Thursday, October 6, 2016

YA drive-by

I'm teaching a course on Harry Potter this term, and gave a recent lecture on the roots and themes of YA literature. One of the articles I wound up not using was by a scholar named Mike Cadden. For the most part, Cadden gave a fairly interesting breakdown of YA literature--I particularly liked his discussion of YA as transitional literature and how the notion of length becomes intertwined with quality, but I was much less impressed by this passage:

For girls, then, our fake realism of today comes largely
from Alloy Entertainment. These are the folks who bring
the tweeners the wildly popular series about Gossip Girls,
The Clique, The A-List, and It Girls—and what seems to
be the whole YA gossip-oh-my-gawd-he’s-so-cute-butcan-
you-believe-what-that-bitch-said industry. It’s clearly
an entertainment company and would be a target for those
concerned with representations of adult behavior and what
is/should be important to adolescent girls. I guess you
could say that they’re the guilty beach-reads for adolescents,
though we could argue that it’s without the guilt.
But hey, at least those kids are reading, right? These are
novels that, unlike more clearly comic and contemporary
realism like The Princess Diaries, haven’t a tongue within

miles of the cheek—at least not one’s own."

I'll confess, I haven't actually read any of these books, which is a definite limitation to my counterargument, but I have seen nearly every episode of Gossip Girl, which I feel gives me some ground to push back here. The accusation that Cadden implicitly levels at teenage "chick lit" is basically the same that was once leveled at the early gothic novel or the 19th century romance, genres which are now arguably read more by academics than anyone else. These books, critics complained, corrupt our girls, filling their minds with trashy drivel and sexual misconduct. You can deal with them at that level if you want, but they're also reflective of the society they're written from, and in that sense, they're almost across the board a deconstruction of how women are empowered and disempowered by societal norms.

The "tongue within miles of the cheek" line is a good line, but that's all it is. For someone who has watched Gossip Girl and read critiques of Gossip Girl (Jacob Clifton's old Television Without Pity articles were brilliant, and what got me into the show in the first place), I can say he must not have been paying attention, because the series was all about the ridiculousness of teenage extremities. Maybe the books were different, but given that the series includes Psycho Killer, a slasher parody that recasts the series' leads as serial killers, I'm thinking not. Yes, they're of a very different kind from young adult  novels exploring realism and engaging directly with social issues,  but to dismiss them so firmly is to perpetuate the same sort of literary snobbery that has long been YA's lot.

Later Days.