Pop culture gleams with reality television like, Teen Mom, and best-selling shock value buys, like Fifty Shades of Grey. The Shakespearean downfalls due to drug addiction, family betrayals, and greed are enough to make our mouths water. We all know drama and exploitation sells big time and it’s easy to think back on childhood in all its perceived wholesomeness, but of course, the 90s and early 2000s came with their fair share of rubbish too. Jerry Springer, anyone? In a world where monetary value is the only thing of value, does socially conscious literature stand a chance?
Recently the New York Times published a piece titled “Trying to Bring Baldwin’s Complex Voice Back to the Classroom.” The article discussed tribulations of Baldwin being too forceful and dynamic in his approach when discussing social issues of his time and ones that have historically been stifled (even today) in regards to race, socioeconomics, equality, etc.
Apparently his voice and his mission are too much for teens to comprehend. Nonsense. With all that goes on in the news and their daily lives teens can make sense of and intellectualize more than we give them credit for. If anything, being able to read novels chronicling struggles similar to their own can help them to better understand their own lives and let them know there are people in the world who understand their experiences. Let’s not do them the disservice of undermining their intelligence.
Since when was has it been the mission of educators to shun children away from history and truth? Isn’t the goal of education to read and discuss the struggles of the country and its people, to be able to learn and grow from it? If the current mission of education it to coddle and spoon feed students happy-go-lucky modicums of partial truth and complete lies, they’re doing a great job.
Over the years there has been a steady decrease in the quality and factual relevance of reading material in classrooms. Classic works of literature are being modified, as is history. Times like this I’m anxiously reminded of Orwell’s 1984 and its famous quotation, “He who controls the past, controls the future.”
Escapism isn’t new. Ones proclivity towards books and television offering tawdry romances and beautifully ethereal bloodsuckers is understandable. Times are hard. People want the fantastical, but does the writer have a civic duty to inform and enlightenment? Perhaps this used to be the goal of the great American novel. I believe it still is.
There are many authors from various places and walks of life doing amazing work. A lot of this work just isn’t main stream. Just because the eye of the public hasn’t aligned itself with more introspective pursuits, doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. Not yet anyway. Hopefully never.
As I writer I grapple with the content of my work. Am I doing enough? In my not yet popped bubble of hopefulness, I think people will turn to more thoughtful works, or return to the classics if anything. This isn’t to say writing should be all about darkness and injustice, though everything can’t be about shady housewives and demeaning sex (cough, Fifty Shades).