Remember, you've got the power

26th May 2006 at 01:00
MCLIBEL VIDEO TV Choice pound;47 tvchoice@aol.com

There's an increasing groundswell of unease about the domineering impact of multinational companies. Suddenly we're starting to feel a little more squeamish about the tyranny of choice, especially when exerted by companies like Tesco which now influences more than 30 per cent of Britain's daily shopping sales.

As Barry Schwartz says in his ground-breaking book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, we have been duped by the promise that choice will make us happier. In fact, it adds to our stress. And our students, who live in a world where everything is up for grabs - designer labels, phone colours, ringtones -can be left bewildered and beleaguered by the big decisions in life.

That's why we owe it to them to educate them about what was once described as the Coca-colonisation of the world, the encroaching power of the global giants.

This video provides a fascinating case study. In 1990 McDonald's slapped writs on five London activists for allegedly libelling them in a leaflet entitled, "What's Wrong with McDonald's?"

The global giant successfully silenced three, but Dave Morris and Helen Steel refused to apologise. In a world where 96 per cent of American children recognise Ronald McDonald (only Santa Claus rates higher), I'd say this video is essential viewing for our pupils. There's even a former Ronald McDonald -like an Alcoholics Anonymous-member in rehab - talking confessionally about why he quit.

It's not a balanced case, and we owe it to pupils to remind them of that.

There's also a geekiness about the video which adds to its charm but, in the early stages of a lesson, will have pupils rolling their eyes or sniggering. In places, it has the production values of one of those Open University management videos they used to show in the early hours on BBC2.

Equally, the fact that the key players are not - shall we say - Hollywood types gives the documentary its bite. These are old-fashioned heroes taking on the might of a major corporation. Most compellingly they reveal the cynical way that McDonald's has used links with sport, words like "nutritious" and "balanced" and the canny psychological tactics of Happy Meals and children's parties to hook the long-term loyalty of children.

We're building the video into our citizenship course as part of our commitment to building pupils' knowledge of their rights and responsibilities as consumers. Recommended.

Geoff Barton is Headteacher at King Edward VI School, Suffolk

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