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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another sign of the times…

As the newspaper industry continues to maintain a deathwatch, and Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation’s CEO prognosticates on the future of digital journalism, there is one fellow who must have asked himself the burning question – “If all the newspapers in the world go out of business, what will happen to all the news boxes, on all the street corners?”

A Canadian street artist, known simply as, “Posterchild,” set out to answer the call with action to what has the potential to become a street blighting dilemma, (just think non-operational, graffiti-covered AT&T payphones) and has started planting miniature flower gardens in the abandoned news boxes.

Posterchild, who also blogs under the title, Blade Diary, shares with his readers photo updates of his progress, such as the above, taken on a Toronto street corner.

Leave it to an artist to think up something creative like this - I just love it when people make lemonade out of life’s lemons!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Oh, for the good old days...

Ownership in toy history changed hands on Thursday, May 28, 2009 as retail toy giant Toys "R" Us completed the purchase (for an undisclosed sum) of the financially failing competitor, FAO Schwarz.

The Schwarz flagship New York store on 5th Avenue at 58th Street will remain open and operating under the historic brand name as will the Las Vegas branch store, which has become a tourist attraction at the Forum Shops of Ceasars Palace, and whose entrance is guarded by a 47-foot tall replica of a Trojan Horse.

In a thoughtful statement made to the press, Toys “R” Us Chairman and CEO, Jerry Storch said, “We have enormous respect for the FAO Schwarz brand and for the special place it holds in the hearts of children everywhere.” He added, “Building upon this storied tradition is a responsibility we take very seriously.”

In addition to maintaining the two retail locations, and offering existing employees of the two stores continued employment, Toys “R” Us will take over operations and maintain the name of the FAO Schwarz e-commerce and catalog divisions, but will be closing down all in-store locations at 260 Macy’s department stores.

Hard to believe, that after 147 years, America’s oldest toy retailer, with a long a rich history of selling some of the world’s finest and most unique toys, was taken down by the great recession of 2009.

How many of you have special memories of a visit to an FAO Schawrz store, and how many have danced upon the giant keyboard?

Monday, May 25, 2009

The never “ending” story?

Not sure where to file this one, except maybe as a rather bizarre curiosity snippet?

This morning, on National Public Radio’s, Morning Edition, there was a brief mention, filed under their “Diversions category, of a new novel by Japanese horror meister, Koji Suzuki.

It seems his newest book has bypassed the traditional publishing industry and has gone straight to press on toilet paper. That’s right, you heard me, toilet paper.

The novel, or is it the tissue, is being promoted as “Japan’s scariest toilet paper.”

More a novella, brief from start to finish, takes a mere three feet to wrap up, which is just about the appropriate amount for one short sitting.

Japan Review. Net conducted an interesting interview with Suzuki, April 23, 2003 that is rather enlightening in so far as getting into the mind of the man who is often referred to as Japan’s Stephen King.

Suzuki’s current literary work is appropriately titled: The Drop and is coming to a bathroom near you.

Here’s a brief glimpse into one of Maine’s favorite sons - the man who has kept readers up all night, and maybe sitting on the "john" for a lot longer than three feet.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The selling of childhood: Have commercials and product placements gone too far?

As a couple of my regular readers know, recently I began reporting for EXAMINER.COM as their National Children's Entertainment Examiner. I've not been able to post here as often as I would like, but as I ease into my new role I will be back here to post on a variety of grown-up oriented subjects as well as sharing some of the more interesting stories I am covering. I hope you will bear with me for a little while as I make this transition. I would also like to invite each of you to follow me along as I report on entertainment that makes a positive difference in the lives of children.

The article below was published on Friday, May 22, 2009 and it was an eye-opening labor of love, which I want to share with you. The link at the bottom of this post will take you to Part 2 of this article. Please feel free to post your comments on either page, and thanks so much for visiting. Hope you all enjoy the holiday weekend.

Years ago, children would learn about the latest doll, game or toy when a parent plopped down a catalogue for them to peruse for Christmas, or just before their birthday.

Sometimes, it took a trip to a local toy store or hobby shop to reveal a fascination for model airplanes, or paint-by numbers kits, but over the last 50 years, marketing to children has changed, and become immediate and seemingly all pervasive, because it provides an unparalleled source of revenue for entertainment generating corporations.

