le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Kid Pickers: early lessons in capitalism

Evidently the American emphasis on teaching kids to be capitalists has moved well beyond the old standby lemonade stand; Macmillan Kids has published Kids Pickers: How to Turn Junk into Treasure "by" Mike Wolfe, star of the History Channel show "American Pickers."

I came across this via the Children Book Council's Pinterest, which is pretty terrific and very worth following.

I have many thoughts on "American Pickers," but in the interests of ever getting anything done I'll skip most of them except to say that it's a remarkably queer show putting up a 'brave' front of butch masculinity, and that I find both Mike and his co-star rather repellent; their open greed and capitalistic fervor disguised as genuine affection for and interest in history and material culture makes my stomach turn. At the Console-ing Passions conference in Boston last July (2012), I attended a panel that included a talk about "mantiquing," which didn't go as far as I wanted it to (i.e., dissecting the queerness/butchness of the show) but which did introduce the word "mantiquing" into my vocabulary.

And now mantiquing goes kid inclusive with this book. I can't think for the life of me how kids, who for the most part lack the essential picking resources (transportation, time, knowledge, and capital to buy 'junk') are supposed to launch their picking careers, but I guess that's why Mike Wolfe had to write a book. I hate the language of "turn junk to treasure," because it totally removes the value of any material object as anything but a money-maker; that is, the social, historical, cultural value of, say, an antique book is erased and replaced with nothing but its current market value. The things of history become metonyms for cash, and nothing more.

Because I get interested in about 18 different things each week, I don't have time for them all and I have to watch myself so I don't run after Shiny Objects and neglect things like teaching or dissertation. this is why I don't know what kind of critical work has been done on indoctrinating kids into commercial enterprise (that lemonade stand) - but I do remember talking about it in connection with (I think) The Great Brain when I took a children's lit class at Georgetown. Perhaps the most famous of Tom Sawyer's escapades also centers on moneymaking - the whitewashing of the fence. Kids in books are always trying to figure out how to get money, which is both totally reasonable, since kids in general are demographic without the power of the purse, and totally distasteful in its capitalism.
Making the leap from fictional moneymaking schemes to an actual how-to centered around this most peculiar of occupations - picking - is unsurprising but still deeply unpleasant. I'm curious about the gender implications of the book - the TV show really works hard to make picking a Man's Job, full of motorcycles and gasoline signs and jokes about wives. I also wonder how well this book will sell: what parents will support their child's new career as a picker? Or will it be a 'family who picks together...' kind of scenario?

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