Wednesday, November 7, 2007


One of my favorite photographers, Lauren Greenfield, has a new short documentary film out called "Kids + Money." I caught a sneak peak at the Vll photojournalism conference at Art Center in Pasadena this last weekend. The film already screened today at the AFI fest and will rerun on Nov. 9 at 7:30pm at the Arclight as part of the Shorts Program One. Just like Lauren's books "Fast Forward," "Girl Culture," and her documentary and book, "Thin" - "Kids + Money" hits a serious nerve for me. Having grown up in Encino (pretty much the Beverly Hills of the San Fernando Valley), I've experienced firsthand how wealth and status are conveyed through fashion, homes, cars - you name it. My parents were never concerned with "keeping up with the Joneses" and as a result I've never been either. My Mom especially instilled confidence and most of all self-esteem in me from an early age so that I was never concerned with being like everyone else or even worse, "better." That self-esteem carried me through growing up fat, not having new cars (me or my parents), not having every new household gadget, and barely ever wearing designer, brand name clothes. The one time kids in my 4th grade class tried to tease me for my Mom and Dad both driving old cars (this was 1979 and my parents cars were from the early - mid 1960's), I didn't care. The fact that I stood up and told my classmates that our cars were cool and still good and my family still liked them was enough for the kids to back off. If I had confidence in my station in life, then they did too. While I was left alone, a girl in the grade below me took hell because her Mom drove a leased Rolls Royce. Now I'm sure that the 8 year olds in her class had no clue what it meant to lease vs own but I'm sure they must have heard their own parents making cracks about it and then they just brought it back to the schoolyard where they could be mean to her. The first time I was aware of kids having to wear certain clothes to be the leaders of the clique I was in third grade. I knew instinctively that I didn't care to be like everyone else and I didn't need Brand X, Y, or Z to be cool. I've always managed to have my own style, look good, and still have people want to be friends with me for being me. At my high school it was commonplace for Jewish girls to get nose jobs for their 16th birthdays and come back to school still wearing bandages or still having the effect of being swollen or bruised (like having racoon eyes). I always thought it was sad that these girls didn't just accept their noses and be proud of their heritage instead of trying to look non-Jewish. The problem with kids getting every single thing their heart desires is that there's no room to go up and on the rare occasion that you don't get what you want, your life is "ruined" and horrible. My parents happened to buy a home in Encino at a time when it was affordable to them, but they never really were at the economic level of their neighbors. I even see it now when my Dad drives his 1992 Buick Roadmaster (bought used) and his neighbors are driving brand new Mercedes and BMW's. Lauren's film "Kids + Money" is a cautionary tale and unfortunately after seeing it I think things have gotten monumentally worse since I was in grade school or even high school. Now more kids have eating disorders, can't wait to get all kinds of plastic surgery, and just in general aren't happy or secure. Forget about all this consumption - what ever happened to teaching kids about self-esteem!?!

Two Articles about "Kids + Money":

from the AFI Fest website:
By JOHN WILDMAN, Contributing Writer

The title says it all: KIDS + MONEY. How frightening that combination is depends on whether or not you are a parent (or about to become one). Or more precisely, whether or not you are a parent with a lot of money. Director Lauren Greenfield's documentary features a series of interviews with kids at various levels of the economic strata, with each one doing their level best to weave their way through the materialistic minefield that is Los Angeles. It may convince you to put the place up for sale and move to a safe fly-over state before starting a family. Or if you're entrenched in La La Land with kids already, maybe it will convince you to skip the golf game or take a day off from that cash cow job and check in with your own kids.

J.W.: KIDS + MONEY follows your book "Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood." Why are you personally drawn to the issue of consumerism with kids?

L.G.: I started working on my first book "Fast Forward" when I moved back to my hometown of Los Angeles in 1992. I had studied visual anthropology at Harvard and interned at National Geographic and my focus in my documentary work had thus far been the "other," the exotic. I realized when I was living abroad that the culture that I grew up in - Los Angeles - was worthy of study and documentation as well. When I was photographing Maya Indians in Chiapas, Mexico for my first assignment for National Geographic, I started re-reading Bret Easton Ellis' book "Less than Zero." It reminded me of an exaggerated version of my own high school experience growing up on the west side of Los Angeles.
So when I started photographing kids growing up in Los Angeles, my primary focus was the influence of materialism and Hollywood values (cult of celebrity, importance of image) and how the culture causes kids to grow up quickly. I guess the origins of the work were my personal memories - both exciting and ambivalent - from my teenage years. (To see excerpts of "Fast Forward," go to

J.W.: Do you think this film will help lower the birth rate in Los Angeles?
L.G.: I have made a short, independent, very low budget film so I am unfortunately confident that it will have little effect on the overall culture in Los Angeles, let alone the census. That said, kids are amazing (I have two of my own) and I hope that the film will not discourage people to raise children in Los Angeles (as some have told me was the effect of my first book). I think we need to be aware of the toxic effect that the culture of consumerism has on children. We live in a time of very aggressive direct marketing and advertising to children and teens. Our President told us that an appropriate and patriotic response to 9/11 was to go shopping to support the economy. Our media is very influential on young people but parents and schools can have an important countervailing influence to the values of the popular culture. I showed a preview of KIDS + MONEY online and as a result received many educational requests for a copy of it from high school and university educators. I am always pleased when my work is used to promote discussion, especially in an educational context.

J.W.: Have the parents of any of the kids seen the film? And, if so - did it inspire any "mommy and me" time?
L.G.: We are still finishing post (but I promise it will be done by the festival) so no one has seen the finished film yet.

