Liking David Foster Wallace Does Not Make You Smart

| Friday, March 29, 2013

Today's Tune: Please Don't Go

I am RANTY today.

So I have A LOT OF FEELINGS about people who use their love of very particular kinds of literature to sort of “one up” people who like other kinds of fiction. Who dictate that if you like Book A instead of Book B, you are a plebeian sheep with a grade-school education. Or something.

A little background about myself, if you will allow me.

I have an English degree with a Creative Writing emphasis. My degree doesn’t mean much, but I did what I really enjoyed. Except for the part where I could never get into any of the fiction classes, so I did poetry and non-fiction (autobiography, in particular) instead.

And oh my gracious, that autobiography class, you guys. Talk about an exercise in navel-gazing. Anyway.

My point is that I read all of the Good Stuff. Ye Olde British Literature, Romantic Poets, Shakespeare, Everything Old White Dudes Wrote Ever, Super Special Lady Fiction, Postmodern Indecipherable Bonkers Lit, Kurt Vonnegut Is Awesome, the whole shebang. I read (and even enjoyed) everything from Beowulf to Joyce. If you want to talk about how fractured language reflects schizophrenia in Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy or gender fluidity and how it relates to Irish Catholic sexuality in the Circe chapter of Ulysses, I will stand toe-to-toe with you.

But here is the thing: it does not make me Smarter Than You.

And frankly, I cannot abide by people who sneer down their noses at what other people read and act like their intelligence is superior because they read something they’ve arbitrarily decided is “real” literature.
Because you know what? I also read science fiction. And fantasy. And contemporary. And humor, and graphic novels, and non-fiction.


I know this is a difficult concept to grasp, but people can have more than one interest. People can like completely mundane things and also be incredibly intelligent in a multitude of ways.They can acknowledge that something can be different and not to some preset standard, yet valuable all the same.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve never read something that I put down because the writing, characterization, world-building, or general structure just didn’t function to my standards. I absolutely have. But here’s the thing about my standards: they are mine. Acting as though everything to come out of a category is pure gold is folly, but so is hand-waving it all away as useless fodder for the brainless.

Whether you only read super high-brow literary Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction or you read pulp fiction genre fluff or you read everything, it has nothing to do with your value or your intelligence.

A wise person once said: you know who cares about what other people read? ASSHOLES.

I’ve read all the literature you’ve read. I like it. I STILL READ AND WRITE AND LOVE KIDLIT. Because it is valuable, because it is “real” literature, because it speaks to me on a variety of levels. Do not presume you are superior because you’ve taken some English courses and can have Deep Discussions About Literature. One of the concepts I currently have on my plotting backburner is a YA novel loosely based on Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. I used to write highly literary (and published) poetry about being abducted by aliens. I also write short stories about making out with hot Italian boys in the rain. I CONTAIN MULTITUDES. DO NOT FRONT TO ME.

Here is my point: if you feel the need to shit on other people because of what they do or don’t read, it says more about your insecurities than theirs. If you need to prove your intelligence by regurgitating the same tired lines people have been repeating for centuries, you are showing your ass.

Like what you like. Read what you read. Do not presume it makes you a genius among fools.

Sneering at teenagers and their fiction does not make you brilliant. It makes you Every English Snob With A Gin-and-Tonic. Enjoy.

The Case of the 30-Year-Old Teenager: Teen Representation in Media & Unattainable Standards

| Friday, March 22, 2013

Today's Tune: José

The other day I saw a few people on Twitter discuss the recent casting choice of Four in the Divergent film adaptation. The selected actor is 28 years old and will supposedly be playing 18-year-old Four. It's unclear whether they'll be aging him up or leaving his age ambiguous, but as Tris is supposed to be 16, it's an interesting (and a little confusing) choice.

This is far from the first time significantly older actors have played teenage characters. In the television show Glee, several of the characters were in their mid-to-late 20's while playing sophomores in high school. Some of the actors were younger -- actor Chris Colfer is widely regarded as one of the babies of the group, having started filming at around 19 years old -- but most of the actors were comfortably in their 20's. Even Dawson's Creek, one of the forerunning teen dramas, had actors ranging from 17-23 playing 15-year-olds.

