What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

After taking a hiatus last week (and generally feeling apathetic about the internet), these are the articles I’m reading and thinking about this week.  I don’t have a ton of stuff for you, but I do have a couple of links.

May the Box Office Be Ever in Your Favor: How Divergent and the Hunger Games Avoid Race and Gender Violence (Bitch Magazine)

Sarah McCarry wrote this guest piece for Bitch, and it’s well worth taking a look at.  In it, she gets at something occurring in all sorts of dystopian tales that is both really disturbing and really important to think about:

As violent and militarized as these books are, the violence in their worlds bears little to no resemblance to the violence of the real world we live in. In DivergentTris is, briefly, sexually assaulted (an experience that she later, somewhat disturbingly, describes as not “really” being sexual assault), but otherwise women, while they’re executed or beaten up on the regular, do not seem to experience gendered violence of any kind. There is no overtly racialized violence. As readers, we can be horrified by the bloodshed—nobody wants to see kids die—without being implicated in it.

The brilliance doesn’t stop there, though:

And, of course, our dystopian heroines are certainly not teenagers of color. While there are numerous great dystopian young adult books that center on characters of color, the ones that have so far caught Hollywood’s eye all center on white characters (or, in the case of “olive-skinned” Katniss, characters imagined by movie producers to be clearly white). These stories present whiteness as a default and a universal, their heroines accessorized enough with a few generic hopes and desires that we can see them as human, but never so marked by difference that we cannot see them in ourselves. The “we” in the audience is presumed to be white and straight or so trained by our own exclusion that we automatically read outside our own experience. 

It is difficult to read articles like these that criticize the books and movies that are widely beloved, but it is also incredibly important.  I very much loved The Hunger Games and I mostly liked Divergent, but that doesn’t mean that these things are without fault.  Reading articles like this makes me a better reader, it makes me a more critical thinker.  And McCarry’s article is excellent, and stirring, and upsetting:

People criticize dystopian YA for being too violent, but let’s face it, these books are not violent enough; these books cannot even begin to approximate the violence of a world in which a white man can shoot a black teenager in the face as she stands on his porch and asks him for help; in which a man can shoot a black teenager carrying a bag of Skittles and walk away free; in which a white man can open fire on a car full of black teenagers whose music he does not like; in which a man beats a young black woman to death solely because she is transgender and, again, walk away; and the list is so long. Every day, the list gets longer.

Look, there is going to be no perfect critique of society when it comes to dystopia, especially when it becomes a commercial Hollywood vehicle.  But this is important stuff to think and talk about.  I know I will be thinking about this one for a while.

I Can’t Deal with Sociopaths in Non-Fiction (Book Riot)

This is an interesting think-piece about how much crazy a person can deal with in their books, essentially.  Although Steinkellner focuses on non-fiction, she also mentions fictional sociopaths, too.  The entire thing raises some interesting questions about reading in general, though.  Do we have a harder time with a concept if we know it’s grounded in reality?  Is it easier to deal with hard stuff like sociopathic, destructive characters if we know it’s fiction and therefore not real?

I don’t have to like the characters to get through the book, but I definitely agree with parts of this article.  Like, I get this entire paragraph:

I hope I’m not coming across as too much of a corseted 19th century lady in desperate need of a reclining sofa and smelling salts. I want to read about complex people in complex situations- that’s one of my favorite things about reading! But I have very thin skin when it comes to consuming media. I gasp while watching movies. I get so angry at certain television characters I’ll wake up the next morning still upset about an injustice that happened on an episode the previous night (Good Wife, you are my favorite show and at the same time, you haunt my nights). I have returned more than one tearstained book to the library…and by more than one, I mean, like, maybe 8. Media affects me deeply. And when I read about a human that is unthinkably cruel to other humans, and I know that all those humans existed, that these events happened, it’s just a lot for me. Sometimes it’s almost too much, and sometimes it actually is too much.

My nickname around the house is “Waterworks” because I’m a crier.  I react to media in much the same way.  I cry at the drop of a hat when I watch movies and TV, and regularly cry when reading a book, if it’s done well.  It happened the other night when I forgot how one of the early Alice books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor ends, and that is a book meant for children.  So I understand this worry about how real life things can be too much, but I also worry about the implications of that.

Like, a lot of things in life upset me (see all the links to real-life murders in the article above this) a great deal, but I still need to know about them.  Not knowing about them doesn’t make them any less real, and it certainly doesn’t do me any good as a person.  I get there’s a line between making sure that you’re informed about the world and also allowing yourself to enjoy entertainment that won’t rock you to the core, but where is it?  I don’t know.  I’m rambling.

The Veronica Mars Movie is More of the Same, and That’s a Beautiful Thing (Slate)

I don’t have a lot to say about this review of the Veronica Mars movie except to say that it sounds pretty much like what I expect the movie to be.  Here’s a pretty telling snippet:

I don’t know how much money Veronica Mars will make, or how much money it has to make to be deemed a success, but as means of fan-satisfaction it is a needle to a major vein. Unlike the new, structurally complex Arrested DevelopmentVeronica Mars’ only ambition seems to be to deliver a product of the same quality as the incisive, quippy show—not at all a low bar. By unapologetically being an extended TV-episode in movie form, Veronica Mars keeps on keeping on with its major theme: taking things that are assumed to be adorable and unserious and safe and complicating the hell out of them.

I literally can’t wait to see the movie this weekend.

What things did you read this week that got you thinking?

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One thought on “What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

  1. Whee! “More of the same” is exactly what I want from the Veronica Mars movie, so this is great news for me! The characters’ voices in that show mostly carried the sometimes overzealous plots, so it’s good they aren’t messing with the formula too much. Thanks for sharing the review.

    And that article about how the “we” in an audience is presumed to be white and straight – so important! I need to read the whole thing ASAP. This is a fact which my friends and I largely missed as young teenagers, as we were pretty much the YA world’s target audience. Even though I usually adore the YA genre, it’s true that the more critically aware we are of what we’re reading, the more of a chance these social issues have of being balanced out in the future.

    In short: this was an excellent list to read in the morning. :)

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