09 June 2011

Right through you

Late Saturday night, I saw the start of the #YAsaves campaign on Twitter and went to read the Meghan Cox Gurdon article from the Wall St. Journal that started it all. I was outraged (in part by some of the commentary that followed the article. PMRC redux) and in part by the article itself. I wanted to start my own fountain of flame but thought better of it and went to bed instead.

But you know, I'm still outraged.

I cancelled my WSJ subscription years ago, precisely because WSJ started to print crap like this. You can thank Rupert Murdoch. I largely consider WSJ to be beneath my notice these days, and while I appreciate *real* journalism that presents valid, well-researched information and inspires honest dialogue, I don't like the stinky, jaundiced kind that is trying to foment a flame war.

The gist of Gurdon's complaint seems to be that some current YA books are nasty. They are the teen equivalent, in some ways, of pulp fiction. They have nasty content, nasty characters, nasty endings. Lurid covers that suck sweet, innocent teens into a world of horror. Some of the stories are stories of hopelessness, ugliness and pain. Because you know, in the real world, there is no child murder nor are there child molesters, child rapists, children dying in wars, children dying from the stray bullets fired in their neighborhoods. Teens killing their newborns, their parents, their classmates. Teens taking drugs, making drugs, dealing drugs, prostituting themselves, and walking in front of trains. Nope, none of that happens in the real world. Not once has a little girl ever been snatched from her neighborhood and held in captivity for years while she's raped repeatedly, eventually bearing her abuser two children. Nowhere has a teen girl ever been kidnapped on her way to school, raped, stabbed to death and her body hidden until her killer takes the police to its location after he's been captured for raping and murdering another young woman who was out running. And of course, no drunken mob would ever beat a young gay man to death just because he's gay nor would a student shoot his gay high school classmate to death in the classroom. No parent has ever helped her child to bully another child to death via social networking. No mother has ever executed her two teenagers because they were "mouthy." In the real world, no one gets hurt, and Prince or Princess Charming shows up in the nick of time, and airplanes never, ever fly into skyscrapers. It's only in YA literature that bad things happen.

Would that we could all live in Gurdon's nice, tidy world of happy little endings.

There are bad books out there. I get that and so do a lot of other responsible and involved parents. Poorly written and wholly inappropriate books. Books that really should not have ever seen the light of day. And you *can* blame the publishers. And you *can* blame the writers. And you *can* blame the libraries and the bookstores. And you *can* blame the people who buy it and read it. But should you?

The point Gurdon almost makes in her article, but actually manages not to quite comprehend herself, is that at any given time, contemporary literature does, in fact, respond to contemporary concerns. Without the atomic bomb, it's unlikely that Nevil Shute would have written On the Beach, which is one of the saddest and most hopeless books ever written as an entire community waits for death, horrible death, from radiation poisoning. Social abuses figure hugely in Charles Dickens' oeuvre and in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. I don't know if Gurdon has ever read Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, which was widely taught when I was a sophomore in high school, but the scene in which the wine cask breaks is stomach-turning in the avidity with which citizens pursue the red liquid that is a metaphor for the blood that will shortly flow freely in the French streets, lapping it from the cobblestones, dipping their cups and kerchiefs in it the better to drink. Welcome to the French Revolution.

As Gurdon points out, in the 1960s, social changes led to socially disonant books... I wonder why? With a divorce rate of 50%, families in complete disarray, a total disregard for personal responsibility, war and poverty and real human pain raging everywhere, what rainbows are adults handing off to the younger generations in real life? Who gets a happy ending? Social disintegration is going to be reflected in the entertainments of that society.

So here's a challenge for you, Meghan Cox Gurdon and all you folks snug in your safe, warm little fantasies: you want people to start making better young adult stories? Then you better start working on making a better world.

Go listen to some good music: "Right Through You" from the album Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette. "I know how hard you're trying to wage guerrilla warfare on social ills," the spouse said after reading this. The sad truth is that I've been sitting on this since Sunday when I wrote it. There have been lots of responses to the original article; the best and most measured is Sherman Alexie's (here), the author of one of the books that Gurdon attacked. He said it better than anyone else I've seen. And yeah, reading did save me, though it wasn't YA lit, which I backed into later on.

No comments: