Disdain and Teen Media

It’s not just YA that seems to attract sneers from many adults eager to prove how above it all they are, and how much better they are than simple teenagers who apparently are easily distracted by the first bright shiny thing they see. All media ostensibly aimed at teens comes in for the same kind of condemnation, and it always seems to fall out along similarly formulaic lines. Really, if adults are trying to impress anyone with their trenchant commentary on media and society, one would think they could at least come up with some new criticisms.

It’s petty, vain, self-absorbed, meaningless, too saturated with boring love stories, vapid, or just ‘bad,’ a sweeping condemnation that provides absolutely no information about the media in question. Is it bad because of production values? Poor writing? Sluggish or erratic pacing? What makes media ‘bad’ is a complex and ever-changing rubric (think of how advanced the special effects in Jurassic Park seemed at the time, and how amateurish they appear now). In the case of teen media, though, the simple fact that it’s intended for teen consumption appears to be enough.

The disdain here isn’t really about the media, of course. We all understand that, right? Whether books, films, television shows, and other works of media are works of fine art, pinnacles of achievement in every possible way, or absolute garbage, the problem is that they’re designed for teens, a lesser class of society, people viewed as subhuman because of their age. Though all of us adults were teens once (with the exception of Athena, who gets a free pass), we are eager to distance ourselves from the realities of our own lives and the simple facts of biology in the interest of insisting that teens are somehow a completely different species altogether.

It runs even deeper than that, though, as even casual observation will reveal. It’s not even so much about teens in general as teen girls in particular, when it comes to media criticism and insisting that teen media is somehow unfit for grownups and the rest of society. Because teen girls, you see, are particularly vile and insignificant. They’re all pink sparkles and frivolity and they’ll just grow up to be useless, pointless women who won’t really do anything, and the sooner they learn their place in society, the better; hence, we must, as a society, condemn the media they enjoy as a reminder that their tastes are secondary to those of society and will always be considered marginal.

If men decide to like something, well, then it’s important: take a look at the stratospheric career of John Green, for example. Green is a good author, The Fault in Our Stars is one of my favourite books, he’s heavily engaged with his readers and the community in general, but at the same time, he’s often given credit as the man who revolutionised YA — even though he didn’t really start taking off until after Suzanne Collins, J.K. Rowling, and, yes, Stephenie Meyer. While Green isn’t at fault for the way the mass media depict him, and he’s not at fault for being a good writer who writes good books, the statement implicit in the idea that he’s a serious writer while someone like, for example, Veronica Roth is not is very telling.

Green writes books that in many ways are similar to adult literary fiction. They’re contemporary, they’re problem novels, they have precocious, somewhat self-deprecating characters who stumble through a serious of events and eventually reach an outcome. This is what makes them acceptable to the male arbiters of taste when it comes to media and culture, because they aren’t fantasies, they don’t have mythical creatures, they don’t involve complex worldbuilding and the exploration of post-apocalyptic environments. Those things, you see, are frivolous, because women and girls like fantasy and fluffy things like that, these things are escapist and not real literature, and thus even though Rowling is most definitely the one who catapulted children’s fiction to the foreground of publishing, she’s treated as lesser.

Because her books are fantasy and lots of girls read them. Despite the fact that people of all genders adore Rowling and Green alike, go to fannish conventions surrounding their work, produce fanworks, play an active role in communities of readers, and so much more, Green is a serious legitimate author, and Rowling is, you know, a children’s author. Even her attempts to break into adult literary fiction have been stymied by the fact that she’s still associated with, you know, those children’s books she wrote. That inconsequential series set in a magical school. Those books no one reads that had no literary or cultural significance whatsoever.

The insistence that teen media has no value is a reminder to teens that they have no value, but more than that, the specifically gendered slant of the repeated attacks on teen media is also a signal to young girls, and a warning sign. This is what they can expect from society. This is where their lives will lead. The unique hatred reserved for them because they are girls and teenagers will twist and warp as they get older, but fundamentally, they’re always going to be targeted by misogynist jerks because they’re women, and women have nothing to add to the world: not as people, not as media producers, not as consumers.

Curious indeed that so many teen girls grow up with low self-esteem and levels of confidence, isn’t it? It’s almost as though they’re being indoctrinated from an early age, taught to be as small and motionless as possible by the people around them. Including those very adults who insist that teen girls need better role models and self-esteem builders.