At first, I felt pretty sure of my position — that once you have flood T-shirts, you can't really complain about other commemorative items — but the discussion has stuck in my craw and now I'm not really sure what I think.
Is there some line where book bags are okay, but books are not?
Here's what I was thinking:
1. The whole thing is tacky. If you have $20 to give towards flood relief, give $20 towards flood relief. Wanting a T-shirt or a book or something in exchange is, to me, kind of weird. You could give that whole $20 to flood relief, but instead, you got a commemorative mug and the flood relief charity got whatever was left over after the mug was paid for.
2. But once you've accepted that charitable giving now comes with a souvenir, does it really matter what that souvenir is?
One of the Nashvillian's points was that there is a difference between the T-shirts and the book, since the T-shirt makers have all been very clear about their money going towards flood victims. And with the book, it's not clear if any money from the book is.
I thought that, with the book being $30, there probably wouldn't be much profit to worry about, once you factor in the cost of making a four-color book that quickly and the discounts publishers have to give retailers. So, it seemed to me to be a small matter. I mean, if only $1 of your $10... I don't know... commemorative flip-flops goes to flood relief, is that really that much different than no dollars of your $30 going towards flood relief?
It doesn't seem like it to me.
My sources at The Tennessean say that proceeds from the book are going towards flood relief. (This is in line with how the publisher's book on Hurricane Ike is set up.) I still stand by my contention that there probably aren't a whole lot of proceeds from a project like this.
But let's say it's a $1 a book that goes towards flood relief. There are a lot of things you can buy in town where only a fraction of what you pay goes towards flood relief. Shoot, we had a whole "Eat Out for Nashville" event, where restaurants gave half of their proceeds a week ago Monday to flood relief (and, in full disclosure, I did eat at Qdoba for lunch that day).
Is participating in that somehow tainted because they didn't give 100 percent? I don't think so.
So is it wrong for The Tennessean to only give some fraction of the money they make from the book? Is it wrong for them to give nothing at all?
After all, there are benefits to a book. A flood survivor might buy it to have to show people later, "This is what happened to me." It might be cathartic for them to look at it, to ponder what they've been through. Grief takes strange shapes and I'm not going to knock folks for whom having a book of pictures is healing, even if none of the proceeds helped them one bit.
So I have almost convinced myself of the rightness of my position again.
But here's what sticks in my craw, and not just about the book. Something terrible happened to us. And some people saw our tragedy and said to themselves, "How can we use this opportunity to promote our good work?" And out of that, the flood souvenir business was born.
That and a bunch of us — myself included — have said, "I want to help people, but hell yes, I'd like a tchotchke for my troubles." And thus the flood souvenir business booms.
I'm not sure either of those impulses are very good.