Monday, June 6, 2011

Darkness Too Visible?

The Wall Street Journal created a bit of an uproar this past weekend with its article "Darkness Too Visible". The article presumably laments how "dark" graphic topics and language are prominent in modern young adult fiction, and how parents who protest are accused of "banning" the books. (I'll explain that "presumably" in a minute.)

Folks like Josin L. McQuein and Pam van Hylckama Vlieg have posted rebuttals. Josin says that yes, topics are dark, and they well should be—only by putting the darkness under the spotlight will we actually be able to drive it back. Pam says that she wishes she had such dark YA available when she was a young adult, because then she would've known she wasn't alone.

The #yasaves hashtag on Twitter is filled with people who agree that the "dark" fiction has benefits. People also point out that the WSJ article might be an intentional attention grab, because it ignores the many "light" YA titles that are widely available.

I find myself in my usual middleman position. I actually find myself agreeing with everyone, here.

How is this possible? Because the two sides are talking about two different things. The WSJ doesn't do a good job of making the actual crux of the issue obvious, burying it under extremist comments, which is what's produced the wildfire response.

The crux of the issue: Some people find "dark" fiction useful, and others don't want to read it or to have their kids scarred by it.

Sure, some kids can handle it. But some can't. (Yet.)

I don't care for graphic language or sexuality, but I like dark topics. But I've had a fairly "light" home life. When I was 12, I had less exposure to objectionable language and sex scenes than was contained some PG-13 movies. I'm a visual learner, particularly from typed monochromatic words, meaning what I read impacts my memory. Reading graphic YA fiction wasn't educational for me—it was scarring. I talk to myself, and one day I caught myself muttering a curse.

I don't curse. I had to go cold turkey on reading anything that looked like it would have objectionable language to get the word out of my head. Which leads to another complaint that was in the WSJ article: finding "clean" YA fiction is hard.

Oh, sure, there are titles to find. But how on earth do you find them? Books don't exactly come with advisories. More than once, I've read a book and been startled about halfway through when some foul-mouthed character enters the scene. It makes me feel cheated, because the first half of the book is false advertising for the rest.

These days, "dark" is what's chic, so "dark" is what's before our faces. People remember negatives better than they do positives, and "dark" is a negative for some people. That means they remember the "dark" books they see better than they do the "light" ones.

Yes, "dark" fiction is a good thing. Yes, "light" fiction is also a good thing. And yes, "light" fiction, though it exists, is a bit hard to find at the moment.


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