J.W.: What will happen in the feature-length sequel to KIDS + MONEY?
L.G.: Should I make one???? In all seriousness, all my books and films are related and part of an ongoing inquiry about contemporary culture. I have no doubt I will continue to explore the themes of KIDS + MONEY, but have no plans for a sequel at this point.

From L.A. Times Calendar Section:
Buy, buy

In the documentary ‘kids + money,’ Megan, 11, and Ashley, 13, say clothes are important at school. Megan, who has 32 pairs of designer jeans, recently had a birthday party with massages and facials for friends.

In her short film, 'kids + money,' Lauren Greenfield trains her lens on adolescents caught up in the Catch-22 culture of consumerism.

By Monica Corcoran, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 4, 2007

PHOTOGRAPHER Lauren Greenfield is always watching our children. Her acclaimed 1998 exhibit and book "Fast Forward" chronicled the excesses of youth culture in L.A. In last year's documentary "Thin," she took an unflinching look at the effects of eating disorders. Greenfield's latest focus is the economics of adolescence in her short film "kids + money," which premieres Wednesday at AFI Fest.

M.C.: What made you tackle this topic?

L.G.: Boys feel it as much as girls do, Lauren Greenfield says. (Clay Enos)
I have been really struck in my own life by how kids are affected by consumerism, and I know that many kids are really articulate about this -- both in terms of what they want in a material way and being critical of it.

M.C.: You have such an array of kids in the film, from private-school students in Brentwood to teens from East L.A. How did you find them?

L.G.: That was what we spent the most time on. I have been shooting kids in L.A. for 15 years. I went back to my contacts. We also just walked up to people at the Santa Monica Promenade and Fox Hills Mall. We wanted to cast in different parts of the city.

M.C.: And yet they all seem to be confronting the same issues, no matter their backgrounds.

L.G.: One of the things I noticed in East L.A. and South Central was the over-the-top consumerism in those areas. The strange thing is that this consumerism is what brings kids together too. One of the kids in the film, Matthew, says that he thinks it's a good thing. It's not about race anymore, he says. It's about money.

M.C.: The level of awareness among teens is encouraging.

L.G.: I know. When I did "Fast Forward," this kid Adam talked about how money ruined kids. He went to Crossroads [School in Santa Monica] and he said his friends spent up to $50,000 on bar mitzvahs. It struck me how perceptive kids were about what is going on. But that awareness did not give them immunity to it. They still felt like they needed to compete even if they knew it wasn't right.

M.C.: Is this just a local epidemic?

L.G.: No. This culture of celebrity and image really affects kids all over. L.A. is the place where you can see the extremes because we're closer to the fire. For "Girl Culture," I went around the country and saw that 16-year-olds in Edina, Minn., were very similar to girls in Beverly Hills.

M.C.: How are they alike?

L.G.: We share this national and international media culture that is the biggest influencer on kids. We share information so there is this homogenization among kids. The rich and poor are sharing very similar values.

M.C.: Everyone thinks girls are worse than boys when it comes to materialism. But is gender really all that relevant?

L.G.: The boys talk more about sneakers; the girls talk more about jeans. The boys feel the same pressure as girls to shop in certain places and wear certain clothes. For girls, it goes beyond the clothes and it becomes about body image. They think that if they have certain jeans, their butt will look OK too.

M.C.: The parents deal with this pressure too. They want their kids to fit in.

L.G.: It's a Catch-22 for us parents, I think. But we live in a country where our president told us that shopping was our contribution to the world. There are very few of us who are not part of this culture of consumerism and we do pass it along to our kids. I see it in my son who is 7 and constantly asking for stuff, and it's a struggle to say no.

M.C.: Ironically, it would seem that shopping malls have become the safe havens of the 21st century for kids. I don't know that kids even go out to play anymore.

L.G.: My husband and I were laughing last weekend because we had nothing to do on a Saturday and we decided to go to the Santa Monica Promenade because there would be something for everyone. I could look at books and my son could go to the Apple Store. "Let's have our family time in a consumer environment."


Joanna said...

Brava, Lydia!

Health and happiness eventually turn out to be the highest achievement goals. Too many people who, as you say, doubt themselves and rely on possessions for status and self esteem, are in for a rude awakening.

Health, friends, loving relationships, satisfying work, capacity to feel and share joy - these are the criteria for a good life. Thank goodness your parents
showed you a healthy and loving way to be in this world.

A major part of eating disorder recovery involves continuing a maturation process that got stalled somewhere in childhood.
As psychological development proceeds and the person gains a more mature and realistic outlook
on life their self esteem develops too. And the quality of their lives improves.

Thank you for writing your kids + money post. I hope many parents get a chance to read it!

warm regards,

Joanna Poppink, LMFT

Lydia Marcus said...

thanks for reading my blog and commenting. i'm very lucky to have had my parents - especially my mom. she was put through a lot of grief and scrutiny growing up overweight (especially from her own mother) and she made sure to not repeat the cycle with me. she was determined that if I was going to grow up and follow in her "fluffy" footsteps, that at least I'd be happy in my own skin. and she certainly accomplished that. what's funny is that recently i came across home movie footage of my mother from the ages of approx. 16-23 and she was far from fat - in fact i was surprised how thin she was. yes she had more of a voluptuous figure (i think thin thighs and smaller upper arms are a physical impossibility on my mom's side of the family), but she looked more like the shapely movie stars of the 50's than our present idea of what thin is (ie the emaciated look). it's sad that even when girls are thin they have the self vision of fat. i always have felt like i have a reverse body image - i'm a bigger girl who thinks she's actually much smaller LOL.