Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Professionalization of Scrapbooking

When I was a kid, my friends and I all had scrapbooks. We didn't do much with them, but we all had them. For the most part, the scrapbooks themselves were made out of cardboard covered in cheesy leatherette (cream colored or burgundy). Just to make sure that we knew they were scrapbooks, they all had the word "Scrapbook" on the front in some old-fashioned, ornate font. We got the scrapbooks at Woolworth's, and they looked exactly like the scrapbooks our mothers and their mothers had used before us.

I know this because somewhere in my childhood, my sibs and I unearthed a scrapbook my mother had kept as a teenage. It was primarily a homage to Nelson Eddy, with sappy pictures cut out of movie magazines that it was hard to picture my mother ever looking at. But she really loved Nelson Eddy. As usually happens in families with a lot of kids, the lots-of-kids synergy resulted in destruction of whatever came into our path, and one of those things was my mother's Nelson Eddy scrapbook.  (One of the reasons it was destroyed was that the glue on one of the pictures of Nelson had come unstuck, and I found a picture of Shirley Temple on the other side. So I just had to go unstuck every other picture to see if they were any other pictures of Shirley. My mother didn't really care. By her later teens, she had abandoned the pasty, bland Nelson Eddy for the more rugged and sexier Robert Taylor, and was no longer keeping a scrapbook.)

In any case, the scrapbooks kept by me and my friends weren't much of anything. A couple of pasted in birthday cards, the class picture, magazine ads featuring over-the-hill movie stars we'd never heard of flogging products we didn't understand (Mum deodorant and Midol), and - most bizarrely - pictures of beautiful ladies in ball gowns that formed the ad campaign for Modess....because. Because what? Who cared? We just wanted the pictures of the beautiful ladies in ball gowns. We'd write our own captions and draw stuff around the edges.

After a couple of pages, we'd get bored.

Back to playing jacks and jumping through sprinklers.

So, based on proven experience and dedicated interest, I am nobody's candidate for the new scrapbooking mania.

Yet I am disturbed by the turn that scrapbooking has taken. From amateur productions with hand-written notes, hand-drawn embellishments, and magazine pictures of Modess ads, scrapbookers now follow formal, elaborate processes. And use all kinds of little add-ins (stencils, stickers, whatevers) that are all part of the burgeoning scrapbooking industry.

We know that this is serious stuff, alright.

Martha Stewart is involved.

Now, I am not a Martha basher. I admire her business acumen, the self-made narrative, the fact that she looks so good for her age, and her composure in sucking it up and doing her time. (Compare and contrast Paris Hilton's freak-out at the prospect of jail.)

Still, there's all that obsessive-compulsive perfectionism that I'm not so down with.

And part of that obsession has found it's way to the scrapbook industry. Just take a quick peek at Martha Stewart Crafts to see all the tasteful (and pricey) scrapbooks you can buy. Not to mention all the tasteful (and pricey) "embellishments and accents": alphabets, dimensional stickers, flat stickers, glitter, labels, ribbons...

Hey, it's not my hobby and if people want to formalize, codify, and professionalize - not to mention commercialize - it, well, I guess that's their lookout. 

And I suppose I should welcome the emergence of a new industry - scrapbooking - that's letting people make a living. (I found a three year old mention that claimed that it's a $2.5 billion industry, between the scrapbookers and the 3000 stores that support them.)

But I can't help wondering whether 25 years on, someone wouldn't be just as happy - maybe happier - to see a scrapbook that had a handmade "embellishment", a personal "accent." I can't help feeling bad when I see kids who'd rather use stickers than draw their own pictures because the stickers "look better."

And I can't help asking just what's the matter with do-it-yourself? What's the matter with, well, scraps.

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