Tag Archives: Young Adult literature

Facing the Consequences

Recently I wrote about Martin Luther King and his assertion that real progress is not brought about by waiting.  And I suggested that sometimes it is a matter of waiting that gets the result, that taking confrontational action may not actually be the most productive approach.  And I said that I had a personal perspective to share on that, which would be forthcoming.  It’s taken longer than I expected, because, as it turns out, I was waiting for the ending to play out.  I just didn’t realize it.

People who know me know that I am an appreciator and advocate of nudity: in art and literature, in social life, in our basic humanity.  This is reflected in my writing, where casual nudity is presented as a healthy norm, not as something dirty or salacious or offensive or anything like that.  The human form is a thing of beauty; we have the entire history of art to confirm this.  It should not be hidden in shame, but appreciated and celebrated.

Further, conventional western attitudes towards nudity are not only backwards, they are destructive.  It’s not nudity that is unhealthy, but rather a clothes-compulsive culture based on shame that is.  We teach our children “modesty,” but really we are teaching them that their bodies are dirty, ugly things to be kept hidden.  Except when you’re with someone you really love.  But not family members, of course.  Even though you love them, you must never see each other naked.  So say generations of psychologists and advice-column-writers.  No wonder the kids grow up with highly warped concepts of body image.

Even worse, we then fill media with images of near-nudity.  The distinction is important.  We crave titillation, want to see a woman in a state of near undress.  Better still, completely naked.  But wait, we need to blur out the “naughty bits.”  In other words, we want to know that she’s naked, but not to actually see her naked.  At the most extreme form of this insanity, consider the Howard Stern radio program, where eager listeners tune in to hear a woman take her clothes off.  Raise your hand if you understand that.

Perhaps part of the problem comes from the way our culture conflates nudity and sex.  Granted, nudity greatly enhances sex, but there is nothing innately sexual about nudity.  But you won’t convince people of that.  Thus we arrive at the very problematic issue of pornography: a catch-all term that people use to refer to things ranging from hard-core coitus to naked people playing volleyball on the beach.  It’s all classed as “porn.”  And thus, “filth.”  There it is.  The naked human body is “filth.”  No wonder we’re all ashamed to have one.

I want to do something about that.  In my book, I am presenting body-positive nudity.  I want my readers to encounter a scene where a teenage boy takes an evening swim with his younger sister, both of them naked, and have the reader think it’s so perfectly natural and pleasant that it never occurred to them to think it’s weird.  This was in fact the reaction of one of my beta readers, and I was very proud of that.  If I engender that reaction in teen readers, it’s worth everything.

Teens, my target audience, are particularly vulnerable to body-negative messages.  They are fascinated by their bodies, and those of their peers (and potential mates), but so terrified of nudity that they use the word to refer to someone who’s topless, or wearing underwear.  We say this is as it should be, that being exposed to nudity is damaging.  Tell that to the numerous young people who have been raised as nudists.  These are people who grew up at nudist camps and resorts (never nudist colonies – there’s no such thing).  Studies have shown that these children and teens are, nearly without exception, bright and healthy and well-adjusted.  No doubt there is a correlation with the fact that most nudist parents are well-off and health-conscious, but still, these children have very healthy body-image and are not, as people might fear, over-sexed, but rather have very realistic attitudes towards sexuality.  Compare this to all the teens, who, overwhelmed by hormones, turn to internet pornography as their only representation of the human body and sex.  And we wonder why they have such unrealistic expectations.  They can hardly have realistic expectations when reality is kept hidden from them.

So to that end, I went further.  People need an attitude adjustment, I decided.  In much the same way that King advocated tension, the way the early gay-rights activists shouted, “We’re here and we’re queer!” I thought I’d show people a way.  My forum: social media, the great communications platform of our time.  I made some “motivator” posters (you know, like the ones that have a picture of an eagle and the words “Take Flight” at the bottom).  These were pro-nudity, showing images of nudity and statements about it being positive.  Thus, there was nudity.  It was pointed out to me that there was a preponderance of young naked women.  Okay, guilty.  I confess a preference for the female form.  I’m wired that way.  But also the female nude is more socially acceptable than the nude male.  A naked woman can potentially be appreciated as beautiful, by both genders.  A nude male, on the other hand, is at best hilarious (consider Will Farrell).  Beyond that, it’s pretty much a guarantee of a label of obscenity.  Ugly, disgusting, sorry to ruin your breakfast.  So yes, it was easier to find suitable female images, and less likely they would cause offense.  So I thought.

I placed these posters periodically on Facebook.  You can predict where this is going.  What little response I got was positive, but mostly there was no response from people at all.  I upped the ante a bit.  During the Supreme Court arguments on gay marriage, I realized we were still limiting the definition of marriage, and asked why we aren’t also reexamining laws regarding polyamory and age-of-consent and so forth.  With images to match.  Someone objected, sending a message to me.  So I pulled everything and started over, staying away from overtly sexual material.  But still there were images of nudity on my page.  This included families in nudist settings.  This I considered appropriate, because it is young people who most need to hear the message.

I received a “warning” from Facebook saying there had been a complaint.  But they also said they had reviewed the material and found it did not violate their “community standards.”  Okay, vindication.

And then they shut down my account. 

Right in mid operation.  All of a sudden I’m logged out, and when I try to log back in, I’m told my account has been permanently suspended.  I’ve been banned from Facebook.  For posting images of nudity in what turned out to be an ill-conceived attempt to do…I’m not really sure what.

What was I thinking?  I’m not going to compare myself to King, who went to jail and gave his life fighting for an issue infinitely more significant than nudism.  It was the wrong forum, and I ignored the warnings.  But this also shows how things have changed.  King fought in a time where everyone was pretty much seeing the same things through media.  Compare to today, where there are so many sources of information that we can pick and choose and surround ourselves only with perspectives that support our own.

