prayer beads as religious jewelry, images, media, and televised worship services, as forms of religious commodification (Miller 2003, 78). The marketing of spirituality for children is not free from commodification either. Mercer states that children’s spirituality is big business with workshops, books, conferences, products, and curricula (Mercer 2004, 83).
As a Children and Youth Minister, instead of creating my own content, I have also succumbed to the flashy curricula with pre-planned music, dance moves, and videos that explain the lesson so I only need to supplement. Although these tools are helpful, perhaps the commodification of our children’s spirituality is going too far. If I am honest, perhaps I would admit that I am part of the consumer/commodification problem. After all, I am the one wearing Gucci sunglasses.
Mercer, Joyce Ann. “The Child as Consumer: A North American Problem of Ambivalence Concerning the Spirituality of Childhood in Late Capitalist Consumer Culture.” Sewanee Theological Review 48: 1, 2004: 65-86.
Miller, Vincent J. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2003.