There is a sensible reason for this, of course. Actors who are over 18 aren't subject to the multitude of laws surrounding child actors, which include limited filming times and required schooling stipulations. Even so, it seems odd to skew as old as a nearly 30-year-old actor playing a high schooler, particularly one who doesn't look especially young (Bianca Lawson notwithstanding because that woman does not age). But clearly there's a precedent.

It always catches my eye. I understand why under-18s aren't generally cast for major teen roles (see limited filming hours again), but even so, it has to be kind of a trip for teenagers to watch representations of "themselves" on screen who are not only Hollywood polished, but past the most awkward stages of teenagerhood. Crystal-clear skin, flawless makeup, impeccable fashion sense and unlimited wardrobe (even when the character is supposedly dirt poor), perfect smile with no braces (only creepy nerd characters have those), wry humor without a trace of awkwardness... that's got to be disconcerting for your typical teen. How do you live up to that standard?

This is why I used to love watching Dawson's Creek as a teen. Sure, the actors were all gorgeous in their own way, but they weren't so highly polished and on-the-ball. They were flawed, and awkward, and confused. They were pretty, but not unattainably pretty. Every once in a while, there was a zit that didn't quite get covered with makeup.Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with its super-cool heroine and incredible adventures, still maintained that sense of being young and occasionally having no idea what you were doing.

I know I'm teetering dangerously close to nostalgia for my beloved turn-of-the-century shows, but today's teen shows aren't all bad. Glee tried to capture that feeling. It tries to be inclusive of many different types of teenagers, but unfortunately it doesn't hit the mark for me. It feels like one of those shows that had good intentions, but went horribly awry in the execution. The positive messages get muddled in twee and contradictory storylines that undo months of character development.

There are a variety of people who come through the show, but I have a very tenuous relationship with the way they're treated. They're still very highly polished, and although the show includes many different kinds of people, it also tends to favor the societal "norm." Skinny, pretty, white, able-bodied, and straight. Characters who deviate often find themselves the butt of oppressive jokes, which I like to think of as "hipsterisms." You know what I mean... "I can joke about your fatness/Blackness/queerness/disability because I don't REALLY mean it, duh! We're friends sometimes! I told you that you were pretty once!"

I've actually grown to love Teen Wolf because it incorporates a lot of that teenage awkwardness back into the show. Again, the cast is VERY pretty and VERY polished, but they don't always know what to do. They stumble, they're awkward, they don't always have a barb at the tip of their tongue.

Sometimes I kind of yearn for another Freaks and Geeks, not gonna lie.

I think it's desperately important for young people to see themselves in their media. The super-polished, fantasy versions are okay, and sometimes you need that escape from reality. But it's even more important, in my opinion, to see a reflection of who you really are, warts and all. This of course also extends to the constant lack of diversity in both teen television and YA literature, which is something that's being slowly chipped away at and I hope continues to improve.

When you see someone who's supposed to be your age, but they're really ten years older, well past puberty, and polished to a high shine, how does that make you feel about yourself? Like you can't measure up? Like something must be wrong with you because you don't look and sound like THAT? It's definite food for thought.

What do you think, dudes? What sort of representations do you like to see in youth media? What do you hope to see?

In Defense of TaySwift, KStew, and Young Women

| Monday, March 11, 2013

Photo from Just Jared Jr.
So, this post isn't really going to be new or revolutionary. It's something that a lot of people have already discussed at length, especially since the Academy Awards aired this year. Really, the thing that spurred me to write this post was that someone sent me an ask on my Tumblr regarding my opinion about Tina Fey/Amy Poehler saying a thing about Taylor Swift and then Taylor Swift alluding that they should go to hell. I had to Google the thing to know what they were referring to, but once I found the articles, I was sadly unsurprised.

