Friday, April 27, 2007

"Healthy Shrek" or Shiller of Snacks: Which Ogre Should Go?

Since our children are all now teenagers or older, I no longer have a compelling reason to view the complete works of Shrek I and II. Still, the glimpses I've caught of the films' feature character make him seem like a pretty benign guy ... or monster that is. And yet, while Shrek has undeniable kid appeal, should an overweight ogre (with extensive fast and junk food connections) be the premier promoter of a major childhood health campaign?

In case you haven't heard, Shrek, the lovable animated ogre (whose third movie hits theatres May 18) has been named, in a joint venture involving the Department of Health and Human Services, the Ad Council's Coalition for Healthy Children, and DreamWorks Animation SKG (yes, the creator of the three Shrek movies) as the commercial spokesperson in ads to promote healthy kid lifestyles, as well as curtail childhood obesity. "Shrek is a very well-known character in the target population of this campaign!" beamed Bill Hall, HHS spokesman, predicting Shrek will be the perfect choice to make this initiative a success. However, Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, begs to differ.

"There is an inherent conflict of interest between marketing junk food and promoting public health," she stated in a letter to the HHS. "Surely [they] can find a better spokesperson for healthy living than a character who is a walking advertisement for McDonald's and [junk food]," Linn (who doubles as a psychiatry instructor at Harvard) declared, throwing down the consumer advocate gauntlet.

"We ... have always promoted a balanced, healthy diet—which does not necessarily exclude the occasional treat," Hill rebutted politely (if not condescendingly) wondering what kind of a person would argue with such a lovable PG-rated cartoon character.

But in the end, it is the HHS that looks shortsighted, if not like outright fools. Shrek is NOT just the promoter of the occasional treat. Besides selling McDonald's (who signed a major Happy Meal deal with the movie people) Shrek also moonlights for Mars (Snickers and M&M's), Pepsi (Sierra Mist), Kellogg's (Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, Pop-Tarts), Cheez-Its, and Keebler's (cookies of course)—to name but a few. In other words, HHS and the CHC partnering with DreamWorks SKG (whose mission is to make as much tie-in money for the movie as possible) is like the United States and Britain joining forces with the Soviet Union during World War II. In the short run, it seems to make sense, but just as fighting a dictator who annihilated six million foreigners with a despot who liquidated twenty million of his own people is a contradiction, the final results of this current dubious trio cannot be good. "Why would young children follow Shrek's advice about healthy living and ignore his entreaties to eat Happy Meals and Pop-Tarts?" Linn questioned.

Why indeed. While it is no longer a question I have to wrestle with in the O'Toole household, unfortunately for millions of your parents who take their children to this for-the-most-part entertaining moral movie, it is.

A parent can either throw out the TV, enter into the debate after every commercial, or give up and let the fast-food flow and keep the candy coming. As for myself, I feel sorry for ol' Shrek. If he only had Thomas Aquinas (or even Fighting Irish Thomas) to script his movies and write his ads, he would instead have been the first Ogre-Saint.

Fighting Irish Thomas: Catholicism, Politics, Saints, and Notre Dame

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