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Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers

I had mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it’s yet another astute critique of the mega-rich, everyone’s obsession with branding, and the icky way corporations are marketing to younger and younger people. On the other hand, hasn’t this been done before? Additionally, I always feel a bit queasy when attempts to take a hard look at brand culture actually manage to do the same name-dropping [albeit in a slightly different arena] as the ones they are critiquing. Maybe I’m just feeling holier-than-thou because I don’t even recognize most of the teen fashion brands the author discusses. On the other, I don’t get some of the more subtle messages the author is putting out there because I don’t even know the subtext of brand language.

The author herself is a great writer, really on par with the best cultural critics out there, and she wisely waits until late in the book to reveal her own youthful obsessions with branding, weight and good schools. And yet, she speaks the language of brands which betrays a certain attention level and knowledge that means she’s just not on the outside looking in. The book also is sort of all over the map in terms of topics: school advertising, pro-anorexia websites, lipstick marketed to grade schoolers, obsession with good schools and trainers. Some of these sections are stronger than others and they don’t quite coalesce into one overall message, at least not a strong one. When this book is at its best it’s discussing the massive business of marketing and selling brands to those too young to get into a PG-13 movie, at it’s worst it’s a boring look at the super rich and how they spend too much money getting their bland children into top schools. If this is an area you’re into, you’ll like this book. Otherwise, read Thomas Frank instead.