And The Winner Is…

I loved the empowering acceptance speeches at the Oscars last night, and who doesn’t love watching their favorite star show off on the red carpet. But there was someone missing from the star-studded cast of hopefuls; 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.







Sexual Assault and Young People

I teach middle school, not a place you think you’d find sexting, or sexual assault. In the beginning of the year I make a poster to lay out procedures (we teachers don’t like to call them rules) for acceptable behavior in my classroom. At the top I write RESPECT and then I get my students to help me make a list of what is considered acceptable behavior. It used to be pretty straightforward; treat others the way you wish to be treated golden rule type of things. But that was before the sexual assaults on campus, the accusations of groping and body shaming, and the constant sexting made it clear we live in a different world then most parents and teachers ever imagined. Is it me, or is the problem getting worse? I knew sexual assaults are a reality on high school and college campuses, but I teach middle school. Last year I caught a sixth grader sharing a pic of his privates with another student. Am I out of touch? Maybe. But one thing I know for sure, parents and teachers need more tools to deal with sexually active young people. Not just rules and consequences, but a framework we can use to handle what has become a national epidemic.

Parents need tools to talk to their kids about what constitutes a healthy sexual relationship. Young people who are being bombarded with conflicting messages about sex, don’t know where to turn for advice. I have a simple solution for how to begin a dialogue on sex, young people and relationships.

Fiction, stories about subjects that we are too afraid to talk about; because fiction, at its best shines a light on those dark secrets we are too afraid to discuss. In the coming months, I will be asking young people to suggest fictional stories they really loved and wish their parents would read. Parents in turn, will be giving me a list of books they wish they could share with their kids. We will share these books and their important themes in a safe and respectful forum.

Do you want to join a national dialogue on sex and young people? Then please give me your email below. We will be sharing stories by great authors. Stories about dark, unspeakable themes in YA literature. We will do this to shine a light on the all too truthful fears we have about sexual assault. Join the dialogue today. Write me a message and answer this question: what story would you most like to share with your parent or child?

I look forward to sharing your answers next week.

“You Have No Other Choice But To Continue…”

…That was the order given to the test subjects who administered a nearly lethal electrical shock to unwitting “learners” in the Milgram obedience experiment, administered over fifty years ago, at Yale University.

Over sixty-five percent of the test subjects followed the order to deliver the shock.

John Milgram’s conclusion: Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being.

So, who do young people obey today? A parent, a teacher, the POTUS? Most teachers agree that the new authority, the new Big Brother–is the media itself; and the media has gotten good at promising young people that they too can become accepted, even famous, so long as they conform to the marketable stereotypes; so long as they try to emulate the queen bees, the jocks, the cool people at school.

What would you be willing to do to join the in-crowd? What if you had the power to select the coolest, the strongest, the most beautiful kids who appear on interactive TV? What if you could watch them have sex and harm each other for all the world to see? Sound dsytopian?

Welcome to the brave new world of interactive, digital broadcasting currently in production by established Hollywood studios. The future has arrived and it looks horribly seductive. I write about the technology, and the enormous power the studios will have once these next generation reality shows come to life.

My book, Cease & Desist , chronicles the next generation reality show, called “Reality Drama” in which the viewers are allowed to award the participants for having sex and committing real acts of violence. I don’t write Science Fiction. I write contemporary YA, and the “fake” show I present in my book comes from research I’ve done into shows that will be launched in the next six months. They will debut on WebTV, which has no censors.

But that’s absurd, the authorities wouldn’t allow real sex and real violence.

Wanna bet? We’re living in a world where “the realistic” can be digitally altered so that it appears an illusion. We’re living with an administration that looks like the most unreal reality show we’ve ever seen.

