What is up with all the product placement in Turtles All The Way Down?


I enjoyed John Green’s honest portrayal of a girl with mental illness in Turtles All The Way Down.  Protagonist Aza Holmes constantly obsesses over her internal bacteria and wonders who she really is amidst so many factors she can’t control.  

Turtles All The Way Down features John Green’s usual cast of existential, well- read teenagers.  This time, the teens casually investigate the disappearance of a corrupt billionaire.  Aza just so happens to know his son Davis from Sad Camp, a place for kids with a dead parent.  Aza and her best friend Sy are initially in it for the $100,000 reward, but the money becomes irrelevant pretty quickly.   

This is not a story about a girl with a mental illness solving a mystery.  If you have a mental illness, the book says: life goes on. If you have lost a parent, to death or disappearance, the book says: life goes on.  You will probably not feel better after reading this book. You will, most likely, feel exactly the same. Maybe a bit more enlightened. The title refers to this passage:

“Okay, so there’s this scientist, and he’s giving a lecture to a huge audience about the history of the Earth, and he explains that the Earth was formed billions of years ago from a cloud of cosmic dust, and then for a while the Earth was very hot, but then it cooled enough for the oceans to form.  And single- celled life emerged in the oceans, and then over billions of years, life got more abundant and complex, until two hundred fifty thousand or so years ago, humans evolved, and we started using more advanced tools, and then eventually built spaceships and everything.

So he gives this whole presentation about the history of the Earth and life on it, and then at the end he asks if there are any questions.  An old woman in the back raises her hand, and says, ‘That’s all fine and good, Mr. Scientist, but the truth is, the Earth is a flat plane resting on the back of a giant turtle.’

“The scientist decides to have a bit of fun with the woman and responds, ‘Well, but if that’s so, what is the giant turtle standing upon?’

“And the woman says, “it’s standing upon the shell of another giant turtle.’

“And now the scientist is frustrated, and he says, ‘well, then what is that turtle standing upon?’

“And the old woman says, ‘Sir, you don’t understand.  It’s turtles all the way down.’”

I appreciated, even if I did not enjoy, John Green’s latest stab at the meaning of life.  

I did not appreciate all the product placements in Turtles All The Way Down.  Turtles All The Way Down contains copious references to things that already saturate our culture, such as:

Star Wars.  Aza’s best friend Daisy writes Star Wars fan fiction about love between Rey and Chewbacca.  Daisy uses NEW, Disney- brand Star Wars. Turtles All The Way Down references the new movies, Star Wars: Rebels, and a whole bunch of other New Canon Star Wars shit.  Daisy is Turtles’ most loquacious character, and she almost never shuts up about Star Wars.  

Iron Man– Davis clutches a worn- out Iron Man toy as a security object.  Really? Iron Man? I don’t care that Aza says Iron Man is kind of lame. Did it HAVE to be Iron Man?  Did Davis HAVE to carry a talisman from the Marvel Cinematic Universe? How about a nice Captain Oats type deal?  Or maybe something with a meaningful personal story his dead mom gave him? How much did Disney pay John Green to pimp Star Wars AND Iron Man?

Applebees– The teens regularly convene at Applebee’s.  Now, I understand Indianapolis might not be the cool cafe capital of the world, but I am not that old and I work in schools and I know absolutely zero teenagers who hang out at Applebee’s.  Maybe Denny’s, but not Applebee’s. Applebee’s is where your family goes to appease your relative who only likes very plain American food. I think Steak n Shake would have been just a little cooler.  

UPDATE: I ranted about this on an airplane and another passenger kindly informed me that the kids do, in fact, hang out at Applebee’s.  Also that Applebee’s has $1 Long Island Iced Teas. Go Applebee’s.  

Dr. Pepper- Of all the soda brands, Dr. Pepper probably offends me the least.  Still, soda is bad for people and most Dr. Peppers served at Applebee’s come with a straw.  Everyone knows straws kill sea turtles, right?  Also, the heroine rarely eats, but guzzles Dr. Pepper, perpetuating the myth that pop culture heroines are basically anorexic.

The following product placements didn’t bother me AS much:

Chuck E Cheese– Daisy works at Chuck E Cheese.  Not many places sum up “kiddie arcade kids love and teens hate” quite like Chuck E. Cheese.

Jupiter Ascending– Davis shows Aza this fabulously terrible 2015 space opera, and the book actually had me considering a rewatch.

Star Trek– Davis also mercifully balances all this Star Wars blather with one solid Star Trek episode.  

Now, I know full well that persons aged 14- 22, the intended audience of this book, really do enjoy Star Wars and Marvel.  Truly, these could be mere pop culture references that really resonated with John Green. 

But with Disney’s corporate whoring, I wouldn’t put it past them.

 It’s far more unbelievable that these kids leisure read William Butler Yeats and The Tempest.  Still, I felt the product placements really detracted from a story about teens trying to find the meaning of existence and self.  They sure won’t find it at Applebee’s.

2 comments on “What is up with all the product placement in Turtles All The Way Down?

  1. I don’t really see it as ‘Disney whoring,’ there were lots of references that are not Disney related that are all over the book. Constant references to Harry Potter*, Davis’ Escalade, Wikipedia, etc.

    You stated the reasons why he probably had these references in your criticism – the target audience. I am almost 2 years out of what is stated as the target demo and this did nothing but help me visualize this story. The oversaturation of Star Wars makes sense because of the “most loquacious character” constantly brings it up. The main character doesn’t even care for it so it is easy to imagine your eye rolls and Aza’s matching.

    Green’s referencing of Disney properties in videos, tweets, etc – both love and criticisms make it apparent that this bringing up all of these things aren’t really out of his element even before he got big. So big that there was a Paul Rudd was reading/crying ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ during a montage of things he was doing whilst on house arrest during Marvel’s “Antman and The Wasp.” Even if it was paid (which is a stretch I don’t believe one bit,) another JG book got millions of new eyes. He is officially in the MCU 😉

    Side Note: Disney doesn’t exactly promote fan made things like fiction and sold art due to the tight grip they have on their properties.

    *the Harry Potter references I think were all similies and metaphors rather than referencing specific objects, but it was more than twice so I thought it significant and relevant enough to bring up.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful feedback! You know a lot about this. I really appreciate the background information about the relationship between John Green and Disney.

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