In a bid to grab the spotlight for one of the causes he supports, Conservation International, Harrison Ford was recently in a 30-second spot (below) detailing how slash and burn methods in other countries still have a major negative impact on our own.

The slogan of the campaign is ‘Lost Here. Felt There.” While I could focus on how the whole thing makes Ford look pretty bony and old, or how the music is a little out of place and ridiculous, I’d rather focus on the positive: making a statement (punny or no) with your fame. It’s something I hope to be able to do myself someday.

But what are the ultimate results of this campaign?  Conservation international aims to be a force both for education, innovation, and conservation by working with local communities around the globe.  I can fully support that, and I think most of us do, particularly when that kind of innovation means income for the locals as well as conservation of species and other forest resources.   There are always questions regarding whose interests are more valued in conservation efforts – those trying to turn a profit, or those trying to preserve a local ecosystem – but from what I can tell from the general outlines on the website, Conservation International seems to be doing a reasonable job.  Personally, I still take the Ford spot as vindication for letting my own personal leg-forests grow. I’m saving the environment.

Money vs. Sportsmanship

In the wake of Speedo’s new LZR swimsuit and a rash of cries of unfairness, questions are being made as to the base nature of swimming as a sport.  Are Olympic competitions in swimming driven by the skill and effort of the individual alone, or do other concerns play a part?  Obviously the Olympic committee wants to be as fair as possible regarding the rules and the way each race is carried out, but who determines which suit you wear?  If not for endorsements, contracts, and the money that gets dropped into Olympic coffers, wouldn’t you just simply wear the suit that helps you to be the best you can be?  Why wouldn’t everyone just wear the LZR?  If it is a technologically advanced suit, or even a buoyant suit, should that be considered cheating?  Don’t we continue to break Olymic records of the past as competition increases?  Is this not an extension of that competition?

I’m not saying that I want swimming as a sport to become something like racing.  Sure, in racing there is a great deal of skill involved, but there’s also heavy technological reliance on the machines being used.  Both skills and machinery work together, I would say equally.  In swimming things are a little more one-sided.  If I put on the LZR, I’m still not going to win the Olympics tomorrow.  But it could certainly mean the difference between a silver and a gold, if not more.  And if it is so important, wouldn’t all these other manufacturers (Arena, Adidas, Descente, Diana, Nike, and Mizuno) all want to develop their own answer to this new faster, better suit, rather than crying wolf to the Olympic Board?

The pillaging of children’s books

One of the weird movies that my sisters and i watched together (and my parents, my mom especially, were a little uncomfortable about ) was Toys. It’s a classic. What more can you say about a movie that takes a fantastical playground of a toy development company and uses it to say something about the relationship of children to war and the relationship of dreams and fantasy to marketability? But it got me thinking about toys generally – the lack of quality ones on the market that really let children imagine and the omnipresent need to sell more stuff.

This can most clearly be seen in the children’s book/movie/TV/merchandise-industrial complex. On the top ten list of highest grossing movies of all time (according to Wikipedia), three were what I would call children’s movies: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Shrek 2. Half were based on books – the two Harry Potters, Lord of the Rings 2 and 3, and Jurassic Park. These numbers are not adjusted for inflation and include only box office sales.

I couldn’t find accurate numbers on related merchandise sales, but maybe we’re not jeopardizing our children’s development by flooding them with movies and related goods. Maybe parents are still reading to their children instead of plonking them down in front of Finding Nemo again. Maybe they don’t have 20 different lunch boxes, each for a different six months of the newest kiddie movie craze. Or maybe we’re simply taking them to more adult films, like the Pirates of the Carribbean.

In order to get a better sense of the scope of the commercialization of children’s literature, I took a short survey of all the kiddo books Corina and I could think of with associated collections of merchandise. These are collections, mind you, not just one or two items but rather an entire marketing campaign. We also used only those examples that started as books. The list follows:

Winnie the Pooh, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Magic School Bus, Goosebumps, Harry Potter, Peter Rabbit, If You Give Mouse A Cookie, Chronicles of Narnia, Golden Compass, The Busy World of Richard Scarry, Cordoury, Nancy Drew, Curious George, Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are, Berenstein Bears, Clifford the Big Red Dog, American Girls Collection, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. There are probably more, but we were trying to be at least somewhat rigorous.

Now I love books, and I especially love children’s books. And yes, it’s nice to occasionally bring a little bit more of that imaginary world into your own life. I mean, I was ecstatic when JellyBelly did Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans – how else would I get to experience a true-to-life taste of earwax without the unhygienic method of a finger in my ear? But still, do we really have to tear apart stories that are formative for many of use just to turn a profit? Should we reduce the quality of our literary efforts for the young just to church out another hardback to sell? I just remain grateful that the Marsh wiggles and other characters of The Silver Chair will remain forever unmarketable.