What does the corporate monster look like?

“What does the corporate monster look like?” H.o.p. says and hands me a piece of paper from his 3 inch high stack and a pen. “Draw it for me?”

H.o.p. has recently discovered Neopets and he wants a Neopet toy and of course at the Neopet website they have all the toys and where you can buy them. H.o.p. wanted one of them that was written to be only available at Wal-Mart.

His stack of drawing paper is usually 10 inches tall. He draws constantly and as a natural course of events he has now gotten deeper into studying what he draws. He examines his illustration book and sees they break characters down into forms and he looks this up on websites as well and he dutifully practices drawing the forms, circles and squares and building figures up out of them. He doesn’t need to do this because he’s great at on-sight copying but this is part of him teaching himself how to draw.

He teaches himself animation by making little movies on the digital camera and then watching them instant by instant to examine what happens. He used to do this watching cartoons, but now he does it with the camera.

The world is art. That’s how he relates to it. Drawing paper and pens.

Tamagotchi virtual pets are recommended for children ages 8 and up. He’s 7 and the age targeting looks to be about right as H.o.p. is suddenly interested in the notion of virtual pets. He found the Neopets website, which was just going to happen. And I helped him with setting up an account, and understanding a little of how it works taking care of your Neopet. Unlike the Tamagotchi the main idea with a neopet is earning points to get it things, so it seems, and you can collect points by playing games and clicking on ads and subscribing to different advertisers. Quite a scam in that regard, preying upon children. So far it’s sticking with him the aversion I’ve taught to clicking on ads, trying to teach him relatively safe internet practices all these years, he has been taught about spyware and viruses and since the age of 5 has been very aware of them. His computer is enough of a tool that he likes for it to run just the way he likes it and has a high interest in avoiding it being mucked up by spyware and viruses.

But he loves his Neopet. He does not want more than one Neopet because he’s worried that if he gets another virtual Neopet then he might lose his first one and he took great care in naming it and selecting it. He saw if you overfed it then it showed up in bandages and this was a great laugh but then he realized perhaps his Neopet could be hurt and no, no he mustn’t feed his Neopet more than it needs. I signed myself up for a Neopet so that I could learn a little more about it all and help him with any questions and as far as I can tell the primary goal is to waste time via taking advantage of a child’s natural desire to learn about dealing with the real world via fantasy situations. Plus the desire to have a relationship with your pet. Which is all consumer-based. When you sign up you’re given a very few Neopet points, some food and a toy for your Neopet and a few other objects. You feed your Neopet and it says yum or it doesn’t like it and now you must get points to purchase more food. You give a toy to your Neopet and it says something like oh that was great or not or give me more toys. The opportunity for interaction with the Neopet is next to zero and the time is consumed with finding ways to consume and consumer ways to get points in order to have a moment’s worth of interaction with the Neopet. The more of my time is wasted (even food is difficult to purchase and prices are high) the more frustrated I get and the more likely to go do a survey in which I’ll earn points. The surveys are marketing surveys. I volunteered for a survey and it was several pages concerning General Mills cereals, awareness of and likelihood to eat etc. and a question of awareness of them through the Neopets site. I went to try to purchase, again, food for my pet and it was all sold out and having been made aware that Neopets hawks cereals I noticed the cereal store, and found it doesn’t serve cereal but gives an opportunity to play a General Mills hosted game for points. The games are more designed to give Carpal Tunnel Syndrome than anything else. So you struggle to earn points to go buy food or a toy or whatever and with everything being constantly “sold out” the incentive is to stay online until the next batch of food arrives (in 8 minutes) and to meander about and be introduced to more marketing.

To give an idea on the prices of things, cereal is 298, a “chip butty with tomato sauce” is 1106, a chocolate techno cookie is 1344. If you want a Neopet home and to fill it with goodies, you must raise and spend 1512 points for a “hand cared bed from finest oak, this classy bed is truly amazing”, 1800 for a fireplace, 3000 for each window, 472 for daisies, 3080 for a rug that never curls up at the corners, 3600 for a bathtub, 1500 for a toilet, 4000 for an earth faerie oven, 900 for a fire toaster.