This is something that I feel like I see a lot of when it comes to not only young starlets, but young women in general. Whether people are ragging on Kristen Stewart for being boring/ungrateful/awkward, or snarking about Taylor Swift's relationship status, or hating Anne Hathaway for being... a goodie-two shoes or something? It seems like it never ends. And of course, there have been a veritable avalanche of articles responding to the treatment of Quvenzhané Wallis, who is not even ten years old. Many of which I think you should read: here and here are good places to start. This one too.

I asked myself why it was that people are so quick to lavish praise and pump up Jennifer Lawrence while simultaneously shutting down so many of her contemporaries. I think there's a lot of interesting discussion to be had about accessibility and an aura of "one of the people," but I also think it's more than that. I think it has to do with the idea that she portrays this sort of "cool girl" vibe of "I don't really care about makeup or Hollywood vapidity, I just want to have some pizza and beer." Which is an attitude we see a lot. And I'm not hating on JLaw for that! I get the distinct impression that that's her personality, and more power to her. She's also appears to be reasonably friendly/friends with many of her fellow actresses, which helps.

But I do find it interesting that being irreverent and not caring who made her gown and constantly talking about how much she loves food is seen as cooler, more real, or more genuine than other actresses. Other actresses who play the game, pose, answer questions, don't smile on cue, openly take their career seriously, date around, or whatever else. Is it because women are expected to be amicable, friendly, and always fun? Is it that we expect celebrity women to shut up about their career, their beauty regimen, and their diet despite the fact that the public demands they're polished, professional, and slender?

I couldn't help but be on Taylor Swift's side when she commented that Fey and Poehler made a jab at her expense. I don't exactly approve of her making a general statement that women must always lift up other women (women are most certainly allowed to be critical of other women when they're upholding crappy or oppressive behavior), but I feel her on the media's constant need to take pot shots at her dating life; to invent new "boyfriends" for her every time she's photographed in the same vicinity of a guy.

 Here's the thing about comedy and satire: social commentary and satire are entertaining because they uncover injustices and nonsense in established systems. They cleverly point out the way in which an accepted social order is corrupt or just plain ridiculous. They lift the marginalized and mock the powerful. Why? Because the powerful walk away unscathed. They may have a bruised ego, but they are still on top. But when you mock the less powerful or the powerless, you're maintaining the status quo. When you make fun of a young woman for dating freely, you're upholding the idea that young ladies don't get to date around, lest they be viewed as fickle or - gasp - slutty.

And I can't help but feel for Kristen Stewart every time someone chides her for looking "bored," for not smiling, for slouching, for whatever. It stings me, because it speaks to a very real issue I dealt with growing up: having other people dictate how I was allowed to express my emotions, and being called a "bitch" when I didn't conform. I'm not a super smiley person. I'm also rather shy and reserved. I like being around people, but I'm not usually that bubbly person chatting everyone up. Even when I'm happy, I'm not constantly beaming everywhere. All my life, people have DEMANDED that I smile. They have seen me sitting quietly, listening, and assumed I was bored or snobby when really I just like to absorb the world around me.

This is what the public does. It polices young women's behavior every second of every day. It tells people that we're allowed to dictate how other women interact with the world, how they act, how they express their emotions. If we don't like it, we can sneer at them and presume that they're a "bitch." It's not just with reserved ladies. It's with ladies who are "too loud," or "too serious," or "too ditzy," or "too full of themselves." We read these behaviors not only into celebrities, but into every woman around us.

Now, I don't know any of these women. They could be great, they could be horrible. I don't know. But that's the thing: I DON'T KNOW.

None of these ideas are new or groundbreaking, I know. But they are things I think about. I can barely watch awards shows or interviews with actresses anymore without cringing at the inevitable onslaught of people picking at how she sits, how she speaks, how she smiles, who she dates, whether or not she's "annoying."

Anyway. I'm not here to tell anyone they shouldn't participate in celebrity gossip or that they can't dislike certain actresses. I just can't help but feel a certain level of protectiveness when I see a young star criticized not for her actions or her art, but for simply existing as a woman in Hollywood. So yeah.

I HAVE THOUGHTS. Do you have thoughts?

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