Books on TV: Product placement even an English teacher could approve.
Last year I wrote about how the end of Lost would damage American literacy. The show was rife with literary references, and its characters, especially the dashing Sawyer/James Ford were frequently seen reading — get this — for pleasure. It turns out characters on other shows read, too.
Apparently a lot. I guess this eluded my notice because a) I watch almost none of the following shows, even though I know they are good; and b) the shows I do watch tend to be cheesy sci-fi escapist fare. Let’s see…Nope, nobody reading on last week’s episode of “Doctor Who.”
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Anyhow, the occasionally interesting folks over at Flavorwire have put together a neat-o slide show with images of characters from popular TV programs reading books:
Don Draper and other characters on “Man Men” reading period-appropriate books like Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything.
Lisa Simpson reading Leaves of Grass.
Jim faking his way (poorly) through a book club discussion of Angela’s Ashes on “The Office.”
Lest it appear we’re in the midst of an outbreak of bookish TV characters, let me note that Flavorwire has to reach back to such bygone shows as “The O.C.,” “Seinfeld,” and the immortal “Freaks and Geeks” to fill out its roster of 10.
And not every reference rings true. Does anyone believe any character on “Gossip Girl” reads anything weightier than Vogue? Certainly not F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned. Maybe Spark Notes. Maybe.
On the other hand, sometimes the depiction of literature in the lives of characters is so true as to break the heart, as when Freaks and Geeks trouble teen Kim is forced to discuss Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in class:
“I hated the book, alright? I have no idea what it’s about, and the writer was clearly on drugs when he wrote it. I mean it just went on and on and on like it was written in a total hurry. If I handed in something like this, there’s no way I’d get a good grade on it. I mean it’s boring, and it’s unorganized, and I only read 30 pages of it anyway.”
Um…that’s a defensible critical position. Just ask Truman Capote.
So even though I’m a reader who watches too much TV (rest assured, I feel guilty about it), I had not noticed a bit of this unsolicited literary product placement on popular shows.
My point: If product placement can sell cigarettes and soda, then it can sell reading, too.
I hereby call on television producers to depict more characters with books in their hands. No, you won’t get paid for it, like you do when Kevin James picks up a bag of Tostidos (or whatever). Consider it the 21st century equivalent of those old public service announcements. Shave a millennia or two off your time in Purgatory.
Hey! One time on “Stargate Universe,” when they all thought they were about to die because the ancient alien space ship was caught in the gravity well of a….oh, never mind. Anyway, they all thought they were going to die in an hour or two — go with me on this — and Dr. Rush, the brilliant but untrustworthy physicist, says he’s going to go read the last hundred pages of a mediocre novel.
But, alas, he doesn’t say what it is. Drat.