Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Packaging homebirth

I have written before about the marketing of homebirth and "natural" childbirth. Recently I read another marketing article that explored the "stories" found on food packaging. The authors' thesis is that these stories glorify a particular brand by associating it with the myths that society currently favors. These are the same myths that underpin homebirth advocacy.

In quoting from the article, I am not claiming that homebirth is deliberately "marketed" by a particular organization or group. I simply want to point out that corporations create these marketing campaigns by exploiting the prevailing cultural myths. In addition, a large part of their appeal comes from the deliberate attempt to flatter the consumer as more educated than other people. Homebirth advocates find these same myths just as appealing as the average consumer targeted by corporations. Furthermore, they want and expect to be praised and flattered for their personal choices. Homebirth advocacy relies on this desire to feel superior to others.

In Packaging as a Vehicle for Mythologizing the Brand in the journal Consumption, Markets and Culture, Knaizeva and Belk identify "Myths of the World in the Past" that influence the "stories" found on packaging. Precisely the same myths are shared by homebirth advocacy:
Packaging narratives depict the modern world as a deeply distorted reflection of what it originally was - the garden before agro-chemical technology. While the values of the past include family, tradition, authenticity, peace, and simplicity, the current era is associated with broken family ties that need to be restored, scientific "advances" that pose threats, constant pressure on the well-being of humans, and unnecessary complexity in everyday life.
The authors pay particular attention to the conceptof "naturalness":
Naturalness appears as a rich emotional construct that connects with positive contemporary images of nature... People do not want to remember that nature can also be destructive as in deadly hurricanes and poisonous mushrooms ... In a natural health context, Thompson also finds nature to be a positively framed powerful mythic construction; and his informants attribute magical, regenerative powers to nature. They firmly believe that aligning with what nature has to offer for one’s health lets them assert control over their lives and bodies versus losing control by being complicit in a scientized medical system.

We can see here the spiritual treatment of nature that ... pervades alternative medicine, vegetarianism, voluntary simplicity philosophies, the natural childbirth movement, and dietary beliefs linking food to health with a resulting reverence for magical, harmonious, whole, natural foods free of herbicides, pesticides, and genetic modification. These beliefs are in turn linked to puritanical American beliefs that we must take responsibility for our bodies, work hard to perfect our health, cleanse our environment and system of pollutants, and choose the foods that will make us healthy...
Ultimately, these myths are joined in service of the over-arching myth, that of the "enobled and empowered" consumer:
... all the significance attached by storytellers to the products transforms otherwise powerless consumers into the powerful marketplace players. As a result, newly empowered consumers can temporarily escape imposed world conditions by shaping their personal myths and servicing their individual lives. Thus, myths of the past are meaningfully used to serve the present.
Marketers exploit these myths precisely because they have so much resonance for consumers. It is these same myths that undergird homebirth advocacy:

the myth of idealized nature
the myth of the idealized past
the myth that are health choices will necessarily make us healthy
the myth that making the prescribed choices empowers people

The most important point, in the case of products as in the case of homebirth, is that these are truly myths. They do not represent reality. There is no reason to "trust birth" because birth in nature resulted in appalling amounts of death. The assumptions about birth in the past bear no relationship to the way that birth occured in the past. It was not viewed as spiritual and empowering, but rather as agonizing and dangerous. We have much less control over our health than we think we have. Most importantly, accepting and acting on these myths does not mark people as enobled and empowered. They are not better, smarter or more "educated" than women who make different choices; they are simply believers in the prevailing mythology of nature in modern life.


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