Commodity Broker Chia will teach you the ins and outs of the Neopet stock market.

You can gamble for points. You can spend points on a number of gambling games in order to take your chances.

You can bank your Neopet money, which you are given incentives to do as sometimes “ghosts” come through and steal it.

There are people on the Neopet board talking about how they preferred Reagan to Bush. Single line conversations. “I hate Bush.” “He’s better than the alternative.” “I preferred Reagan to Bush.”

Adults play this??? I guess so.

H.o.p. loves his Neopet in the same way when I was 7 and loved certain toys like they were pets.

What a racket. Preying on a child’s natural affection.

Today’s Neopet news was Bar-b-que grills are now available.

Over on the left sidebar was a place where you could log in a code from your McDonalds Happy Meal, McDonalds Happy Meals for the time being coming with Neopets. H.o.p. had already discovered the place on the site where it showed this and he promptly called his dad to please please pick up a Happy Meal on the way home because it had a Neopet in it. I could tell his dad was on the other end thinking H.o.p. didn’t know what he was talking about and I told H.o.p. to tell him to trust him, he knew what he was talking about. I was thinking about, actually, the times when I was 5 and told my parents that I’d seen a television clown was going to be at a nearby grocery store, and they didn’t believe me, and by the time I got them to believe me and we got down to the grocery store the clown viewing was over and though he was still there he refused to talk with me. No big deal for an adult but important to a child.

I aided and abetted. The Happy Meal arrived home and I noted there was the code H.o.p. could use for more Neopet points , which he didn’t know about, and we logged it in.

He went to bed happily with his new Neopet toy. Cuddled up with it, all grins and contented.

So H.o.p. had been looking at the Neopet toys and he had asked about getting one that was given as being sold at Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart, by the way, is a top of the list sponsor of Neopets. Which is kind of confusing to me. Online Media reports that on June 21 2005, MTV acquired NeoPets.

IN HOPES OF EXTENDING ITS cachet with kids, Viacom’s MTV Networks on Monday said it acquired Web content company Neopets for about $160 million.

Analysts said that Viacom, New York, which also owns Nickelodeon, had lacked a significant online presence before this deal–at least compared to its TV presence.

The intensely interactive nature of Neopets has led to page views that currently exceed five billion a month (four billion from U.S. visitors, while membership has grown to over 25 million from 90,000 in 2000, according to Doug Dohring, who will retain his current position as the chairman of Neopets.

Similar to the popular 1990s phenomenon of Tamagotchi pets, which had to be “fed” regularly by their owners, Neopets inhabit a virtual online world called Neopia, where users must earn Neopoints in order to buy food for their colorful, Pokemon-like pets.

Nielsen//NetRatings ranked Neopets as the fifth most popular site for kids in May, behind Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, eBay Toys, and category leader Disney Online.

Launched in 1999, the site now generates annual revenue in “eight figures,” said Dohring, and regularly ranks among the top 10 “stickiest” Web sites–a common measure that reflects how much time its users spend on average during the month–according to comScore MediaMetrix.

Ad dollars from the likes of General Mills, McDonald’s, and Disney make up about 60 percent of Neopets’ revenue, while the rest comes from merchandising. Last year, Neopets partnered with McDonald’s to include plush Neopets toys in Happy Meals, and is planning a similar initiative, which will launch on July 8 and will include “unique item codes” in Happy Meals for kids to plug into their computers to win extra Neopoints.

The whole arrangement is confusing to me. That a Verizon/MTV owned website has a page where you can sign up with sponsors to “help keep Neopets free of popups and other annoying ads” and “to help keep Neopets free” the top one listed being Wal-Mart.

The Neopets site is not just filled with ads, it is an ad.

It gets confusing to me when you have corporations hawking other corporations as sponsors like this is a philanthropic website and we need you to click on our sponsors to help keep us free.

