Monday, December 1, 2008

Dogma, Dictation, & Relevence.

Yesterday I made a (livejournal) post about how horrid S. Meyer's "Twilight" books are, and waves of people clashed in my comments. Some comments, including my own, were more abusive than others. I will not justify myself nor anyone else. Insofar as my journal goes: you are free to duke it out. I encourage it. Which is not to say that I encourage flame wars. I simply think that conflict is a necessity of the human condition and can lead to far different outlooks on all parts of those involved if given its place. No one will be asked to come to this journal with fluffy Neo-Pagan "perfect love and perfect trust" hogwash that doesn't exist. "As brothers (and sisters), fight ye!"

But there's one thing that bothers me. It's something that I didn't detect until I woke up this morning... and sat on my glasses. I was literally thinking about it at the moment I sat on my glasses, no less. (Which I took as an omen.) Which led to two startling conclusions:
1. I should probably not toss my glasses on my chair when crashing because I'm lazy. Because I will inevitably sit on them upon waking up.
2. We have a funny idea of what kids should be exposed to in this country.

The idea that books written for "young adults" should or can fall to lower standards than those written for adults is atrocious and completely insulting. But considering how "educated" Americans are right now it really isn't very surprising.

Every child that isn't mentally retarded should be able to, or at least encouraged, to read Shakespeare at age twelve. This is not to put Shakespeare on a pedestal the way many middle school and high school (and I refuse to capitalize the terms on principle) teachers do so. There is no reason a child needs to be expected to understand all of the content involved... But I'll bet that most, if not all, children can manage the task given the appropriate time-frame and people willing to explain what's going on.

During the Dubya years, which is not to suggest politics but general mentality, we've seen a significant factor of intellectual crippling in American society - ranging from television to literature - that is astonishing. From a President who's speeches were worse than many given by second language citizens to the rise of "Reality Television" we've continually crippled the benchmark for learning, understanding, and content.

Saying things like, "if you want adult stories, don't visit the young adult section of the bookstore" is fucking terrifying. Saying things like, "kids read it," is fucking terrifying. These are inapt justifications for shoving (as Samuel /Sammaelhain 23 commented) junk food down our kids' throats and then not understanding why they'd bypass the four-course meal for fucking cheetohs.

If our standards have become so low that white-washed teen-MTV bullshit with veiled propaganda is the best we can hand out then we're in bad shape. And if the inability to recognize that is part of the problem, then someone needs to point it out. I may not be the best individual (between Shakespeare - because I was told his works were "far too hard" for me to read - and classics I also read pure Cheesy-puff delicious content too: the Forgotten Realms novels are hardly amazing literature. They still have more to offer than the Twilight books, however).

Stop stunting children and let them amaze you. Lowering the benchmark because the back of the book states "Young Adult" as the targeted readers is fucking atrocious. And some people should still be ashamed of themselves. The bias inherent in it is that "children can't understand" - and the fact of the matter is that we aren't giving them things to understand. Especially things like relevance. Questions revolving around sexuality, politics, ideology, and divergence in opinions and belief are all the more important to expose kids to. Because these are things that as they become adults will become further ingrained in them unless they're given the options to play with before they're adults.

If there's one thing I admitted about the Twilight books then it's that sex wasn't taken for granted. That doesn't make the novels any better, however. That just shows a need for better novels with the same content. Of which there certainly is: a vast majority of Victorian novels played with similar themes not relegated to children. Instead of forcing twaddle down kids' throats, why not expose them to The Portrait of Dorian Gray and then ask them questions like: "what do you think?"

They're "young adults." As the label implies, they can more than hack it. If we let them. Stop forcing children and "young adults" to deal with Spongebob-esque novelizations and open the fucking doors to both their imaginations and capacity to reason. They can, and will, surprise us all.

A quote to end this commentary:
'Repeated exposure to myths – or merely mythic motifs – rather than conscious learning is responsible for embedding myths into the structure of our consciousnesses. Such 'deep structures' manifest in the modern world not so much as fully-formed mythical narratives but rather as 'fragmentary references, indirect allusions, watchwords, slogans, visual symbols, echoes in literature, film, songs, public ceremonies, and other forms of everyday situations, often highly condensed and emotionally charged.' (Flood 1996: 84)

If this seems rather abstract, consider this Jewish proverb:

We do not see things the way they are but as we are.

- Foamy Custard, Cosmologies as Deep Structures.


Riley said...

Could you please post a link to your live journal?

Lance Michael Foster said...

I was reading Dickens, Hugo and Plato in third grade. I went to Catholic school and the nuns introduced us to Greek, Latin and Hebrew in second grade. It closed in third grade though and I didn't keep up with it.

The U.S. had a better educational system back in the 1800s, when what an 8th grader learned is college-level now. I teach at a community college...and I feel so bad for these kids, some of whom were betrayed by the system, and many of whom are just being ripped off for student loans, because there is no way they should be in college with their interest or abilities.