A high schooler wears a Pepsi shirt to school on Coca-Cola day and gets suspended for insurrection. A sixth-grader covets a $500 Kate Spade bag, only to toss it a year later. A family drops $1,400 a day to take an sat tutor along on vacation. These dispatches from a label-obsessed adolescence come courtesy of Alissa Quart, whose new book, Branded, plumbs the depths of contemporary marketing to teens.
In Quart’s view, youthful consumerism doesn’t end at the mall but extends to “self-branding,” as teens burnish their exterior selves and extracurricular credentials in pursuit of social success and admission to a name-brand college. Quart haunts video arcades, chat rooms, and malls, and interviews middle schoolers consulting for Teen People — whose executives lap up the students’ insights on angora and advertising copy.
Quart wants to prove that today’s “branded” teens are a new breed, but her argument overreaches. In particular, she censures the label-mindedness of flicks like Clueless while missing their blatantly satirical bent. After all, Clueless is inspired by Emma, Jane Austen’s classic indictment of vanity that still resonates today — with nary a reference to trend-spotters, brand managers, or marketing directors.