Alissa Quart’s column in Slate’s Big Money argues that in addition to rating movies and television for language, violence, sex, smoking, and substance abuse, we should rate them for product placement. She notes that for $300,000 you can have your product prominently featured in “customized storylines” on “The L Word,” a program produced by the “non-commercial” Showtime cable network. So, when we see a character on that show who is excited about a new car or pair of shoes or laundry detergent, we no longer accept that as an indication of character or plot but a distraction to remind us that we may be watching a story but we are also being sold. The line between art and commerce blurs even further as the networks themselves are getting into the business of selling the products and clothes and even the furniture used by television characters, essentially turning every program into an infomercial.
This is especially troubling in media for children where even “Baby Einstein,” which originally promised its DVDs would not be used to sell products, changed its mind and every G and PG release has with “partners” selling everything from postage stamps to cleaning products, not to mention toys and fast food. I would like to see a prominent caution listing all companies that have paid to have their products featured in the movie or in its advertising so at least parents can be prepared to help children navigate the ever-shrinking line between story and commercial.