So, H.o.p. was asking if he could have one of the Neopets from Wal-Mart.

I had H.o.p. turn to me so we could have a cozy chat and I explained to him that mom and dad didn’t shop at Wal-Mart.

“Why not?” he asked.

I explained as simply as I could that they had so much money they could buy tons and tons of city blocks and apartment buildings but that they didn’t pay their people well here or overseas. Yes, I called them corporate monsters. H.o.p. understood the poor part and he immediately said no, we won’t go there, and he looked for another Neopet that he could get somewhere else (the McDonalds Neopet) and of course he hadn’t a clue about corporate monsters, though it is a phrase that falls so casually from my lips, and he handed me pen and paper asking me to draw what the corporate monster looked like.

I explained it is people and looks like people.

When H.o.p. hands me drawing paper and asks me to draw the “corporate monster”, well, at times like that I remember the humorless Judy Davis character in the dark comedy “Children of the Revolution” and though I’m not like the character I wonder exactly how H.o.p. is going to remember me when he grows up. Mom is nice and has a good sense of humor but she’s not exactly cheery. At least I’m a kind-of cuddly mom. Before I had a child at 40 though I had never once in my life called anyone, “Honey”. Not even my husband. I never left first name territory. Terms of endearment seemed gushy to me. I didn’t like holding hands. And then I had a baby at 40 and “Honey” came popping out of my mouth. And after a few years I caught myself calling my husband, “Honey.” It was weird.

Neopets are a nasty, heartless racket as far as I’m concerned. I’m not going to tell H.o.p. that though. I will try to make him aware of what the website is trying to teach him.

How to be a dutiful consumer.

I don’t know how they sort out the dross in the marketing surveys. I lied all the way through the ones I took.

Published by

Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

6 thoughts on “What does the corporate monster look like?”

  1. What an amazing story! It makes me glad that I had my son when I was much younger. I was so often disgusted by the influence of advertising on him, and frustrated by my inability to counter it. It seems so much worse now.

    Maybe as he grows H.o.p. will figure out a way to draw the corporate monster in way that makes it more visible to all of us.

  2. I can’t imagine how difficult it is swimming against the tide and imparting such lessons to a child, but it sounds as though you’re doing a fine job. You’re helping develop a beautiful human being, and though it sounds cutesy to say thank you, I will anyway. Thank you.

    The corporate monster? It has wings for transportation and legs with which to stomp on those who would impede it. It has numerous eyeballs, all of which can look in different directions, and a massive mouth – full, of course – and vampiric, razor sharp teeth. Its flesh is dollar bill green, covered in nerves which all lead to its mouth. It craps gold, which it hordes for itself. It doesn’t bleed because it has no heart, and no use for oxygen because it has no brain. It is gender neutral, hence, no need for clothes – except for expensive golf shoes with tassles and cleats. Its arms are many with hands resembling garden rakes. And it is titanic in size. Needless to say, it feeds on people.

  3. Arvin – Great description of the corporate monster!!

    Mark – The heavy advertising is matched by the amount of crap merchandise out there, of course, which it’s marketing. Amazing, the amount of “stuff”. We have plenty of it around here, too.

  4. ditto on the great story!

    Although it made me whistful for the old Activist Days of the 1970’s, when real-life, grown-up Moms were out there fighting the Corporate Monster (women like Eda LeShan (sp?))

    Where did those Moms go? Oh, they’re us now. We grew up with marketing, we’re used to it. We’ve either bought into alot of it (think about friends who are branded harder than cattle on a ranch), or we’ve become numb to it.

    So numb that we don’t recognize the excessive amount that is driected at children nowadays.

    I tend to call people Sweetie. But that didnt’ come from having kids…it came from guys young enough to be my kids having crushes on me. What else can ya call them?? The crush is sweet, but I’d never date ’em.

  5. I still don’t call anyone Sweetie or Honey except for H.o.p. (and occasionally the spouse and a young niece or nephew), though I may one day yet. I may one day hear myself call out to a person I don’t even know, “Hey, honey…”

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