Where's your head at?
"In between the children's programmes on a Saturday and Sunday morning are all these adverts for crisps and sweets. Children see things on the television, you then take them to the supermarket and then they are enticed into it. They are hugely influenced by it. [They promote] a poor diet..."
- Children's Minister, Margaret Hodge.
19 October 2003
Here's a question for you: are you a Ribena Pulla Squeeza Geeza?
Think carefully before you answer, because if you answer 'yes' you are obliged, by all the rules of social propriety, to push a sharpened pencil up each nostril, take a deep breath and slam your head down on the desk in front of you, forcing the pencils up through your sinuses and into your brain. And just in case that doesn't kill you, you should have nominated a friend or colleague (your 'second') who will grab your head and thump it pencil first onto the nearest hard surface, again and again and again and again until you are dead.
You may have seen the 'Pulla Squeeza Geeza' campaign on TV. Apparently, there are three different Squeeza Geeza ads. Here is description of the second episode (codename 'Bouncer') from the company which made it:
'Bouncer' once again features Kevin, who is in a similarly confrontational mood. This time standing still hacks him off, so he is furiously bouncing up and down on his bed, aware that his mother won't be too pleased with him. Shots of Kevin are interspersed with a cut out of a tin man and dog, both of which are completely stationary. Again, he flips the lid of his new Ribena bottle and throws his head back as the purple liquid gushes into his mouth.
The implication is clear: Ribena gets you jumping. It gives you such a buzz you just can't stop leaping up and down, up and down on your bed. Up and down, jumping, bouncing, more Ribena, jumping, bouncing, teeth clenched, eyes spinning like wagon wheels... You too could be like Kevin! - just keep drinking the old Ribena...
The Ribena Pulla Squeeza Geeza advertisement, taken on its own, might not seem that significant, but it fits into a nexus of sugary facts which, when looked at together, are fucking terrifying.
1) The most recent CBBC trails were brightly coloured cartoons (rather Yellow Submarine in style) which showed two kids whose necks grew long and rubbery necks, and whose heads whizzed about the place. The music behind it: 'Where’s Your Head At' by Basement Jaxx’.
"Don't let the walls cave in on you..."
2) This might seem is a curiously adult song for CBBC, but in fact it is part of the general adultifying of the world of the youngster which is currently taking place. Snacks seem to be increasingly informed by an adult aesthetic - (with names and designs drawn from drugs and alcohol etc.) - for example: Walker's Shots. Even a product as innocuous as Wrigley's Airwaves menthol gum is promoted on the Airwaves website with the tagline 'Speed Kick'. This is very reminiscent of the blurring of the boundaries between soft and hard drinks (c.f. the alcopop scandal of a few years ago).
3) The increase in sugar consumption is, in effect, a mass drugging of the youth population. As nutritionist Jane Clarke says, on the BBC website: 'in my professional experience, foods and drinks that contain lots of rapidly absorbed sugar, especially if they also contain caffeine, as colas do, can make children appear wired.'
4) Kellogg's are just about to launch their 'Screamin' Fruit Spurters'. Screaming bouncing and shouting. Fizzy Jerkz! More sugar please.
5) The celebration of the bouncing in the Ribena advertisement, and the throbbing fantasy colours of the CBBC trail, (along with the suggestion that 'getting out of one's head' is a good thing) are all part of a commercial embracing of hyperactivity. Note the boom in the energy drinks market. Energy = health = goodness.
6) Sunny Delight is repositioning itself as a health drink.
7) A genuine press release from Cadbury's: 'Chocolate is there to be enjoyed and it can form the basis of a balanced diet'. That’s right: the basis.
8) Earlier this year, Cadbury's launched their Get Active! initiative, in which pupils could get sports equipment in exchange for chocolate wrappers. The Food Commission pointed out that: 'If British school children purchase all of the 160 million tokens that Cadbury's plan to issue, they would have to purchase nearly two million kilograms of fat'.
9) Also held this year was the Snickers Youth Soccer League, in the West Indies:
That's it, catch 'em young!
10) The 2002 Winter Olympic Games were sponsored by McDonald’s. Here is a quotation from their corporate website:
'Sports Nutritionists Give McDonald's the "Thumbs Up'! Many leading sports nutritionists agree that McDonald’s food fits into athletes' diets. At the Games, athletes can enjoy traditional McDonald's favorites like French fries and the Egg McMuffin and Big Mac sandwiches. Research showed that athletes look forward to the familiar taste of home made possible by McDonald's presence at the Games in the Olympic Athletes’ Village.
'I work with swimmers who are calorie-burning machines. They're thrilled when I show them how they can enjoy McDonald’s as part of their diets.' - Jacqueline Berning, Ph.D., R.D., nutrition consultant, Colorado Springs, CO, 1996"
'Olympic Athletes need 'real life' food that they enjoy. It's great McDonald's will help meet this need at the Olympic Games.'" Georgia Kostas, M.P.H., RD, L.D., Director of nutrition, the Cooper Clinic, Dallas, TX, 1996
(Nice up to date research).
11) Soda companies are buying their way into schools. For example, last year in South Carolina, the Charleston County School Board signed a five-year contract, worth up to $8.1 million, with Pepsi - for the exclusive right to sell Pepsi products in its schools.
Vending machines are becoming more and more common fixtures in school hallways. Snack snack snack. Scream bounce shout. Snack snack snack.
12) With all this sugary snacking, how on earth can pupils hope to regulate their blood sugar levels? Their blood sugar is going to be shooting up and down like a diabetic whore's drawers. As the chef Prue Leith says: "I am convinced that a lot of the bad behaviour in school is fuelled by that sugar injection of a chocolate bar for breakfast. You only have to watch young children arriving hyperactive, flagging at about eleven a.m. as their sugar level drops, then impossible again after a can of coke and more sweets at lunch." Up and down. Peak and crash. Fatter and fatter and fatter. It's hopeless.
A few brave folk are fighting back on behalf of the kids:
- but it’s probably too late. The forces ranged against the health of children are too great. Their marketing budgets too vast. Their morals too nonexistent.
God, it's depressing.
Pass the pencils: we might as well get it over with.
Three frightening McDonald's facts:
1. McDonald's spends more on advertising than any other brand in the world.
2. It runs more playgrounds than any other private entity in the world.
3. It gives away more toys than any other private entity in the world.
- find out more here: