So, I was watching Barney with my son the other day, and something was bothering me.
Weird, right? Anyway, there’s naturally Big Purple himself, and his half-dozen your acolytes, singing and dancing away, with maybe ten adults on camera all going about their day as if nothing was going on. No one’s looking at the imaginary dinosaur, no one’s paying attention to the kids singing and dancing.
There’s something wrong with this picture. In the real world, if something’s out of sorts, you pay attention; no one notices a bird flying straight, but as soon as one loops drunk, you notice. It’s nature. So why isn’t anyone paying any attention – any at all, even if it’s an occasional glance to see that everything’s fine – to the dinosaur and his cohort of unsupervised adolescents?
Because it’s common-place.
As soon as something becomes common-place, the impact gets lost. When the impact is gone, the need to question goes with it. This is what Barney demonstrates with its oblivious adults. They’ve handed over their trust to Big and Purple, and surrendered a part of their choice-making process (how their kids learn) to an outside source. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing in and of itself – schools act in loco parentis all the time and I still think it’s a good system – but there’s scrutiny in the schools.
We have, as a society, made the conscious decision to transfer our trust to the schools.
I trust schools because they have a lot of error correction. Parent-Teacher conferences, PTA meetings, school trustee systems – the school system itself is entirely focused around ensuring that there’s consistent, reliable effects and metrics for telling us that yes, our children is in fact learning. Say what you will about certain divisions in lots of cities failing at this, the system is there. Its failure means its not being taken advantage of.
I sort of feel the same way about celebrity endorsements, but in reverse.
You see, when a company contracts a major name to use their product in a public way, it doesn’t actually say anything about the company, but it does say something about the celebrity. It means these people are turning themselves into billboards, waiting for the next posting. Wearing nothing but brand-name clothes and shoes, appearing in commercials – it’s hard to know when it’s the celebrity who’s contacted these businesses to offer their support. It’s hard because, I have to assume, it almost never happens that way.
If I trust a celebrity, I trust them, not their shoes.
It works in reverse, too. If I trust a certain brand of shoe, a celebrity wearing my shoes won’t make me trust them. Just wearing the shoe isn’t enough, I need the shoe company to recommend the celebrity before I’ll believe anything the Big Name has to say. And then, if what they say doesn’t work out, I may lose trust in one, or both of them. This is key, because the Big Name’s choice to trust The Company was not my choice. I can choose to follow their choices, but until I do, anything they say is subject to scrutiny.
The adults in Barney stand out because they’re not acting like real people. Real people, by and large, make the choice to trust an outside party with an aspect of their world. Real people also scrutinize celebrity endorsements. Regardless of our inner child.
With so much scrutiny available, it’s a wonder any company bothers contracting human billboards any more.