Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

How Dark Green Was My Garden

This is not the Megan Cox Gurdon entry you think it is. She’s a symptom, that’s all.

I confess. I haven’t read her stupid article before today. I’m not saying it’s stupid because of her perspective, which I suspect no one has any real problem with – i.e. we want to be good parents raising good and (mentally) healthy kids. Nope, it’s stupid for statements such as this:

Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures.

Look, I’m all for scaring kids with YA lit (joke! I joke!) but scaring parents with what sounds like good ol’ common sense and a set of blinders two feet tall? I draw the line. I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like to see some citations here. Sure – it does sound likely. What’s that thing about correlation and causality?

Aside from the fact that the whole beginning of the article is basically a cry of woe that the world of today isn’t the world of forty years ago – woe!!! – I’d like you to consider this paragraph:

In Andrew Smith’s 2010 novel, “The Marbury Lens,” for example, young Jack is drugged, abducted and nearly raped by a male captor. After escaping, he encounters a curious pair of glasses that transport him into an alternate world of almost unimaginable gore and cruelty. Moments after arriving he finds himself facing a wall of horrors, “covered with impaled heads and other dripping, black-rot body parts: hands, hearts, feet, ears, penises. Where the f— was this?” No happy ending to this one, either.

The Marbury Lens, incidentally, did not make the Guardian’s Top 10 List of scariest YA books, although 1984 and The Diary of Anne Frank did. (Sommer Leigh, however, protests that this qualifies Smith’s novel as being “hosed.”)

I’m going to spare myself the Internet research involved in looking for archived, online screeds against the Goosebumps series, but you know they screamed the same thing at the time. AND a lot of those screed-ers would probably point to their writing about Goosebumps and say, SEE? SEE? LOOK AT THE MARBURY LENS! THIS IS WHAT WE WARNED YOU ABOUT!

And they’d sort of be right. But in a larger scheme, they’d be just as wrong as Meghan Cox Gurdon, who bewails the loss of innocence from 40 year ago. Oh, children. You’ll never know all the wonderful things that weren’t around when you were young. (See? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?)

Here’s what else wasn’t around 40 years ago. The Saw franchise. The CSI franchise. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. I grew up watching cartoons like The Superfriends (and WOW is that bad – all stiff narration, no character… at least Adam West emoted!) and Scooby Doo, and apparently that’s the level of scary we’re looking for, the kind that can be solved with a partially sentient dog and a tasty  biscuit. I read comic books in the early 80s in which Batman fought vampires (I weep at this idea, now). The Joker killed one of his henchmen who didn’t laugh at the right time with a spear gun.

You can’t look at YA lit – or any other literature – or any other media – in isolation. Because that’s not how we consume it.

I don’t mean consume as in consumers (though that applies, too), but we ingest it. It’s our garden. At their scariest, I don’t disagree with the screed-ers, but I suspect they are fearmongering with outlying cases. I want to see proof, not pithy phrases that sound like common sense. Here’s what happens when you take away the books – Scars, Slaughterhouse Five, Twenty Boy Summer, The Hunger Games. The kids watch TV. Or movies. Or read comic books. Why? Because they’re there.

Stories are entertaining. That’s why we read them. If the author can show us something, touch us, make us think in a new way beyond being entertaining, lovely. Kudos, sir and/or madam.

So here we are, not reading the books our friends or peers are reading. But we are watching the movies. Couldn’t get a hold of The Hunger Games in print? Not to worry, Katniss is coming to a theater near you. What we’re teaching – incidentally but importantly – is that books are bad. Written words are bad but visual stuff is okay.

Let me get this straight. You’re upset about The Marbury Lens? DID YOU EVER SEE JAWS? That was the 1970s!

Sorry. I’ll stop yelling.

Look, I’ve come a long way around to saying this, but words are food. Pictures are food. Talking is food. And maybe The Superfriends was sugar-glazed carrots, because oh my did they package a moral into every episode. And it was terrible. But I watched it because of Batman.

We can complain about the state of YA literature, but that’s me with a thimble at the ocean. It’s the whole garden you’ve got to keep your eye on. And just because you don’t like arugula doesn’t mean I don’t get to try and plant it.

Confidential to Republic, MO school board in regards to the removal of Slaughterhouse Five and Shine: you didn’t eliminate those books. You only took them out of the school library. If your kids are going to read those books, wouldn’t you rather it be where they can talk to an adult about them? Because lemee tell ya – if your kids want to read those books, they’ll find a way.


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