Mark my words: in six months, you’re going to see reality like you’ve never seen it. You’ll be watching interactive WebTV, with real sex and real violence and most of all NO real censors. And hopefully you’ll be asking what I’m asking now: who has the authority to stop this? No one, the producers are saying, or, we all do–we all have the option to censor ourselves: just turn the channel. They’ve been saying that for years. Has it ever really worked? As a teacher, I know what’s going to happen when these shows generate a congressional hearing. They’ll be hours of hand-wringing and finger-pointing and in the end, we’ll blame young people for not being more sensible, not being more “adult.”

But before you point your finger at young people, take a moment, and put yourself in their shoes. Their “reality” has been skewed by realistic computer games they’ve been playing since before they could read—it’s easy to push a button and obey the new rules, especially since–just like the participants in Milgram’s experiment, they’re really just obeying orders, (and the actors on the screen are just “acting,” right?)

We can’t blame young people for following orders, for trying to be survivors in the social battlefield our schools have become. (And the studios are banking on the fact that parents will be watching too.) And when this seductive dystopia arrives, no congressional hearing or concerned parents group will have enough power to stop it–because we value our “freedom” too much. We live in a free society, only we all know it isn’t free. We do what we’re subliminally told by the media. And the media wants our girls to be sexy and our boys to be blood-thirsty.

Hollywood doesn’t want you to read my book, Cease & Desist, because Cease & Desist is a wake-up call. If you think C & D is merely farfetched fiction, please write me so I can name a few of the shows that you’ll probably be talking about next year around the water cooler at work.

Our online lives have always been a losing battle between freedom and censorship, and since we obey an unseen authority, we’ve never really been “free.”

As Aldous Huxley warned us many years ago: You pays your dues. You makes your choice.

Our Bold New Virtual World.

When we read something outlandish in a novel, we think that could never happen in real life, and we break that willing suspension of disbelief that makes reading fiction so enjoyable. When we witness a horrible event in real life, we doubt our senses, and a part of our brain tries to convince us that what we’re seeing isn’t entirely “real.” Scientists say this is the way the brain protects itself from the enormity of horrible events. The soldiers who were the first to discover concentration camps at the end of World War II felt this. Many people who watched the first plane hit the World Trade Center, felt the same way.

Questioning  “reality” is an essential part of our education, I tell my students. The internet is far from truthful. Fake news is the latest example of a reality that many people have come to accept as part of the unreal world we live in. But the problem goes a lot deeper than most people think; young people have trouble determining what’s real because they were brought up on video games and reality TV that achieves verisimilitude with a seductive allure to the senses that few great novels can achieve, at least, for those who don’t make reading a habit. What happens when your sense of reality becomes so blurred with the virtual you stop questioning the real all together? What happens when RealityTV becomes interactive and you’re allowed to tell willing participants what you want them to do and say?

A lot happens, and none of it is good. Soon young people won’t just be temporarily duped by the unreal, they’ll be convinced it’s the way life works. Interactive, RealityTV will soon present programming that will allow people to vote for and recommend real sex and real violence.

Can’t we can put a stop to this? Not necessarily. Remember the only censor for live, streaming digital, broadcast is you, the viewer. You can turn the channel. You can write your congressman. Or what you see will appear so horrific that you’ll convince yourself that it can’t possibly be real.

There are laws against that sort of programming, aren’t there? Maybe, but tell that to a young person that’s been given an order to do something that could make them the Queen Bee or most popular boy to millions of viewers. Should we hold young people responsible for “following orders?” And some of those orders will probably be given by adults who are watching and want to see them “go all the way.” Remember, those people in the Milgram experiment were just “following orders.” So were the Nazis. In the coming months you’re going to see this sad reality come to pass. I’m writing to ask you to do two things when you witness the real and try to dismiss it as just a virtual photo-shopping of the perverse.

First. Don’t blame young people. Sure we’d like them to read more and question authority. But young people didn’t create these games. We did.

Second. This bold new world of interactive entertainment isn’t going to go away. There may be finger-pointing and hand-wringing by concerned adults at congressional hearings. But in the end, the only censors will be those of us with the courage turn the channel.





Why 13 RW is an important show.

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.”