Green-Tinted Glasses: Filtering YA Through A Narrow Lens

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Writing about literature requires one to be tuned into the ever changing trends and focuses of the media at large, particularly the culture which more mainstream sources decide to put an emphasis on. A lot can be gleamed about the variations in pop culture from how those who don’t usually write about it tackle the subject. This is especially interesting when traditional print orientated media tries to take on the entertainment and culture of the youngest generations. For many places, YA started with Twilight and has been a source of bemusement and general disdain ever since. It’s not hard to note the sexism that often permeates through these often badly researched and agenda ridden think-pieces. When anything female focused hits the mainstream, it immediately becomes questioned and the topic of scorn, its very place in pop culture questioned. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been some justified criticism of the more problematic elements of things like Twilight or the heavily young female audience focused shows of the Disney Channel, but said analysis tends to come way later down the line when the audiences have already been having those conversations for years.

This is why I’m not at all surprised that Vanity Fair ran a short but horrendously researched piece entitled ‘John Green Is Slowly Leading a Teen Movie Renaissance’. The Fault In Our Stars hasn’t even been released yet and yet the author of this piece has declared it to essentially be the saviour of the teen movie at large. I remind you all that Divergent made over $50m in its opening weekend, the Twilight Saga broke multiple box office records and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was one of the most financially successful films of 2013. The author of the piece is more concerned with her own nostalgia than the tastes and preferences of 2014 teenagers and claims Green’s work is the first call-back to the days of the John Hughes teen movie era in a sea of the supernatural. Apparently Katey Rich missed the memo about The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Now Is Good, a low budget adaptation of Jenny Downham’s Before I Die may have only received a limited release, but its existence doesn’t deserved to be wiped from the map simply because Rich seemed to have run out of time to research her piece. This doesn’t even count the great and varied teen movies that have followed in the footsteps of Hughes, capturing his work’s essence while carving out their own niche: Clueless, Ten Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, Easy A, and so on. All of these movies were headed by women, one was directed by a woman and two were written by women, but the one that’s going to save the genre is based on a book by a guy, with men behind the screen. Of course.

This attitude comes back to something we’ve encountered time and time again within YA, the publishing sector, and indeed, culture at large. Men save art, women spoil it. Men write universal tales, women write frivolous fantasies. John Green is a saviour. Veronica Roth, Stephenie Meyer, Susanne Collins and their wide number of counterparts are worth bemoaning. It seems that the moment something is seen as female dominated, it needs to be snatched back and handed to a man in order for it to be deemed legitimate by places like Vanity Fair.

There’s something truly sad about that. Not only does it emphasise just how sloppy journalism has gotten at one of the grand dames of publishing (it was bad enough with the scrapped Gwyneth Paltrow story and the hiring of Pippa Middleton) but it tars countless women, both those within the industry and those consuming the products, as being impostors of some kind. The things they create and enjoy are seen as not having the same weight as the things created by their male counterparts, even if they share huge similarities.

Let’s be honest here: Green is hardly breaking new ground with his work. I’d argue he’s re-treading a lot of old ground. Incredibly old ground. Repeatedly. Yet his work is seen as authentic even when it’s deliberately not (don’t tell me “real teenagers” speak exactly like John Green. Even John Green doesn’t talk like that). The bar for success is set at a much lower level for those with societal privilege, and even when those with less privilege pass those expectations, they’re still judged as if they don’t deserve it. Women in every industry have to fight to have their stories stand on their own merits and not be judged in a gendered manner, and the same applies to the stories of people of colour, LGBTQIA creators, disabled writers, the lower class creators, and so on. When stories like this fail in terms of profit, the flood of speculation follows that puts the blame solely at the foot of the creator and not the wider context. When YA adaptations based on stories by women flop, it’s a career ender, yet their successes aren’t equal to a male led ‘renaissance?’

Logically speaking, The Fault in our Stars will probably do pretty well at the box office, but it’s not going to be the renaissance of anything. YA adaptations don’t need to be “saved”, nor do teen movies; they just need good talent and effort put behind them instead of studios rushing out subpar material in order to keep up with a dying, dead or non-existent trend. Perhaps Vanity Fair will understand that one day, or at least properly research it, but going by print journalism’s current schedule, I’m guessing it won’t happen for at least another year or so. I don’t really plan to wait around and see.

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