On Wednesday, May 15, 2009, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Worldwide division, a traditional purveyor of quality cultural programming, both here and abroad, announced the appointment of Tom Keefer as Senior Vice President of Global Licensing for BBC Worldwide.

Keefer, a former Mattel executive will be spearheading BBC Worldwide’s growth in product licensing opportunities for their children’s as well as adult brands.

Neil Ross Russell, Managing Director BBC Worldwide Children's and Licensing said: "One of our core objectives when restructuring the business last year was examining untapped potential in territories outside the UK, especially the US where such a high proportion of the world’s licensing revenue is made.”

Entertainment corporations everywhere are constantly on the lookout to produce additional streams of revenue from ancillary markets, which for some corporations provide their only profit, and for others much more. It is part and parcel of doing business, but what does that say about our society when corporations specifically target children as consumers?

Profit making is a benchmark of capitalistic societies - it is the engine that drives economies, however, our current global recession is forcing consumers to closely scrutinize what they invest their money in, as well as why they invest it, and what is the return on that investment.

When it comes to children, parents are generally the ones that do the “buying,” but more often than not, it is because a child has demonstrated a preference for a particular product that they have encountered through some form of media promotion.

Toys, games, DVDs, books, clothing and even food products are marketed to children through television commercials and shows, product placements in movies, mentioned in music and in pop-up ads on the Internet and even offered at schools with the intent of creating brand loyalty to a generation of customers who are too young to make informed purchasing decisions.

For many parents this translates into the “gimme syndrome” or “nag factor,” which has started a grass roots rebellion among parents and caregivers, who are questioning not only if these products represent the family values they wish to impart to their children, but are these specially branded items worth the added cost to their budgets?

Is it appropriate to be marketing to children when they are vulnerable to sales manipulation, which in fact, may not always be in their best interests – educationally or emotionally?

Have the reach of commercials and entertainment product placements gone too far?

Later today, part two of this series and the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, an organization that is making a positive difference in the lives of children and their families.

If you enjoyed this article, you may want to read:

The selling of Childhood: Part 2

How to use Common Sense Media: Making informed choices for your child's entertainment

Monday, May 11, 2009

Noodling a doodle 4 Google

In February, children all across the nation, grades K thru 12 were invited to take part in the 2nd Annual "Doodle 4 Google" (create-a-logo) contest.

This year’s theme, “What I wish for the World,” brought in 28,000 entries from all 50 states, which according to the official Google blog post this morning, reflects a 70 per cent increase in the number of entries over last year’s contest.

It was also announced today that 400 state finalists have been selected.

Now, it’s your turn to vote for your favorite young artist. Public on-line voting is open and ends Monday, May 18, 2009.

The prizes are indeed attractive. The National Winner receives a $15,000 college scholarship that can be used at the student’s school of choice, plus a trip to Google’s New York office; a laptop computer, and a t-shirt imprinted with their Google doodle

In addition, the National Winner’s school receives a $25,000 technology grant to be used by the school to either establish a computer lab, or upgrade an existing facility.

The Doodle 4 Google contest is an evolutionary outgrowth from the "unique" logos initially created by Google Webmaster Dennis Hwang when he began his career interning at Google in 2000.

Hwang's nifty renderings of the Google name (such as the one created for visual artist Rene Margurite’s birthday), are the sort of clever depictions you wake up to find on your computer screen, reminding you about holidays and important dates in history.

Go ahead, cast your vote. The next Jackson Pollock or Georgia O’Keeffe is waiting to be discovered.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother’s Day

As I was going through Internet news this morning, I ran across a truly thoughtful piece published through Columbus

The article, written by Allison K. Hughes-Randall, is a first-person tribute to her mother, Gail, who is battling cancer.

Gently placing aside the obvious burden of dealing with a loved one’s serious illness, Randall speaks eloquently of the bonds of a mother and child that is most appropriate today.

I hope “Mom's illness sheds light on thoughts unspoken” stays in the Dispatch's archive for a long, long time – it’s well worth reading and remembering why we pay tribute to mothers everywhere.