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Sex and Violence in Teen Literature

Written by son of rambow on Sunday, October 03, 2010

I've been told by successful authors that their agents urge them to “write at least one really juicy sex scene” per book, “the weirder the better, or editors are unlikely to see a wide commercial market potential,” and “readers will put it right down otherwise.” Regarding adult books, I have no argument with that crass reasoning. As an author, I've used the occasional F-word if it intensifies a characterization or setting. In my young adult-oriented Balona Books, I've seen no need for “steamy sex scenes,” as my characters are generally clueless, if not actually innocent, and only hopeful and fanciful about what interpersonal sex might mean for them.

We are now witnessing a rapid descent of language to its lowest levels ever, in both oral and written expression. One need only sit for a while in a public high school commons area and listen to the dialog among youth. Twenty-somethings and many 30-somethings possibly won't even be aware that a degeneration in the quality of conversation is occurring. People of those age-groups have grown up amid the decline, and it “sounds right” to them, although it may grate on the ears of, say, some English majors! The decline/descent seems to equate with a literary Gresham's Law: the bad literature tends to drive out the good--book after book, each replete with unnecessary violence and the steamy sex scene added gratuitously. One does not have to be ultra-conservative or religiously fanatic to observe that the scenes usually cheapen and degrade sexuality, thus reinforcing the cynicism about personal relationships that youngsters witness on the tube nightly.

The World is Ending! No, not really, as languages (except French, of course) are made to disintegrate, absorb, adapt, and “degrade.” So what to do? Well, if you feel you have a modicum of “taste,” then you can try putting your finger into the hole in the linguistic dike and say your piece when it comes your turn. Others may follow. National Public Radio seems to be able to hold the line pretty well, although they do have their glitches, too.

When a parent or other adult has the temerity to express his/her own opinion as to the quality or enjoyment or safety or appropriateness of the subject matter at hand, one often hears the horrified shriek, “that's judgmental!” The shrieking is another form of sloughing off one's adult responsibilities for the sake of current fashion--or a mistaken comprehension of what may constitute an ethical “Reader's Advisory.” Of course it's judgmental to express one's opinion. Unfortunately, that very word has become pejorative. But if adults don't exercise judgment and express their considered opinions in discussion with teens, what good is it to cultivate expressive skills? And yes, yes, yes: being effectively “judgmental” requires tact, another skill that some find difficult to handle. Takes practice and some fortitude.

We know now what many teachers didn't realize just a few years ago: There are hundreds of constructive, interesting, and enjoyable books now available written with teens in mind. Most kids want, some are even desperate for, adult advice and guidance about their reading choices, even as they may sneer at any such offerings from elders. I hope that teachers do not hesitate to share with their students what they think about any book a teen proposes to read. Call me “retro-ignorant” (and I'll be happy to respond), but I do hope that the prevalent “non-judgmental” advisory practices promoted in some library schools do not inhibit librarians from exercising their good-sense prerogatives. [source]

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