As many of you who read my blog already know I use fiction to help teens discuss topics that are too tough to talk about “in real life.” Teen Suicide is one of the most important topics for young people to share on. Today, I’d like to respond directly the recent criticism about the show 13 RW from mental health “experts.”
In my headline, I’ve borrowed the French idiom, trompe l’oeil–“something that misleads or tricks the senses”–to make a point about what we’re experiencing in America today. We love this notion of being “tricked” in painting and fiction, and maybe art’s greatest contribution is to fool our senses long enough to get us to believe something that can’t possibly be real. But what happens when reversals to our core principles such as equal rights, healthcare, and immigration happen so quickly that the righteous anger we feel when our freedom is threatened just isn’t enough?
We’re in a state of shock. The center cannot hold. Those values we thought were rock-solid are being destroyed and that makes us feel as if our reality has become, well, unreal. When are reality becomes unreal we turn to fiction, specifically dystopian fiction, because fiction is what we need to confront all those issues that are too difficult to take “in real life.” Sales of the classic dystopian novels–1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451, are on the rise.
Dystopian fiction is deeply, cathartically, satisfying. Don’t we all love to read about a world in distress? A world that’s really a wake-up call for all those things we need to avoid. It’s all fun and Hunger Games so long when we close the book we can return to our safe, not-too-troubled world.
What if we woke up and found the most unreal dystopia we could possibly imagine right at our door? (Remember dystopia is only dystopia so long as it stays in the future.)
What we’re feeling now isn’t just righteous anger, it’s fear.
Whenever I turn on the TV, it feels as if I’m watching a reality show that can’t be real. That would be a great compliment to a fiction writer who strives for verisimilitude. But it’s real. At least that’s what we have to keep reminding ourselves.
The YA novel I wrote, Cease & Desist, was supposed to be dystopian, but most of its far-fetched notions will be commonplace by the time you read it. Soon you’ll be able to watch young people have sex and harm each other on digital, interactive, WebTV. You’ll be able to vote on who’ll be the winner, the same way the mob chose the winner in the Roman Coliseum.
Do you think I’m making that up? Think again. The future is coming at us way too fast, and we’ve got to stop it before more people get hurt.
The STRONG GIRLS PRESS blog that will debut can be found at http://www.stephendavidhurley.com I was pleased to be a part of this project that began with a simple question to my students. “What fictional story would you most like to share with your parents? Why?”The books they chose really amazed me and reaffirmed that fiction has the power to open a dialogue on topics that are just too taboo to share in the “real world.” I’d like to ask a favor of all you hard working parents who are reading this. Tonight, when you get home please ask your son or daughter this question: “Could you tell me a young person either living or dead who you really admire?”
Look up that person and share what qualities that your child most admires. While we all love following the Kardashians, our blog is devoted to role models who need to be rediscovered.
On Wall Street there’s a bronze statue of a girl who looks about the same age as the sixth graders in the middle school that I teach. She looks pretty fearless as she’s standing up to a raging bronze bull; and she’d better be, it doesn’t take much to see that bull represents men, greed and the lack of women in positions of financial power. The artist, Kristen Visbal, maintains that the statue of a child posed with her fists on her hips represents “the power of women in leadership.” Many feminists who don’t like the statue claim she’s a cheap corporate-centric ploy to hide the real issues like equal pay and reproductive rights (the piece was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors).
Everyone loves the image of empowerment represented by a girl standing up for herself in the ruthless, financial jungle our world has become. But, how would some of us men feel if it were a woman standing there? Pretty intimated, right?
But the problem goes deeper than that for men, women and children.
We aren’t just angry at Fearless Girl. We’re afraid of her, afraid for her. We’re afraid because we know in our hearts her future is imperiled. She doesn’t stand a chance alongside a President who is being mocked as “the pussy-grabber-in-chief”; but also brags his daughter (or is that his wife? Even he often gets them confused) is a model–not just for the latest issue of Maxim–but for longer maternity leave. Will our fearless young women be devoured by the wave of sexism that many attribute to the president’s base? Hillary Clinton recently claimed that she lost the election because of misogyny, that America is threatened by having a woman in the oval office. I don’t believe that a majority of us feel that way. I watch young girls stand up for their rights every day in my classroom.
The real problem isn’t just emanating from the oval office. The truth is, Fearless Girl doesn’t stand a chance against the mixed messages the media sends all young women. We want our daughters to be strong, but don’t we also want them to look gorgeous in revealing bikinis? The media thinks so. And the truth is, we who call ourselves “feminists” don’t even know what that word stands for anymore. The most progressive and intelligent young women I talk to at my school don’t consider themselves feminists, because they think it stands for a woman who doesn’t like men and doesn’t enjoy being herself.
To speak against feminism is to speak against basic human rights. But it’s time for someone to admit that the type of feminism that once worked–or at least, forced people to take notice–has changed. Young women aren’t weaker than they were a generation ago, but they’re a lot more confused about how their voices will be heard. Fearless Girl doesn’t just need a woman mentor, she needs an interpreter who can help separate the truth from the bull.
It’s awards season in Hollywood, and who doesn’t like watching their favorite star preen and gush over a golden trophy. But there’s someone missing from the lovefests at the Golden Globes and the Grammys. A forgotten woman. She didn’t get nominated for anything, but men and women are paying a lot of lip service to her in their acceptance speeches.
She’s the woman who couldn’t make the party because she was blacklisted by a movie mogul who wanted sex. Mira Sorvino was one of these victims. Her nemesis: Harvey Weinstein. Mira’s a brilliant actress whose career was nearly ruined because she refused to get on the casting couch with that ruthless Neanderthal. Mira’s mad as hell and has proclaimed it’s #times up for her abuser.
She won’t be working with Woody Allen again, either. Mira will survive, but what about the less fortunate victims who aren’t strong enough to fight back. There are plenty of them. Truth is, when it comes to sexual harassment, Hollywood’s no different from the rest of America and the irony of watching liberal, progressive movies cast and filmed by sexist pigs is hard to overlook.
We’re imprisoned by a culture that applauds women who make impassioned acceptance speeches about sexual harassment while wearing see-through gowns. I love seeing my favorite stars in see-through gowns. I also love hearing them stand up to a male-dominated town that allows harassment. And like most people, I try to dismiss this hypocrisy as “just the way things are.” But the time has come to admit who we really are. I felt a weird, cognitive dissonance as I watched the scantily-clad dancers at the Grammys. I felt the same way as I watched Hillary Clinton take a stab at our sexist President, (but all the while, I couldn’t dismiss the fact that she herself had shielded at least one sexual predator.)
Who’s to blame for this? We point fingers at the accusers. We wring our hands and create new hashtags, but truth is we’re all to blame. Our Hollywood stars represent talent, beauty and all the grit it takes to make it to the top, right? No, not really. Our Hollywood stars are sometimes the darkest projection of our sick selves. We rubberneck their plight the same way we can’t take our eyes off a train wreck–we need Hollywood for reasons we can’t admit; in our hearts it’s that depraved place that could never be like were we live. Truth is Tinsletown’s a real place with real people who do the same things we do. Sexual depravity and equality may never be reconciled but we can start by admitting this hypocrisy is hardwired into all of us. Actors are beautiful, talented people who give great speeches, but this year, as they hold up those golden trophies, I think it’s time for us all to admit that the winner is our own sick selves.