Thursday, September 5, 2013

FYI (if you write about teenagers and their “orgies”)

I have nothing to add to the chorus of scorn, contempt, and slight regard that’s risen up against a notorious bit of parental concern-trolling. Many authors, publishing pros, and librarians of my acquaintance have been eloquent and amusing on the subject already.

There is one sentence in the post, though, that sticks with me (stuck with Ms. Hall too, I guess. The italics are her own) as an echo of something bigger and older:

“[M]en of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.”

This is a real thing, this moral logic. It’s a real old thing too, of course. And, more often than not, it asserts itself in adolescence. Here, let James Joyce write you a portrait:

As he crossed the square, walking homeward, the light laughter of a girl reached his burning ear. The frail gay sound smote his heart more strongly than a trumpet blast, and, not daring to lift his eyes, he turned aside and gazed, as he walked, into the shadow of the tangled shrubs. Shame rose from his smitten heart and flooded his whole being. The image of Emma appeared before him, and under her eyes the flood of shame rushed forth anew from his heart. If she knew to what his mind had subjected her or how his brute-like lust had torn and trampled upon her innocence! Was that boyish love? Was that chivalry? Was that poetry? The sordid details of his orgies stank under his very nostrils.

If there is a silver lining to the nonsensical and damaging moral logic of Hall’s post, you may find it in the perfection of Joyce’s portrait of young Stephen Dedalus (it only took a girl’s laugh to lay waste to his integrity).

So, what’s the “Dear writers” in all this (because the open letter is now the official medium of those who have concerns)? If I may borrow a phrase from Ms. Hall’s moral universe: “Hate the sin, but don’t forget to love—that is, to write about in a curious and clear-eyed way—the sinner.” Let Jezebel and Twitter continue to tear the post to shreds in the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, please, for the love of YA literature, make sure you’re pillaging every single thing you can from this superb evidence of an evolutionary step in the teenage condition. Don’t let scorn be the last word. This blog post is a gift.