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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sure, College Kids Are Apathetic Because They Read ‘Twilight.’ Really?!

I know a lot of authors get fired up about the book sections in newspapers being racist, sexist, ageist, whatever. And while many of their arguments are valid, I’ve never felt compelled to join the blogging masses and toss my complaints into the fire. Until now.

The Washington Post ran an article recently criticizing young adults for making Twilight the number one book on college campuses, and somehow suggesting that this choice in “dim” literature suggests a lack of interest in politics and the world around them. Seriously. Read it for yourself.

Now, I have many qualms with this thesis. I know The Washington Post caters to an older audience, but the entire article comes across as elitist and blatantly out of touch with the collegiate culture that they’re criticizing. Maybe students aren’t speaking out by staging sit-ins and chaining themselves to trees, but they did speak out when it mattered—at the polls.



According to news reports, an estimated 23 million young Americans under the age of 30 voted in 2008's presidential election. Obama got 65 percent of the total youth vote, and the average age of a campaign volunteer was 23.

Since when does that equate to apathy?

Yet The Washington Post quotes Nicholas DiSabatino, a senior English major at Kent State and a campus tour guide, as saying, “he used to point out where the National Guard shot students during the May 1970 riot. But the only activism he can recall lately involved anti-abortion protesters and some old men passing out Gideon Bibles.”

The Post also cites Professor Eric Williamson, an English teacher at the University of Texas-Pan American, as saying that "the entire culture has become narcotized.” Adding that, “he places the blame for students' dim reading squarely on the unfettered expansion of capitalism… ‘There is nary a student in the classroom -- and this goes for English majors, too -- who wouldn't pronounce Stephen King a better author than Donald Barthelme or William Vollmann. The students do not have any shame about reading inferior texts.’”

Oh, so now readers are supposed to feel shame every time they pick up a book that isn’t deemed “important” by book critics or English lit professors. God forbid, anyone actually read for enjoyment. Because let’s not forget that Twilight isn’t only the most popular book on college campuses but in America. So does that mean adults are politically disinterested and “narcotized” as well?

I simply reject the implication that reading popular fiction, or “inferior texts” as The Post says, makes a person dim witted or less-than. Can’t a reader enjoy Twilight and Jane Eyre, Carrie and War and Peace? Since when does it have to be either-or?

Literature, film, music, what have you, is subjective. We’ve all seen it on rejection letters. And it’s true. I hated Napolean Dynamite. There I said it. Everyone I know loved that movie. I didn’t get it. I also hate Moby Dick and the Dave Mathews Band and the opera. But clearly there are millions of people who disagree with me—college students among them.



So you can say a lot of things about today’s young people, but after those 2008 elections, I think they earned the right to no longer be labeled with the moniker “apathetic.” Because many of those students are sitting on the quads of their college campuses blogging about AIG’s spending habits while listening to Beyonce on their iPods and purchasing new e-books for their Kindles.

It’s like Mike Connery said (whose quote was buried at the end of the article). Mike writes about progressive youth politics for the Web site Future Majority, and he stated that “he doesn't see a generation of vampire-loving boneheads. ‘Young people today express their politics in very different ways than they did in the '60s, '70s and '80s’… Yes, they love Meyer's Twilight series -- even his fiancee is "obsessed" with it -- but that's just for escape. ‘People don't necessarily read their politics nowadays. They get it through YouTube and blogs and social networks.’”

Kudos, Mike! Maybe if The Post spent more time trying to understand how the youth of today actually express their political opinions instead of criticizing them for not expressing them the way they used back when Coca Cola was only a nickel, they wouldn’t be struggling for readers the way they have been. Just a thought.


POP CULTURE RANT: Castle

I love a show about a writer, so you know I was going to tune into this new ABC mystery drama. And I gotta say, it’s far-fetched but I kinda like it—especially the poker game in the pilot where mystery goliaths James Patterson and Stephen J. Cannell got to make cameos. My only complaint was the opening book signing where the author was being asked to sign women’s breasts. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to my share of book signings and I can’t say I ever see that happening. Like, ever. Really.

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