Slate wrote a linkbait article about YA. The basic gist of the piece was pretty insulting, as expected, and insisted that adults should be ashamed of reading fiction out of their age range. It wasn’t a good article, but we’ve come to expect that these days in this age where page views equal cash and getting those views by any means possible is highly encouraged. And no, I’m not linking to it.
Some people do it with pictures of cats, others do it with vague inspirational titles that require you to read further to understand what’s going on (I’m looking at you, Upworthy), and then there’s the tried and tested method of pissing off a vocal group of individuals. We saw this happen recently with the New Republic’s piece that ticked off every box in the “Romance novels are icky” bingo card. The outrage was justified, of course, as it was with Slate’s YA piece, and yet I doubt either publication really cared. They got their page views and the system continues as normal.
There’s a pretty solid reason why YA is such a popular target for these kind of baity articles. Young adult fiction is very popular with all ages, it’s a profitable field in an industry currently struggling to stay afloat, and it’s one that inspires a lot of passion. Romance readers, lovers of chick-lit, sci-fi, fantasy and pretty much any genre outside of that which is considered “literary” has received this kind of scorn from the media. It doesn’t matter that Game of Thrones is the most watched TV show in the history of HBO to some because all they see are swords and dragons. Maleficent made millions at the box office and left Seth Macfarlane coughing in the dust but it’s probably just a fluke because nobody wants to see ladies at the movies. The biggest selling authors right now may be Veronica Roth and John Green but hey, that crap’s for kids, right? We’ve heard these lines time and time again, but they don’t stick anymore because we’ve got the receipts to back up our own claims.
It’s hard to ignore relentless bashing of something you’re passionate about. Instinctively, we want to jump to its defence and correct the naysayers. Sometimes a lot of good can come from that, especially when journalistic trolling crosses the line and dives straight into bigotry (for one of far too many examples, see the Chicago Sun Times finally pulling the syndicated column that spent hundreds of words being transphobic about Laverne Cox). It can also bring a community together, as the hashtag #PromoteYAInstead did. These are good things, but ultimately can prove somewhat fruitless when the ultimate aim to anger and profit has been achieved with such gusto. There’s a big difference between correcting sloppy journalism and egregious errors or stereotyping (the recent splurge of articles that treat John Green as the only thing in YA worth paying attention to while erasing years of work by women, for example) and tackling linkbait.
Slate, and most publications that commission pieces like this, don’t really do it because they hate YA or want to see it crushed. There would be no real point in that. I’m sure we’ll see an article in a few months on the same site talking about how great YA is, and we’ll all read that and give them more page views. YA’s a weird thing for many people to write about because to outsiders (for lack of a better word), it seems as if it exploded from nowhere and all of these screaming young women are scary and worthy of mockery because our culture tends to treat anything centred on women with no real seriousness. Some may attempt to analyse it to try and understand why it’s become such a phenomenon and many who do this fail because they don’t do enough research or fail to understand the appropriate context. Hell, I’m sure most of us bloggers who are part of that world have screwed up on more than one occasion.
Then again, it is worth noting that while I doubt any serious maliciousness was behind Slate’s article, the fact that we’ve read variations on this theme so many times from so many different publications of prestige reinforces the idea that maybe, just maybe, people want to suppress YA and similar media of such popularity. It may not be wise on a monetary level (say what you want about fandoms but when it comes to putting cash on the table, they do it in droves) but socially it makes sense for a patriarchal system to try and kick down anything that gives power and autonomy to young women.
It’s easier to heap scorn than it is to actually delve into the nuances and socio-historical context to gain any semblance of understanding. Websites will dedicate post after post analysing the minute details of Mad Men yet seldom offer up an equivalent for Sex and the City. HBO and AMC are geniuses yet CW and ABC Family aren’t serious players in the game, even though they’ve got the numbers to back it up. Don’t treat anything women love or run seriously because it surely can’t be universally loved in the same way men’s stories are. All of that can make it tough to avoid drawing attention to trolling, so I can’t blame anyone who does so. Technically, I’m giving in by even writing this.
Ultimately, none of this really discourages readers. Those who dislike YA will continue to do so (or they’ll find a YA they love and talk about how it’s just not like the other icky teen books) while YA readers will voraciously devour the stories they adore. The same applies to lovers of all maligned genres, and the stale think-pieces will be aired out every now and then like the fancy table-cloth your mum uses for special occasions. I’d encourage everyone to avoid fuelling the linkbait business model but I can’t even follow my own suggestion there half the time, so really, the only thing left to say is this: read whatever the hell you want and screw those who think your tastes are shameful.