Someone objected to my content and got me banned.  Why didn’t they just un-friend me, or block me outright?  Why was it necessary to get Facebook to shut me down?  It’s because we are in a culture that says we have a right to never see things we don’t like.  Blame both sides of the political spectrum.  The right tries to force a repressive morality on everyone, while the left fights to rid discourse of any words or depictions that might hurt someone’s feelings.  So we are accustomed to the idea that we should never have to see anything objectionable.

Worse, we take the next step and decide that nobody else should see it either.  “I don’t like nudity, so you shouldn’t be able to see it either.”  Funny thing, there’s stuff on the internet, and even of Facebook itself, far more blatantly sexual than my content.  Go figure.

But that’s that.  I’ll live.  Beyond the initial irritation, I’m sure I’ll eventually come to appreciate all the spare time it frees up not reading up on what my friends are doing.  True, I just lost contact with a few people, and also lost the primary way I publicize this website.  But it’s not the end of the world.

But let me just end by saying this.  If you get kicked off of Facebook (which happens quite often), don’t be fooled by all the websites saying “Here’s all you have to do to get back on.”  I followed every channel, and, apart from a single message essentially saying they reviewed my case and determined I am “ineligible” to use Facebook and that the decision is final, I have received no response to my pathetic pleadings and promises to “be good.”  Once you’re out, you’re out.  It’s not like we pay to use the thing, so they have zero motivation to reinstate anyone.  Word to the wise.

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The Violent Death of My Writing Career

I’m coming to face the reality that the novel I am in the final stages of completing is utterly unpublishable in the current Young Adult market.  I am simply unable – and unwilling – to include the level of brutal, bloody violence that the readership demands.

Well-meaning people have told me many times that I don’t have to write it that way, that they aren’t all like that.  Actual published YA authors tell a different story.  They make clear that it’s about the violence, both in their own commentaries (and if there’s one thing writers love to talk about, it’s their own writing), and, more to the point, in the books that they publish.  Stories about a teenage cat burglar who is being hunted by her latest victim.  Stories about teens dealing with the reincarnation of Jack the Ripper.  Stories about a teenager killing a convict with his bare hands.  I swear I am not making any of this up, and I am merely scratching the surface.  And this is considered suitable fare for our children.

I am not alone in my objections, of course, except most people who object to the increasingly dark and violent tone do so because they say it’s damaging to the readers, which is not the case.  It’s the symptom, not the cause.  Defenders of garbage like The Hunger Games insist that it’s appropriate for today’s teens because they live in a violent world full of hopelessness and despair, and they want to see those issues played out in the books they read.  To put it simply, that’s bullshit.

Today’s teens are the most sheltered, privileged, entitled generation the world has ever seen.  True, we are living at the first point in history where the children cannot reasonably expect to achieve a higher standard of living than their parents, but that may simply be because their current living standard is already so high it’s almost incomprehensible.

These are children who have never known want or care.  They have big screen TVs, movies on demand, smart phones, instantaneous information, and the expectation that they will be entertained and stimulated twenty-four hours a day.  For them, trauma comes from having a slow internet connection. 

Even worse, they are overscheduled.  Helicopter parents whose lives revolve around their children make sure that every moment of those children’s lives is filled with sports and art and tutoring and as many activities as can be crammed in, fearful that, left to their own devices, the children might become – gasp! – bored.  Or worse, that they’ll get up to mischief.  But they have been deprived of the opportunity to explore, to experiment, to take risks.  So they ride their skateboards off of the roof in the hope that someone will see it on Youtube.  And they seek out those videos so that they can laugh when someone else is critically injured.  They play carnage-filled computer games like Halo.  They go to see movies where the solution to every problem is to kill anyone who gets in your way. And they read books about teens (whom they presumably imagine to be just like themselves) killing with abandon.

They aren’t reading violent books because they live violent lives; quite the opposite.  They read – and, more to the point, watch – violence because of the absence of it in their lives.  The children in Syria or Sudan aren’t reading books about killing.  They’re too busy seeing it in the streets.  Why would they want more?  It’s us here in the wealthy, protected Western world who want it.  We are barbaric, bestial, violent creatures, who crave death and killing.  We take pleasure in it.  For most of human history, it was a real fact of life.  Today we still want it, but have to find it in our fiction. 

Maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe violent fiction is an outlet for our violent urges that keeps us from enacting violence in real life.  Maybe we should actually be encouraging young people to read violent books so that they learn how to deal with those feelings.  Maybe.  But try making the same argument for sexual content and just see how quickly people change their tune.  I have decided that there will in fact be implied sexuality in my book; there won’t be actual sex, not in this book, but there very likely will be in the next book, if it ever gets written.  And I intend to present it at all times as a positive thing: it’s okay as long as there’s honesty and respect (which is a better message than “kill or be killed”).  Teens have sexual urges even more than they have violent urges.  Will reading my book allow them to explore and learn to deal with those feelings?  I hope so.  But will they even get a chance to do so?  We’ll have to wait and see.

People tell me to hang in there, that what I have written is good, whether it’s violent or not, and that these things always go in cycles.  True, trends do change, and so I guess I will soldier on (to use a violent metaphor).  Maybe my novel will be that rare trend-buster that actually gets some traction.  But in my half-century on this planet, one thing has been made clear to me: the level of violence in entertainment has always increased, never decreased.  There’s no reason to expect that trend will reverse itself.  And it’s just going to get worse and worse.  Your children are reading books about teens hunting each other for entertainment.  What will your grandchildren be reading?

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