Trump l’oeil–What Happens When Dystopia Arrives Too Soon.

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.

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.

Selena Gomez: A Hollywood Role Model.

For those of you who read my blog and books, you know I teach and try to find role models for my young students. Some of the ones I select lived hundreds of years ago. Some are alive, and giving parents, teachers, and young people better choices than the dismal pantheon of famous teenagers in Hollywood who rely on sex tapes and high speed chases to gain notoriety.

Classes started this week, so I have a lot to hear from my students about who they admire and why. I write the words that are traditionally associated with leaders and role models on the board. “Integrity” “Vision” “Kindness”…but there are other more subtle attributes that we miss, and I think they can be found by looking at two actresses who are making some breakout choices with the roles they take, and some of the off-screen decisions they make about what’s really important in life.

Great leaders and role models share one trait that most of us miss when looking for the next person to follow: Vulnerability. This is an unlikely superpower to most larger than life characters. To make yourself vulnerable is put yourself in a place of risk, to appear weak, to make a choice that tells the world you know the difference between fame and personal achievement, between adulation and respect.

Selena Gomez decided to take three months off to assess her mental health and her career. It was a shocking move to the Hollywood establishment and her fans. Why didn’t she just check into rehab after a wildly publicized and largely manufactured “breakdown.” Instead, she sat down with strangers in therapy and made choices most adults couldn’t fathom. She came back a new different person. What we saw once as a squeaky clean girl with talent and mouse ears has blossomed into a young woman who is ready for a new role. In short, Selena became a real life wonder woman. She made risky choices the way Gal Gadot did in her breakout performance of Wonder Woman.  By showing us her weaker side, she gave us a glimpse into a real superpower we all have the power to possess.

So, Selena is up on my board in the classroom as this month’s young woman to watch. One parent of course took issue with my choice and asked how I could be so admiring of a girl who sings the ultra sultry songs “Fetish”, and “Bad Liar”. How could I endorse an actress who wears a string bikini and sucks off a gun barrel in Spring Breakers. And my answer was because Selena, like any girl who needs to find womanhood on her own terms, is growing and exploring the complex difference between passion and true love in ways that give us the kind of conflicted character who is tired of playing a little girl. The world doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to shoving teenage sex in our faces, why should Selena? Can’t you hear her pain between the lines of those so-called “inappropriate” songs? Can’t you see why she’s supporting 13 Reasons Why as a way to stare down teen suicide? We parents and teachers still have a lot to learn on what it takes to survive as a young person today.

Thank God, Selena is showing the way.

 

FAQ for Stephendavidhurley.com

How can you call Cease & Desist a Christian book? It’s filled with sex and violence.

First, I never set out to write a “Christian” work. I wanted to write a novel that would address the concerns about sexuality and violence that young people have in a real-life setting that many Christian fiction writers miss. I teach, and many of my students feel a disconnect with Christian literature because it renders a morally strident world that they feel is unattainable. I love Christians and I love my church. I believe Christian fiction is poised to make the cross-over into the secular world–a crossover that many traditional publishers have long awaited–provided we address young people in the real world that is filled with fears of date-rape and bullying; violence as entertainment; mental illness, and the sexualized of teens.

If you write realistic Christian fiction, please send a shout-out to our blog, so we can praise your work.

“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.