How young is too young for celebrity worship?
As per assignment instructions, I was perusing Radio Disney’s wiki page when I came across something disturbing: several of the educational segments had been cut over the years (News for Kids, Aptitude Dude, The State Game, Thinkenstein 2000), only to be replaced by tabloid-style useless stuff like Celebrity Take with Jake, Next Big Thing (news of up-and-coming bands, movies, and celebs), and 60 Seconds With…, which features celebrity interviews.
Up until I decided to spend my money on groceries, I used to spend $100 a month on tabloids. But I’m twenty-one. I didn’t start this nasty habit until college. In fact, I remember my mom refusing to buy me tabloids, and the day I got my first Weekly World News was so exciting that I framed the front page. But as a kid, I never took an interest in Tiger Beat or anything celebrity related. I was not a part of Miley Mania. I was pretty in to the Spice Girls, but I was a bit older by then. Maybe I was just in a bubble, listening to Weird Al Yankovic and ignoring the good pop culture. Or maybe it was just different back in the old days.
Why are kids so obsessed with celebrities? Is it because there are kid celebrities out there? Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Drake and Josh…when I was younger, the only kid-celebrities were the Olsen Twins. Half of these tween celebs are terrible role models. All of them are wonderful cash cows. Which came first, the Hannah Montana sleeping bag, or the little girl who wanted the Hannah Montana sleeping bag?
Is it our duty to provide tokens for kids’ and tweens’ celebrity shrines? Should we push the Disney readers and display the Nickelodeon Cds above other media? When I was a story time reader for little kids, I was told not to use licensed character books. The reasoning was that those are the characters and materials kids are most often exposed to at home, and that I should take this opportunity to introduce kids to new materials. I totally agree with this reasoning, but that’s a lot easier to do when the kid is trapped in a story time room with no other alternatives. If we push Ramona books, or Gary Paulsen books over licensed books, will kids take notice, or will they give up and stop reading?
I’m not advocating removing licensed books and celebrity tween stuff entirely. I’m just wondering where our focus should lie. Do we have any control over the demand for materials? If we supply quality and not-so-quality media, will kids respond positively? Denying them Miley Cyrus stuff will only send them running for the book store. And reading mass-market paperbacks published by TV stations still counts as reading. But they’re usually abridged textual versions of already-aired TV episodes.
Disney, which I always thought of as fairly wholesome, is the worst offender. They’re making it uncool to read anything that doesn’t come with a coordinating backpack and sticker set. What are strategies you employ as an information professional to combat this marketing blitz? Do you totally embrace it? Stock it but highlight the qualities of other fine books? Include it in programming (and what about the rights to certain characters in terms of programming and advertising?) Is this just the latest fad? We have about a hundred Nancy Drew books at my library, but no Nancy Drew magazines. How did libraries display Nancy Drew and the other new, popular books when they first came out? Was there resistance?
I’m hoping that Disney’s radio lineup is just a phase. I don’t mind a little bit of celebrity worship (Any thoughts on Jessica Simpson’s weight gain J ?), but bombarding kids with that sort of behavior at such an early age can’t be helping the nation’s future. I suppose a happy medium would be things like Dora the Explorer, which is a marketing goldmine in addition to being educational. Look at Sesame Street. It’s the best of both worlds. I just wish there was something equally balanced for the older set. Although honestly, I don’t know if I could handle the High School Musical gang dealing with cancer, eating disorders, unplanned pregnancies, and drugs (outside of the tabloids, that is).