Tales of Sneering Jackassery

First, you ought to read this brief piece of Joel Stein being a jackass. Heard this sentiment before? I bet you have.

Let me get one thing straight: I am not a YA author or fan, in particular. The science fiction and fantasy I write, I write for adults and, perhaps, mature teenagers. Weirdly enough, I usually don’t sympathize with the principal characters in YA fiction. I don’t recall a particular time where I was uncomfortable with myself or who I was (though I do recall plenty of people who had a problem with who I was who made things unpleasant, but I never considered that anything other than an external problem and I never adapted myself to them). I have always known, basically, where I wanted to go and more or less what I wanted to do. I had the misfortune of watching someone very, very close to me die very, very painfully throughout my entire teenage years, and this taught me a lot about what mattered. Other people’s opinions or the ridiculous insecurities of adolescence didn’t make the list.

"I say, gents, have you read the latest from Samuel Richardson? I hear it takes the poor woman 200 pages to waste away from illness! Ripping good yarn, what?"

Nevertheless, I appreciate what YA fiction can and has done, and not just for young adults. It distills very complicated, very adult problems into slick, fast-paced stories and, furthermore, gives your average teenager a voice in that problem. This is not only important for kids, but it makes a good lens for we adults to peer through from time to time. It makes us step back from ourselves, to try and remember a time when we weren’t so calcified into our lives. It makes us hope and believe in possibility in a way many of us don’t anymore. It kills cynicism in a way only the young truly can.

Furthermore, the sentiments of arrogant literati like Stein also encompass something else: the clear and emphatic disdain for that they choose not to deem ‘literature’ but, instead, cast off as ‘mere genre fiction’. This is the bit that really gets me.

Look, you’re entitled to your taste. You don’t like one genre or the other, fine. But two rules:

  1. Just Because You Don’t Like It, Doesn’t Mean You Can Rip On It: I say this without irony: grow up. Are you actually incapable of appreciating something because it doesn’t appeal to you directly? Are you one of those immature jackholes who can’t admit a man is physically attractive because you’re afraid you might be considered gay? Is the reason you don’t and will not read YA fiction actually because you feel it adds nothing to the literary discussion, or is it, rather, because you are so pathetically insecure that the thought of another person witnessing you reading something intended for another age group give you the willies? Seriously, man, if the rest of us have to read Infinite Jest, you can man up and read some YA fiction just to see what the hype is about.
  2. Admit that Everything’s a Genre: That literary fiction you so adore? Guess what –  it’s genre fiction. It has its set of tropes, standards, acceptable styles, target audience demographics, and the rest of it. Their readers focus on style and metaphor over plot and pacing. They forgive the occasional self-indulgent tangent or purple prose passage. Writers are pushing buttons in that genre the same as in every other one, so let’s get down off your high ‘literary’ horse and admit, once and for all, that literature is something much, much broader than what you perfer to define it as. Watchmen is literature. The Giver is literature. Neuromancer is literature.

I really don’t know how many times I need to say these things before they stick. You are all aware that some of the most pivotal and powerful stories of our history started out as simple adventure tales, right? Can’t you perhaps admit that The Hunger Games may be tapping into something important? Granted, I haven’t read it (and am not especially motivated to), but it isn’t because I think it’s bad or lacking (though it very well may be). It’s because I’ve got other things ahead of it in line, simple as. I’ll get to it when I get to it, but I’m not about to hold it against anyone who’s reading it now, no matter how old they are.

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About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on March 29, 2012, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Well-said, and indeed, what a jackass.

    SInce it’s come up in his article, and yours, and is a hot topic right now, I’ll add something specific to The Hunger Games that is also pertinent to the discussion: that the characters are teens in that book does not mean they are dealing with “teen problems.” Far from it. The oft-used in YA tropes and focuses of mean girls and crushing on a boy don’t exist there. That they are teenagers really only factors into the horror of the fact that they are so young and yet being forced to kill each other. Apart from that, their age is relative. Even the love story is far more about survival than love.

    There is absolutely worth in YA, and I’m no less in touch with being an adult today than he is if he’s ignoring YA to read things written hundreds of years ago by people who never so much as imagined computers or a country called America.

    • It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dealing with teen problems, but it very often does (even if only metaphorically). I might even go so far as to say ‘most of the time’, but I’m not a big YA reader and so haven’t read widely enough to say. Suffice to say that all YA I’ve read thus far has. If Hunger Games is different, I am somewhat more interested in reading it.

      • Oh most, of the time, yes, I agree. I was just making that particular example since it had come up in his article specifically, and is the hot topic right now.

        But it does serve to show that YA doesn’t mean something irrelevant to adults.

  1. Pingback: On Competition | Auston Habershaw

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