Monday, June 6, 2011

In Defense of Andrew Smith

On Saturday, June 4th, 2011, an article was published in Wall Street Journal that sought to do what has become almost thematic for Rupert Murdoch's American news reporting media outlets – attack a segment of pop culture as being unwholesome or depraved, similar in tone to their recent campaign against rapper Common’s visit to the White House. 

Darkness Too Visible, Meghan Cox Gurdon’s article, the title of which could have been that from a book by Madeleine L’Engle, takes aim at young adult novels, siting the entire genre as “a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.”  Take that, Harry and Bella!

Specifically, Gurdon points to the works of several popular authors, one of them INK ROCK follower Andrew Smith (The Marbury Lens 2010, Stick Coming 2011), and compares their books to those of yesteryear, noting a supposed meteoric rise in profanity, instances of rape, drug use, sexual deviance, and self mutilation, to name a few.  Sadly, no objection to Rock and Roll or dancing was mentioned and Kevin Bacon could not be reached for comment.

Without a doubt, there is some heavy material out there in the world of YA.  Dystopia and vampires reign, and some of the contemporary fare describe very harsh realities.  When Fox News and the WSJ, both owned by Murdoch's News Corp., rallied together to launch outrage at rapper Common’s poetry reading at the White House, they did so in a similar fashion as Ms. Gurdon – without any consideration to the circumstance and reality that inspired the art.  It seems Gurdon would rather look through a pair of her own magical glasses than see the world for how it is.  Perhaps Andrew Smith could arrange something. 

Also, is it just me that found humor as to where this article was published?  Such irony is almost unbearable where a newspaper named The Wall Street Journal objects to stories of dystopian cities and blood suckers as being too dark.  I mean, seriously.  If you want to talk dark, allow me to grab my black kettle and let's discuss the economy.

So, what is the alternative here that would satisfy those like Fox News and Ms. Gurdon?  Should we listen to them when they point to the narrow road of “Main Street USA,” with its picket fences, white neighbors, Ken and Barbie couples, and children playing outside on the swing set, and say, “Live here.  This is the American Dream.”  Or, should we acknowledge that it is only a dream, a fantasy, and that there is a bigger, richer, more connected world out there worth living in, warts and all.  Instead of burying our heads in the sand, isn’t it better to admit that there are bad things going on in the world and start talking or writing about them?  If these issues aren’t being discussed, then they are being ignored.  And if they are being ignored, then how can anyone afflicted by them be helped? 

By the way, as an aside, I’ve lived on “Main Street USA.”  The picket fences have termites, Ken is sleeping with one of the white neighbors – everyone suspects it’s Bob, and the kids are sniffing glue they’ve stolen from their underfunded school because Barbie is too numb on gin and Xanax to know what’s going on.  Just so you know.  Careful what you wish for.

My point is, art and literature don’t happen in a vacuum.  They are a product of the environment.  As are your kids.  You’ll notice you never hear outrage from the intended readers of these books.  That’s because they are smarter than those like Gurdon give them credit for.  Authors like Andrew Smith and Lauren Myracle, another singled out by the WSJ article, already know this, which is why they are wildly popular with their audience.  One thing about young adults and kids - they know what's true, what's real.  And they can weed out bullshit like a cadaver dog can a body.  What?  Too dark?

I’m hopeful that Gurdon’s ultimate point to her misguided article is that parents need to parent, and that they are the best censor for their children.  Everyone agrees on that point.  However, I’m disappointed that she failed to find or acknowledge the value of these works and how they fit into the environment of reality.  Also, articles like this flirt with the idea of banning material, even where doing so isn’t explicitly discussed.  You don’t have to be a historian to know what burning books did for 1930’s Europe.


  1. You're preaching to the choir. I haven't lived on "Main Street" USA. I usually live across the tracks in welfare housing, where only fools buy on credit and you don't let your kid play on the playground since the mulch bedding is a popular place to dump syringes. So preach on.

  2. Ridiculous is the word for it. I'm not usually on any bandwagon, simply b/c I don't like to be part of the crowd, but I'd previously interviewed the third author (Cheryl Rainfield) attacked in this diatribe of ignorance and was appalled at what the article had to say about her writing, and specifically the cover of her book. SCARS is about cutting, and instead of featuring, say, puppies and Mylar balloons on the cover, the author chose to use a deeply scarred arm - and it happens to be her own.

    If the sight of an adult's own scars can't serve as a map to show young readers that it's possible to recover, heal, and move on w/out being accused of sensationalism, then I don't want to be an adult. Because that means I've got nothing to teach anyone, scars or not.

  3. Ignorance never changed nothin. Pretending evil isn't in the world, doesn't make double rainbows anymore prolific, no matter how bad some might want it to.

    Well said, Stephen, and thank you for standing up for Andrew and his work.

  4. Great comments! I totally agree with all of you.

  5. Well said, Stephen. And thanks for standing up for Andrew.