Military accused of poisoning kids’ minds with Santa Tracker video

Giving Santa Claus and his reindeer a military fighter jet escort on Christmas Eve amounts to manipulative military marketing aimed at defenseless young minds, a Berkeley child psychologist says.

In case you have been working today instead of paying attention to the controversy du jour, here’s your catch-up: NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canada military force that protects our skies as well as runs the beloved Santa Tracker each holiday season, is under fire. The reasons? A video that shows Santa and his reindeer accompanied by a military fighter jet escort. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has criticized the video, and, in turn, the campaign has been criticized for its criticism.

“We’ve gotten some angry e-mails ... questioning my manhood,” Josh Golin, the campaign’s associate director, told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. So Golin, and the campaign’s co-founder, Berkeley child and family psychologist Allan Kanner, would like the opportunity to give a full airing to their side of the controversy:

They say they are not anti-military or anti-American -- but they are against any kind of advertising aimed at young, vulnerable minds.

“What’s getting lost in the controversy is the child-development piece,” Golin said. It’s easy for adults to look at the video above and say “What’s the big deal?”


“But we are talking about 4-year-olds and 6-year-olds,” Golin said. “For young children, the idea of Santa, and that there are ‘bad guys’ who might want to ‘get’ Santa, so he needs the jets, that can be very disturbing.”

He said that there was no shortage of studies that tie child-aimed advertising and media influences to a variety of ills, such as childhood obesity, violence and bullying.

Kanner said in a separate interview Wednesday that advertisers aimed to manipulate and poison defenseless young minds to create “cradle-to-grave brand loyalty.” He called it “very cynical manipulation.” And he believes the video is a sign that the military is using some of these very same methods to indoctrinate children into supporting, endorsing and perhaps even one day joining the military.

“It is essentially a marketing device for the military in search of future recruitment,” he said.

It’s fine for the military to advertise to young adults, who, as mature young men and women, can make up their minds for themselves how they feel about the military, Kanner added.

But overtly linking the military to Santa crosses a line, he said: “They’re taking all the joy and gifts and fun of Santa Claus ... and attaching it to the military.”

Kenner said that if Santa gave him his wish this Christmas it would be this: a ban on all advertising aimed at children. “Advertisers and marketers are extraordinarily sophisticated, and children don’t have the cognitive capacity to resist. They’re vulnerable.”

If anyone doubts the ability of advertisers to manipulate young minds, Golin said, they should remember this: Companies wouldn’t spend billions of dollars each year finding clever ways to promote their wares if advertising didn’t work.

Take a look at the teaser video unveiled by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the joint U.S.-Canada force.

The video offers a taste of what children can expect on Christmas Eve, when NORAD volunteers operate Santa Tracker.

Toward the end of the video, you’ll see that Santa’s sleigh is accompanied by two military jets. We’ve reached out to NORAD for comment but haven’t been successful. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, however, told the Boston Globe that the video simply gives children a glimpse of “our true mission.”

What do you think? Tell us why in the comments section below.

Have a good Christmas story to tell? Tweet me @renelynch.


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