So this week’s topic is… “Conspicuous Consumption and Teen Markets” (dum dum DUUUM). This is like double weird timeliness, what with the Occupy movement appearing to be on its last legs and – oh, the irony – the Christmas consumergasm/shopping orgy beginning to strike us all with the temporary insanity of a European soccer riot. As I consider this thorny issue, I feel like I ought to be wearing the Guy Fawkes mask my idiot brother bought before the 99% made him their poorly-reasoned poster boy (Guy Fawkes, I mean, not my idiot brother).
Anyway. The Glenn article was an excellent examination of this trend of conspicuous consumption in YA literature. I haven’t read any of the books she analyzes, but I’m familiar with the titles and the general ‘plot.’ And, frankly, the phrase “ethically and morally bankrupt” made me want to read them just to see if they’re as terrible as they seem to be (I’m sure they’re worse). (Digression: the publishers should probably emblazon that phrase across the covers of the books: ETHICALLY AND MORALLY BANKRUPT!!! There would be a huge bump in sales, I’m sure.)
And how delightful was it to analyze YA texts using a Marxist critical framework? Very very delightful. Of course, it would be even more awesome if we were to analyze YA texts from the perspective of this Marx (my favourite Marx – oh, there’s a book title for you). Glenn discusses problematic issues of entitlement, disparity of class and race, empty relationships, and conspicuous consumption (which sounds eerily like my family reunion) in three YA series: Gossip Girl, The A-List, and The Insiders. I especially liked her thoughts on encouraging and developing audience resistance: “Literacy is empowering only if one is a critical reader—one that analyzes, questions, and critically evaluates that which is being read […] [T]hese texts provide the ideal opportunity to engage adolescents in discussions that encourage the development of a critical stance” (p. 40). I agree wholeheartedly. These books, with their atrocious writing and, worse, insidious messages of elitism, privilege, and conformity, should not be banned. Their flaws become, in fact, valuable – as tools for not only raising discerning readers, but for developing critical thinking and for encouraging YA readers to ask questions extending beyond the craptastic novel in their hands.
So Glenn suggests teachers call attention to the stereotypes and elitism in these books and create a dialogue. I loved the idea of reading books like The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men to compare and contrast the treatment of these economic and social issues (although I’m sure comparing their works to Gossip Girl would have Fitzgerald and Steinbeck rolling over in their graves ). But what can librarians do? It’s more difficult for us to convey the need for critical reading than it is for teachers, who have teens hostage in the classroom. I have no answers (remember, I’m still a librarian chrysalis). Some ideas? Teen book groups seem like a way to potentially engage YA readers in critical reading, in addition to guerilla Marxism in the form of subversive readers’ advisory (“When you finish The A-list, check out Das Kapital in the 330s!”) and muttered rabble-rousing (“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles!”). Hey, any excuse for Marxist mutters, am I right?
And you could wear T-shirts with this on it:
Yes, yes, I know – Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview while communism is a political movement and form of government. But come on – what teen could resist a librarian rocking that T-shirt? And if they ask about it, so much the better. Their curiosity about this slammin party is the perfect chance for the conscientious librarian to introduce philosophies often ignored in high schools and get teens to start questioning what they’re reading. Huzzah for dissidence!