Thursday, March 23, 2006

You Make My Heart Sing

New York Times columnist Naomi Wolf recently wrote a column called "Young Adult Fiction: Wild Things," in which Wolf critiques fiction series like Gossip Girls and The Clique for portraying young ladies as mean, sexualized misogynists with serious consumer fetishes. Says Wolf:

But teenagers, or their parents, do buy the bad-girls books — the "Clique," "Gossip Girl" and "A-List" series have all sold more than a million copies. And while the tacky sex scenes in them are annoying, they aren't really the problem. The problem is a value system in which meanness rules, parents check out, conformity is everything and stressed-out adult values are presumed to be meaningful to teenagers. The books have a kitsch quality — they package corruption with a cute overlay.

Wolf seems to see these books the same way somebody would look at Teen People--as a message from media that is intrinsically designed to model behaviors, looks, and products for you to buy. Wolf doesn't seem to have any faith in you (by you, I mean teens) to evaluate these characters and stories so to decide for yourself what to take and apply to your lives, if anything.

When I first started working here, I must admit I had similar feelings (not about the teens, but about the books). I soon learned that I'm nobody to judge anyone else's reading interests, especially when that judgment amounts to generalizing the hopes, dreams, and emotional lives of the thousands and thousands of people who enjoy these novels. Wolf's critique of these books, and all the social hierarchy in the novels, feels like it amounts to a whole new hierarchy--of prep-school-turned-Yale-alumni adults like Naomi Wolf knowing what's "best." (Though, even if one was to accept the principle of "bad" in these characters' behaviors, I fail to see how any character completely aligned at the pole of revoltingly cruel consumer-driven materialist provides any emotional access point for readers to want to emulate their experience of these characters.)

I'm curious to hear what all of you think about this article. How do you interact with your reading interests? What do they mean to you?

Okay, take care, everyone. This is my first post to the blog, and I'm signing out.

Best wishes,

P.S. -- I'm just going to take this opportunity to plug Natalie Standiford's Dating Game novels. Three high school sophomores--Madison, Lina, and Holly--make waves at their preppy school for the gifted when they start a matchmaking blog. Little do people know that they each have their own issues with being forlorn in love, sex, and the social life. Standiford has quite a knack for creating a sensational life without sensationalizing it. Despite their rather average quality, the Dating Game novels have a quick, urgently exciting feel, with characters rushing through life and getting hit with a few key realizations along the way.

P.P.S. -- If you're interested in further discussions of how media--specifically visual media like photographs, television, and movies--impact society, culture, and our minds, please call me here at the library, at 412-622-3121. We have a free Media Literacy & Digital Video Production class for high school students every fall and spring, in which we talk about these issues and apply what we learn to representing ourselves through digital video exercises. It's intense and fun, and I would be happy to add you to the list of people to contact for the fall!

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