That was my initial reaction to the news that a British ban on marketing "unhealthy" foods during children's television programming is now being looked to as a model by other European countries.
The rationale behind the ban was that it would--can you guess?--help fight obesity in British children. It's a testament to the pervasiveness of fatphobia: Only the O word could be a strong enough incentive to go up against the powerful free-market forces that throw commercials at kids.
Under normal circumstances, to suggest that maybe we don't need to turn kids into little consumers is something like saying you're a commie pinko who doesn't believe in capitalism. (Which I don't, but that's another story.) But when you brandish the O word, it seems, even the junk food marketers hang their putative heads in shame and back off. A little.
That this comes in the context of a British government ad campaign to fight obesity that has no idea what it's doing is hardly surprising. In fact, the ad campaign is a perfect microcosm of everything that's wrong with the war on obesity in the first place.
Conflicts over how exactly to execute this campaign abound. As the New York Times reported yesterday,
The government, for instance, wanted to be able to keep junk food brands from using the [newly developed anti-obesity] logo, but the food industry wanted to leave that decision to marketers.
Already we're landed smack in the midst of the debate over what, exactly, constitutes healthy and unhealthy food. Which, I need hardly add, the British government is not going to resolve, because, as we keep saying here, there are no unhealthy foods. There may be patterns of eating that aren't so good for you, but we know what happens when you demonize certain foods as "unhealthy": They become ever more appealing and powerful.
This is just one example of the kind of ridiculousness the British government is about to get into. Some of the suggestions in its plan to reduce childhood obesity seem positive, like promoting bicycle riding (great!) and offering cooking lessons in schools (also great, if we're talking about real cooking and not what passes for school cooking, which is opening packets and boxes).
But I find it very telling indeed that it takes the dreaded O word to go up against the monied powers that be. Marketing to children is just plain wrong, folks, whether you're selling Barbie dolls, candy bars, or educational computer games. It's wrong because all advertising is a form of manipulation, and our cultural values didn't use to support manipulating young children. And they still shouldn't.
Meanwhile, the Brits are busy fighting over what the logo for this new anti-obesity campaign should be. I'd love to see what's on the table: A headless fattie with a red line through him/her? A piece of chocolate cake with a red line through it? How about a cutesy marketing jingle about not stuffing your face? Really, the mind boggles at the possibilities.
If only all this energy could be used for good. For making the lives of children and adults truly better, and not just a knee-jerk response to the latest hysteria.