Last month, Tony Blair’s memoirs hit the book store.
Almost immediately some copies got reshelved.
A Journey got moved out of "Politics" into "Fantasy."
Into "Fairy Tales."
Into "Dark Fantasy."
As political protests go, this is something for nothing.
A lively and effective point is made at no cost.
Someone need only pick up the book in one section and move it to another.
Those who dislike Blair have made a point. In a public place. At no real expense. And at no risk. (Moving books between sections isn’t actionable. Not even in Britain.)
And of course, none of this is possible without the new media. Someone created a Facebook group called "Subversively move Tony Blair’s memoirs to the crime section in book shops" and in almost no time it had 13,000 members.
"A Journey" cost Blair months and months of difficulty to write. It cost agents, editors, and publishers fair sums to bring to market. And all the protester needs to do is to walk the book from here to there. The gesture is easy. The coordination effortless. The point quite damaging.
But of course in a democracy we don’t want to police debate by costs of entry. We don’t want opinion confined by the obscurity of speaker or the expense of the media at his/her disposal. But it is not always pleasant to see what surfaces in public discourse now that there is virtual no barrier to entry. (Me, I think, Blair is probably an honorable man who served the British body politic at some personal expense. We vilify or mock him at our peril. Unless of course we don’t mind driving honorable people out of the political pool. We may not like Blair, but there’s a good chance we will hate the alternatives even more.)
But there is a cost here that’s not obvious. It is the intelligence with which the gesture is conceived and the skill with which it’s executed. And in this case, no complaints. The idea of reclassifying Blair’s book was fun, interesting, witty. It found a way to use the structure of the bookstore, and to the extent it mirrors the categories in our head, the structure of thought, to make a point. Well done.
Of course, the bookstore and those categories were just sitting there waiting for someone to seize the opportunity. And I don’t remember this happening before. So the anti-Blair campaigners get credit for the act of intelligence with which they saw what they could do.
Wit gives message a certain credibility. To be sure, it’s not exquisitely clever, but it is much better and more winning than graffiti scrawled on posters. And this gives it a place in discourse. People note it. The Times writes about it. I blog about it.
Even in the "wild west" of the new media, we earn our way in. And in this case, we earn our way in by grasping the structure of our culture and the opportunities it opens up.
Look, there’s a bookstore.
Look, they shelf books by category.
Look, some of these categories capture what I think is true about this book.
Something for nothing. But not something out of nothing. We have to know our culture to make it speak.
Enrich, David, and Paul Sonne. 2010. “Bicycle Mischief Targets Barclays.” wsj.com, September 18 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704858304575498031387359768.html?KEYWORDS=barclays (Accessed September 19, 2010).
Just FYI: http://blog.avantgame.com/2005/08/ministry-of-reshelving.html By the way you should add that blog to your blogroll – she is brilliant.
actually I found this interesting only in that it is a marketing ploy as old as public libraries.
I spent ten years in public libraries in Sydney. A lot of it was spent either checking patron’s books out or back in , or shelving returned books in the “correct” spot on the shelf. Well pretty early on in that decade of public service a senior colleague that “we have the power” to influence reading. WE would all moan and groan that while the Mills&Boon romances were borrowed till their spines fell apart, more ” interesting” or ” worthy” romantic classic were ignored. So we simply would place them next to each other.
I ended up mostly working as a Children’s storyteller .. and again it was common practice to arbitrarily mix what the kids, theor parents, their teachers advised should be ” the story of the day” with one that I thought might be more meaningful.
of course we all do it. We all think hard about how to position something we see as worthy, or dangerous, or little understood next to the content that we think will link the message. So as a marketer we pay to cereals in the dairy cabinet, or movie characters in the fastfood joint. Borrowing crediibility. But we also commonly try to denigrate … have you never seen someone turning a competitors boxes backwards on the shelf ?
actually … you could argue that these shelving guerillas are actually doing Tony and his publisher a favor. In a world where we are always talking about the need to expand what a brand stands for, to sell the brand to unique niches the idea of Mr Blairs story as a dark fantasy might have captured my attention more.
Yes, but these people did it more _loudly_.
That’s not fair. And, its a gimmick anyway. I like dark fantasy, and real books in that category, like Kelly A. Harmon the author of Blood Soup , shouldnt have to be sullied by politics.
Fun post! An off-line version of tagging with a subversive twist. Parody via reclassification. Brilliant!
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