Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Am I a censor?

One of my favorite lessons in middle school health class was the one where we got to look for subliminal messages in magazine ads. Were there really faint images of skulls in the ice cubes of alcohol ads? I can't remember now. It was all sort of conspiracy theory, which only made me like it more. I felt like a character on X-files. Foolish alcohol companies! You can't trick me into drinking myself to death! I'm wise to your games, scum!

What will health teachers do now that subliminal messages are passe? Well, here's an idea. They can have kids read YA books and count the references to brand names. I'm not kidding. I knew that Faye Weldon had paved the way to hell with her Bulgari Connection* seven years ago. And now, just as Sex in the City has given us Gossip Girls, Bulgari Connection has given us Cathy's Book.** And yesterday the NYT ran an article on a new series for middle school girls that's designed to be a vehicle for advertisers (via Bookshelves of Doom.)

The best part is, the PR newswire story emphasizes the author's social conscious, because she cares about, like, global warming, and wants to help girls "go green." Gak! I'm choking on the bitter irony! Instead of holding large companies accountable for green house gasses, let's promote their products in kids books at the same time as we tell kids that it's their responsibility to stop the global warming!***

But I'm already wondering: is it censorship if I refuse to buy the MacKenzie Blue series? I'm serious. I don't want it in my library, but what if girls come in asking for it? I don't buy Disney books, although I put donated books in my collection. Should this be part of future collection development policies if I'm already intentionally avoiding commercialized books? Do we, as librarians, have a position on commercialization? I don't want to play big brother to the kids who use my library, but I also don't want to hand them over to advertisers as a captive audience.
* Here's a review, for what it's worth.
** It should be noted that the product placement was removed from the paperback edition. Why? This is purely speculation, but I'm wondering if advertisers are only interested in promoting their products in a book for a limited amount of time. How long before Cover Girl's lipslicks are replaced by another product? Then, do you replace the product placement? Or just stop paying for the partnership, leading publishers to remove the references?
*** While I'm being facetious, check out the clever comments on the BBC's website re: The Bulgari Connection.

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