It is as if, to every period of history, there corresponded a particular privileged age and a particular division of human life: 'youth' is the privileged age of the seventeenth century, childhood of the nineteenth, adolescence of the twentieth.
Philippe Aries, Centuries of Childhood, 1962: 32
We enter the twenty first century saturated in a steady flow of media-embossed stories of children in crisis and at risk (see Joel Best). Drug wars, Columbine and an 'epidemic' of school shootings, child molestation, Internet pornography, and missing children are just a few of the controversial stories constructed to boost television ratings. Supported by expert analyses these stories seem ever present. Media culture constructs a social world in which children are continuously at risk. This is often translated into a conservative political agenda emphasizing family values and the restoration of a lost moral center. This media generated concern for the welfare of children transforms corporate strategies to censor cultural products that don't conform to the values of 'family entertainment' (Klein, 1999: 168).
Ironically, children are both a real, and growing, market for commodities and also a convenient signifier used in corporate public relations and marketing discourse. Commodity advertising brands the world of childhood, directing marketing appeals to the youngest consumers, but legitimation advertising uses decontextualized images of children to signify corporate moral concern and socially responsible motivations. While advertising directed at children has been heavily criticized for fostering the wrong sorts of values (e.g., Calvin Klein ad campaigns that were said to border on child porn), legitimation advertising routinely deploys children's images in both montages and narratives about capital and technology to mute criticism of corporate practices.