She starts by warning parents:
They carry no rating or recommended age range on the cover, but their intended audience—teenage girls—can’t be in doubt. They feature sleek, conventionally beautiful girls lounging, getting in or out of limos, laughing and striking poses. Any parent—including me—might put them in the Barnes & Noble basket without a second glance. Yet if that parent opened one, he or she might be in for a surprise.
Oooh, scary. But one question: Does anyone buy books “without a second glance”? Really?
And another: Is Naomi Wolf calling for parental advisory labels on books? I hope not. Probably this is more of a “hook” than an argument. It’s like when the local TV news says, “Some scientists think that this common household cleaning product can kill you! Details at eleven.”
Because teen culture is just like chemicals: to comprehend it you have to be some sort of gnarly expert. And it’s dangerous! Terribly dangerous! So I’m sure there are people out there who do want warning labels. Reading stickers is easier than, you know, talking to your kids about what they’re reading.
What Wolf is really obsessed about it the lack of judgement these books take against their shallow, vain characters. She says they’re “like Lord of the Flies, set in the local mall, without the moral revulsion”? And it’s true—there is no moral revulsion on the page in GG. There’s ironic detachment, but you have to bring your own revulsion.
But you know what? My guess is that teens do bring their own value system to these books. No doubt some read them in a totally shallow way: “I wish that was me all beautiful, dripping with Prada and ruining some other girl’s life.” But I know for a fact that others read them as satire, as an attack on the shallowness they portray. And some read them simply as a tacky pleasure. (I sort of like excessively self-centered characters, just like I sometimes enjoy excessively top-loaded ice-cream sundaes.)
I’ve only read one GG, and I liked it that there’s a bulemic character, but without bulemia being the central arc. It’s just something that happens, something unpleasant, but not The Plot. (Sort of like having a character in a wheelchair, but being in a wheelchair isn’t the whole friggin’ point of the book.)
GG did bore me with its relentless brand names. (Stephen King does too.) My eyes bleed when books employ brand names instead of adjectives and dramatic exposition. But this isn’t a moral failure; it’s an artistic one. You can read brand-name overload as satire, wish-fulfillment, or product placement.
So instead of worrying about the lack of moral instruction in GG, maybe parents should focus on knowing what kind of people their kids are—the subversive kind, the kind who like a good trashy read, or the kind obsessed with status. And instead of warning that YA packaging doesn’t give adequate parenting info, maybe Wolf should encourage parents to talk about books with their kids. (Strangely, this suggestion never comes up in her article. Not once.)
The Good News
Of course, we all know that my books are chock full of moral-icious goodness. And to prove it, there’s a sidebar to Wolf’s article that lists eleven decent and uplifting books. Uglies is the very last one. (Damn you, alphabetical order!)
So I’m curious. How many of you guys have read the Gossip Girl and A-List, Clique books? And what do you think they did to your moral fiber? And how many of your parents talk to you about what you’re reading?