“Is There a Text in This Advertising Campaign?: Literature, Marketing, and Harry Potter”
I thought it was interesting to note that J.K. Rowling, the author of the series, was not as impressed with the marketing and commercialization, as determined by June Cummins. As an author, it can be assumed the Rowling would like her work recognized for its literary merits, something that is overshadowed by the immense about of “stuff” that can make the books appear to be nothing more than another piece of merchandise to make money for the franchise. Additionally, much of the money gained from Rowling’s Harry Potter empire is donated into charitable causes, backing up her viewpoint on wealth depicted throughout the books. Nel points out Rowling’s depictions of the use of wealth, through the villianization of the Dursleys and the Malfoy and through Harry’s portrayal as a thrifty philanthropist, Rowling makes the point that wealth is not necessary a bad thing as long as it is used for good and not as a way to hurt others.
One point that he made really struck a chord with me. Early in the article, Nel quotes John Pennington as saying, “Phenomena such as the Harry Potter books are driven by commodity consumption” and “the pleasure and meaning of a book will often be prescripted or dictated by convention.” Books are not simply seen as just books anymore, but as jumping off points for larger media and marketing campaigns (or in some cases, the books follow the media and marketing efforts). As a young adult reading these books for the first time, I vividly remember thinking about how the stories would make such great movies and envisioning myself as Hermione, long before the movies were in the works. Obviously I was not alone in this thinking since the books did indeed get adapted into films.
I think the most compelling argument for the quality of the books is the origin of Harry Potter’s popularity. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone originally became popular because kids read the stories and told other kids how great the book was. Word spread, and more and more kids were reading the book. It was not the mass marketing campaigns or merchandising; it was kids falling in love with a story and sharing that with one another. As a child myself at the time, that is why I started reading the books. I did not chose to read the books because the media was telling me I should, rather it was because I heard it was a good book and gave it a try. If a book can inspire kids not only to read but to inspire other kids to read, then that is a very telling quality. As Nel put it, “hype alone is not a sufficient explanation for Harry’s appeal.”
“Children’s Literature at the Turn of the Century: Toward a Political Economy of the Publishing Industry”
As pointed about by Taxel, the publishing industry exists for the purpose of creating revenue. With that mindset, publishers choose books that pose the least amount of risk and offer the biggest return on investment. Risk is determined by factors such as notoriety of the author and the mass appeal of the story. A niche story by an unknown author would have a hard time finding the backing of a large publisher.
As the educational landscape has changed, so too has the publication of children’s literature. The first boom in publishing happened during the 1950’s with the passage of the National Defense Education Act. This act provided funding for math and science books for school libraries, prompting publishers to give more attention to children’s books. Education changed even further in the 1960’s with the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Not only were more funds allocated to school libraries, but the audience being targeted began to be altered. As a reflection of the social changes occurring at that time, more and more multicultural texts were being published and purchased. Eventually, however, the funds dried up, causing publishers to find new avenues for selling their wares and shifting their audience from librarian to “consumer child”.
“Fast Capitalism” is a new term for me, but a very familiar idea. Rather than being works of art, children’s literature has become a commodity that has a “circuit of production, circulation, and consumption”. We live in a fast paced world where consumers are used to immediate gratification, something that is difficult to achieve in a time consuming process like writing. In becoming commodities, the intrinsic value of literature is lot; instead it is defined solely in terms of monetary value. In devaluing this literature, publishers are opening the door for shoddy writing for the sake of quicker turnaround and higher profits. This focus on the bottom line also limits the risk taking of publishers. Unless there is a standout story with mass appeal, such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or The Hunger Games, publishers are unlikely to take risks on unknown authors, instead favoring authors or series with proven success.
In the end, Taxel encourages teachers, and those in the position of putting books in the hands of children, to choose wisely and to not be afraid to step outside of the mass marketed texts. In doing so, the young readers can be exposed to higher quality, multicultural texts that do not have the mass appeal of many of the texts being pedaled by the large publishers. One of the strongest calls to action and a perfect summation of Taxel’s view is this:
“We need to be more aggressive in promoting the best books, especially those that will provide young people with insight and understanding into the growing diversity and complexity of our society. Children should be taught to analyze critically the wide range of books and films that dominate popular culture, encourage them to read multiculturally, and to question the construction of gender”