books and reading · pop culture

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the articles I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.  Let’s go!

Revisiting the Reductive Approach to YA Revisited: Contemporary YA and Generosity to Readers (Stacked)

There’s a lot to unpack in this excellent piece by librarian extraordinaire Kelly Jensen, but it’s worth a read if you’re at all interested in how YA gets written and talked about, and the rise of the bogus concept of the “YA Savior.”  In it, Jensen takes issue with a New York Times review of A.S. King’s book Reality Boy, written by the polarizing (but mostly beloved) John Green, and then expands upon Green’s influence in the media these days:

Article after article from publishing insiders talk about how contemporary realistic fiction is on the rise. That it’s the next trend to really hit YA fiction. While I disagree that it’s the next trend — it’s always been a staple of YA fiction as much as being a teenager has been a staple of being between the ages of 13 and 19 — I think the actual trend is the rise in YA fiction that reads like or can be sold as being a John Green alike.

That’s not all that this article covers, though.  Jensen talks about Green’s position of power in the world of books, and she talks about the fact that while he doesn’t abuse that position, he also makes grand pronouncements and doesn’t back them up.  Recently, he tweeted this:

Fascinating to see responses to Allegiant because I think many of the book’s readers are just, like, wrong about what books are/should do.

He goes on to talk about the fact that readers have an obligation to be “generous” to the books they read.  Jensen has some questions about all this:

So what is it that a book is or what a book should do? And more than that, why does the reader owe generosity toward a book? He doesn’t offer a suggestion here, but rather a platitude that doesn’t dig deeper into the implications of what being a generous reader means.

I’m not doing a very good job of summarizing this post, but that’s because there’s so much here to think about.  Jensen is very fair to Green–much more fair than I probably would, but she raises some really good questions.  It’s worth a read.

Why TV Wives are Always Way Hotter than Their Husbands (Alternet)

It’s no secret that there’s a double standard in Hollywood when it comes to the attractiveness of men and women.  Men are allowed to be much more ordinary-looking than women are.  It’s much more common to find a kind of schlubby dude paired up with a much hotter, fitter (and often younger) woman.

Across the board, audiences today are subjected daily to female characters who are not, for lack of a better word, ordinary. They are almost always gorgeous, fit, sexy and dating or married to someone not nearly as attractive as they are. Men can be all shapes and sizes on film; women must be hot.

In this article, the author, an actress herself, took a look at a bunch of different character descriptions that casting directors use to fill spots on TV shows.  The message is clear: what a woman looks like matters.  It’s worth reading the different character descriptions (how many euphemisms can we find for “hot”?), but it’s also so, so discouraging.  With fewer and fewer roles for women, why does it always come down to what they look like?  And wouldn’t everyone benefit from seeing more representation onscreen?

My So-Called Life Set the Path all Teen Shows Would Follow (AV Club)

Wasn’t My So-Called Life the most amazing thing, like, ever?  Can you believe it’s been nearly 20 years since it aired?  Does that make you feel as old as I do?

My So-Called Life felt utterly and completely unique when it aired, and it feels utterly and completely unique now; if this show somehow found its way onto the schedule in the fall of 2014, it would almost certainly be just as hailed as it was in 1994, and it would almost certainly feel as fresh as it did then. It is an oasis in the history of television, but like all oases, its presence was far too small.

This article is such a beautiful love letter to a show that was pretty much flawless.  I think I have to rewatch the series now.

Don’t Hate Macklemore Because He’s White. Hate Him Because His Music is Terrible (Slate)

I’m including this article not only because I think it raises some good points, but because the title made me laugh.  Look, I’m sure Macklemore is a nice person, mostly.  I don’t think about him a lot, but when I do, it’s usually because he’s done or said something that’s well-meaning but sort of awful.  He’s been in the press a lot this week after his (completely undeserving) wins at the Grammys, and that’s to be expected, I guess.

This article is pretty great, though, for a lot of reasons.  This is one:

No, I hate Macklemore and Ryan Lewis because I think their music is terrible at best, and worse than terrible at worst. It’s the lowest sort of middlebrow, an art-like commodity that shallow people think is deep and dull people think is edgy…This is rap for people who don’t like rap that makes them feel proud of themselves for not liking rap, and for buying Macklemore albums, and as such it moves from bad music into immoral, bleached-out hucksterism…

It gets better when it starts to dissect Macklemore’s music, and why, exactly, it’s so awful:

As Jon Caramanica noted in a Times piece far more levelheaded than this one, Macklemore apologists and detractors alike often argue that his music is more pop than hip-hop, and that to compare him to Kendrick and Kanye and any number of other artists who were up for Best Rap Album on Sunday is an unfair equivalence. This is bullshit. For starters, from a musical standpoint both Kanye West’sYeezus and Drake’s Nothing Was the Same are easily more genre-straddling works than The Heist, a conservative record in every sense other than its politicsSecondly, and much more importantly, Macklemore claims himself as a hip-hop artist, proudly, at every opportunity.

I mean, whatever.  In the scheme of things, he won some Grammys, and people are either in on the fact that the Grammys are kind of a joke or they’re not.  People either understand that there is white privilege at play here or they don’t.  I’m not trying to be a social justice warrior and I’m not trying to rail against people who think his music is good (it’s not, guys) or fun (I guess I’ll allow this).  I’m just trying to engage in the discussion about what Macklemore’s wins mean, and how it relates to the pop culture machine.

I’ll leave you with this:

And this is when I wonder: Who does this dude think he is? The number of lazy elisions and smarmy misdirections buried in here are confounding. In what asinine, addled universe is “hip-hop” reducible to YouTube comments? Hip-hop is certainly a culture “founded from oppression,” but what might you know of that, Macklemore? It quickly starts to feel like the white kid in the front row of the Af-Am Studies class, droning on about his own radicalism, convinced he’s the only one in the room with Dead Prez on his iPhone.

Okay, I’m done now.

What did you read this week that got you thinking?

 

 

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