It bills itself as “The Greatest Amateur Racing Event in the World!” But the Soap Box Derby, once a popular event with racers, spectators, and sponsors, has, well, gone downhill. It began during the Depression and now has races across the country. Children from 8-17 build their cars, which operate through gravity only, no engines. They compete locally and the champions come to Akron, Ohio to compete for prizes and scholarships.
The Wall Street Journal reports that
kids today are more likely to play video games than to tinker in the garage with power tools. And audiences have other distractions. The annual race, held in July, once drew crowds of more than 50,000; last year it attracted only 15,000 people paying $5 at the gate.
The erosion of corporate support, however, has been crippling. In the heyday of the derby, in the 1960s, Chevrolet sponsored and promoted the race. Over the years, big corporate backers brought celebrities, including Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson, Evel Knievel, and O.J. Simpson. The late actor Jimmy Stewart attended six times.
With the last corporate sponsor pulling out, the Derby was in trouble. It was sued by its bank. There was a temporary reprieve when its home town of Akron guaranteed the debt. And then, just like in a movie, a hero arrived. And just like in a movie, it was not the hero you’d expect. It was Corbin Bernsen, the actor best known for playing sleazy litigator Arnie Becker on “L.A. Law.” Bernsen wanted to help, and decided to make a movie about the Soap Box Derby, with a part for himself as a one-time champ who steps into to help a boy whose father was killed in Afghanistan. In the movie, called “25 Hill” and scheduled for release next year, the boy finds a sponsor. In real life, GEICO, the sponsor signed up by Bernsen for the movie has signed on to sponsor the race as well.
The Federal Trade Commission has a terrific new online game for kids that will teach them to understand the difference between someone trying to tell them something and someone trying to sell them something. It’s called Admongo.
The FTC’s message to parents:
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, has created the Admongo campaign to help teach kids about advertising. The campaign has four parts:
* a game-based website at Admongo.gov;
* sample ads that can be used in the classroom;
* a free curriculum for use in the 5th and 6th grades, developed with Scholastic, Inc. and
* teacher training videos.
Together, these tools can help teach kids basic ad literacy skills.
As a parent, you can be a valuable partner in this campaign to help equip your kids with the critical thinking skills they need to be smarter consumers. With your help, kids can learn to ask three key “critical thinking” questions when they encounter advertising:
* Who’s responsible for the ad?
* What is the ad actually saying?
* What does it want you to buy, do, or think?
By applying the information they learn through this campaign, your kids will be able to recognize ads, understand them, and make smarter decisions as they navigate the commercial world.
The site also has resources for teachers to help them include media literacy in the curriculum.
The game is not enough to teach kids the difference between genuine opinion and advertising, but if it inspires conversations with parents that are reinforced throughout the week as we model our own responses to the messages in the media, that will remind not only kids but the rest of the family of how insidious these messages can be.
Many thanks to Pat Goslee for showing me this site.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has announced its nominees for the TOADY award (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children). Anyone can vote to select the worst from candidates that include a Halo toy for children promoting a violent M-rated video game. Visit the website to vote — you may win one of four un-TOADY toys.
The brilliant movie director Werner Herzog (“Grizzly Man,” “Encounters at the End of the World,” “Aguirre: The Wrath of God,” and of course “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe”), here is gently spoofed by an actor for his inclination toward dark interpretations as he tells us what he thinks is going on with Waldo.