Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Laguna Beach, the Gossip Girls, and the Female Chauvinist Pig

The other day, in my YA class, we were discussing books. Imagine that--we were actually talking about literature. Well, not literature so much, but about a certain genre that is becoming more and more popular. This genre is like Sex and the City without likable characters.... We're talking sex, drugs, and rock and roll...

Laguna Beach is an entertaining, but slightly irritating series on MTV in which very wealthy, vapid girls have sex, party, and talk about one another. Gossip Girl, a book series published for high school teens, is about very wealthy, vapid girls who have sex, party, and talk about one another. Hmmm... There is a trend here....

Now, here's the deal. I'm a librarian, and I love to read. I read EVERYTHING. I mean EVERYTHING. I love chick-lit, and badly formulated romances, I love suspense, and even a little b
it of DEEP writing. But, I have to admit, that I enjoy falling in love with a character. In fact this is why I have such a hard time reading short stories. I miss each character at the end of each story. So, this is why I'm so troubled by this new genre. Not only are these characters doing over-the-top stuff (I can handle that! We all need a good fantasy nowadays!), but they just aren't likable! It's not like the book Damage in which the characters are manipulative, evil, yet strangely enjoyable to follow. Instead I found myself bored. The characters are one-dimensional, strangely depressing, and I really had a hard time rooting for any of them.

Sex and the City introduced my generation to designer everything. Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte may have sipped on twelve-dollar martinis, partied in the hippest clubs, and bought shoes like Imelda Marcos, but they were good to each other. That's what made the show survive. This newer genre portrays younger women in a very different light. Not only are they drunk sex-a-holics, but they actually seem to lack souls--which makes them much more frighte
ning to read about.

The thing that I find the most disturbing is that no longer can we blame this limiting portrayal on men. Instead, female authors are the ones who understand that there is money to be made if this sells. Interestingly enough, many of these new works, are produced by women writers. So, are these books just poorly written fantasy, or are they more telling than that?

As a side note to this, I read a book last year that has continued to occupy my mind--especially when I recognize the trends that have invaded the publishing world. The culture of easy exhibitionism and Girls Gone Wild-like behavior is fascinating to read about in the book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy. In it, Ms. Levy explores feminism from various perspectives. She writes about both the women who profit from this new exhibitionist culture, as well as the females who have recreated themselves to fit a stereotype of "sexy" that today's society seems to crave.

From the review in Publisher's Weekly:

What does sexy mean today?...It has elevated porn above sexual pleasure. Most insidiously, it has usurped the keywords of the women's movement (liberation, empowerment) to serve as buzzwords for a female sexuality that denies passion (in all its forms) and embraces consumerism. To understand how this happened, Levy examines the women's movement, identifying the residue of divisive, unresolved issues about women's relationship to men and sex. The resulting raunch feminism, she writes, is a garbled attempt at continuing the work of the women's movement and asks, how is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavored to banish good for women?

Are women sexually empowered because we now control this sexy exhibitionism, or are we really only acting this way for our male audience?

This is the same with Paris Hilton and the rest of the Gossip Girls. Maybe they are just smarter than the rest--they understand what sells, and they produce it. Yet, perhaps there is a deeper sadness lurking below the surface. Although I don't have many answers, I think as a woma
n, and a librarian, I have a lot to think about when suggesting books for my teen readers. The "teacher" part of me knows that any reading is "good" reading, and that fantasy comes in many forms. I believe strongly that I will purchase what my patrons want-- I just wish some of the characters in the books had more interesting qualities than just their Prada bags. As I read the novels, I wish I could discover some quirky imperfections that made the characters a bit more human.

Using Google Docs to Promote 2.0 "Lite"

There is something so much less threatening about saying that I will create a web-based document through Google, than, let's just say, using a wiki. For some reason, even though both can be manipulated online by the individuals who log on with ID's, the docs seem easier to share. This summer, I will be attempting to use Google Spreadsheets to organize and manage my volunteers during the Summer Reading Program. So far, GD has been a lot more low-key. Perhaps because the formating looks a lot like programs others are used to, GD just doesn't cause the same sort of waves that wikis and blogs do. We'll see how this goes. So far, spreadsheets have be fabulous online, but difficult to print out. I promise to keep you updated.

For the average person, I've been offering Google Docs as an alternative to Microsoft Word. Since our library's public computers are not loaded with Office products on them, I wondered if GD would help fill this void. So far, for people who are already web-savvy, it seems to be working. In fact, they are quite excited when they realize that Google automatically saves their documents as they work, and they can access it from anywhere. For people like me who are always jumping from one computer to the next, this flexibility has been perfect. I just hope that the clunkiness is worked out a bit. Cutting and pasting can be a pain, and for some reason, I can only edit the entire cell at once. Perhaps I am doing something wrong, but I've looked for other ways around this, and I cannot quite find it.

And on another note...

YA book of the day (for my class): Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
BMB was like Weetzie Bat meets Stargirl. After reading the back cover, I expected to read a slap-stick comedy about a slightly over-the-top high school, and instead, it was very human, and beautifully written. According to Publisher's weekly, "(BMB is) Suffused with humor and heart, this recording is bound to get listeners thinking about what it means to just be yourself and truly embrace tolerance." And Booklist states, "Though at times arch and even precious, this wacky, charming, original story is never outrageous, and its characters are fresh, real, and deeply engaging." I say: "This was the Brokeback Mountain of teen fiction--I didn't care whether the characters were gay, straight, bi, or trans, I just really wanted them to find a small bit of happiness." I missed this book when it was first published, so I'm glad that it turned out to be required reading for me.

Just get me through the summer...

I am counting down the days until July 14th. That, my friends, is the date when I reclaim my life, and I am able to just BE. I will be officially finished with school, and I can focus on the Summer Reading Program and perhaps the plumbing in my bathroom, too! I hope to actually get Library Thing up and running as well because I've been reading more and more about its usefulness.

On a side note, I had an interesting weekend. My friend, who is an urban planner, talked about her community's fight for funding. The city hall, library, and other city buildings are in need of renovation. But the library got its act together first, and put together a millage that would save it. Unfortunately, according to some, this is taking place at the expense of the other city buildings... The millage passed, but only 500 people voted on it. Under these circumstances, and in a small community, I wonder why they didn't use something like the San Jose Public Library's Almaden Branch's system of a combined community center and library as a design model. On the other hand, nothing is perfect, and I applaud the library for being so proactive about raising the tax dollars for this project. I am not an expert on this subject, nor a member of the community, but as funding becomes more scarce, integration and collaboration will be key to maintaining support for all community interests.

On another note, for my Young Adult literature class, I am rereading The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. Well, not exactly reading it--I'm attempting to listen to it on CD instead. I am struggling with this medium. I know, I know, I am YEARS behind in trying this, but I don't drive (hence no CD player in car), and I really don't listen to much music at home. Anyway, for some reason, I expected that this would be a perfect way to multi-task while I lazily seeped up the storyline. Yet, this isn't the case for me at all! I'm finding that if I don't actively concentrate on ALL of the narration, then I lose most of what is going on in the plot. It's taking my twice as long to read and understand this book than it would have if I had read it. In fact, my brain misses the text. Perhaps I should just try not to multi-task as much...

On another note, I'm also reading the Gossip Girls, and Yell-oh Girls

-- which are both very DIFFERENT girls!