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Branded: The Buying And Selling Of Teenagers
Basic Books, 2003
256 pp., $25.00
Getting Older Younger
When you write a book badmouthing marketing and proceed to market it, you expose yourself to charges of hypocrisy. In Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers, Alissa Quart capitalizes on publishing's recent penchant for anti-corporate polemics like Naomi Klein's No Logo and Michael Moore's Stupid White Men in a trendy reportorial tone of suburban verité. Quart frets over the obsession with "Logo U"—an Ivy League education as a name-brand product to be marketed and consumed—but the first thing her bookjacket mentions by way of biography is her degrees from Brown and Columbia.
But Branded's contradictions are problematic at a deeper level. As the teens and preteens (or "tweens") she studies scurry around consuming this brand and that, so Quart is content to breezily browse various aspects of youth consumption, darting in and out of malls and marketing conventions, transcribing the disturbing aha! statements she overhears, and presenting the results as if they constituted a systematic critique. How does endemic consumerism warp teens' and tweens' souls? Does it flow from the decline of geographic community, as historian Daniel Boorstin contends? What should kids be doing instead? The pace of Quart's hip tour of the branding of youth—from clothes to video games to movies to marketing in schools—leaves little time for thinking about such questions.
Again and again, one feels the contradiction between Quart's assumed role as social critic and the superficiality of her approach. Like Klein, Moore, and company, she pits passive, powerless citizens against oppressive corporations with unpardonable profit motives. Her title suggests that kids are but cattle quivering before a rancher's searing iron. When Quart writes that today's youth are "victims of the luxury economy" and "governed by MTV," the reader wonders: when did MTV win a war?
But Quart's failure is frustrating precisely because her subject is genuinely important. In a society that equates freedom with market economics, ...