Big Brother is Reading

It's not overanalytical. It's just analytical enough.

a break from your regularly scheduled programming
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In response to all of the drama surrounding the Bitch Magazine YA Top 100 controversy, I've started a blog which is unrelated to this one except for how I'm the one writing it, and my influences are pretty transparent.

I have a post I want to make on Rob and Russell coming back to Survivor for their 4th and 3rd times, respectively, and how their consistent returns (I think I've seen Russell more in the past two years than most of my family) really highlight both the good and bad aspects of sequels in literature, but for now I'm rereading Wrinkle in Time and trying not to spend my entire Sunday evening doing a post-colonial reading of the occupation of Camazotz.


The YA Subscription


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Award Season
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As probably most everyone reading this knows, Monday was the announcement of the ALA awards! This is basically my Oscars. I have been reading a ton of books in preparation (although I haven't read nearly as many winners as I'd hoped- way to go, DARK HORSES) and I was really excited. So I'm really disappointed that there are two things that jumped out to me as problematic.

I don't mean problematic as in "I disagree." I disagree that Hush didn't get at least a Printz honor, but I understand it. I disagree with the choice of A Sick Day for Amos McGee for the Caldecott, but I can see how people would choose that. But two things rubbed me the wrong way. First of all, while I think Terry Pratchett deserves many awards, I'm not really sure he deserves the Edwards specifically. And second, the distribution of awards for the Stonewall confuses me.

cut for lengthCollapse )

To be clear, I do think it's important that the award goes to the best books. But "best books" doesn't exist in a vacuum. That's why the Stonewall exists: because the books for LGBTQ teens deserve their own attention, and because the ALA is making a great move toward making sure they're better serving an under-served population. And I don't think they're adequately serving that marginalized community if they've chosen five books to recognize, but none of them acknowledge any type of lesbian or bisexual female experience.

For what it's worth, I can think of at least two books about the relationship between teen girls (A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner and Scars by Cheryl Rainfield) that were strong, engaging YA reads published in 2010. If you have any other recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

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You can take the girl out of grad school...
Wish We Had Video
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Today, the New York Public Library had a screening of Library of the Early Mind, a documentary about children's literature that was pretty damn fantastic. It has a lot of information, but was fascinating to me partly because this is the first time I've seen a documentary where I knew most of the information already. What was new was hearing it in the voices of these authors and illustrators, and seeing how the film put it together. Because I knew the facts being referenced and the books that were being referred to, it evoked this really nice feeling- like rather than just sitting and absorbing information from a teacher, I was engaged in a conversation. I even wrote down quotes I wanted to respond to!

Yet somehow, now that I'm home and in front of a keyboard, rather than discussing any of the points brought up in the documentary, I find myself wanting to discuss a very important question that has been bugging me all day and has nothing to do with children's lit at all: how do reality TV hosts conform to stereotypes about race, gender, etc? I've seen a lot about stereotypes and casting contestants, but what about the people who are chosen as leads? There are women hosts on reality programs, but mostly in the context of traditionally feminine roles, like childcare (Supernanny), cooking (Top Chef), or beauty (America's Next Top Model and Project Runway). The only exception I can think of is Big Brother, which features an Asian woman as its host in contrast to the white men hosting the other two CBS reality programs.

This has led to me wondering if, because the narrative is framed as people living in a "house" and dealing with cutthroat interpersonal problems without the intrigue of international travel or the living-off-the-land aspect, Big Brother would count as inhabiting the domestic sphere.

One of these days, I'm invading one of the nearby college libraries, and not leaving until I find the billions of articles on these subjects that I refuse to believe haven't been written. And then I will die happy.


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YOU'RE A FLOATER, SO GO FLOAT ON OFF
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Big Brother turns you into a hypocrite.Collapse )

Ultimately, I would argue from the critical viewer's point of view, reality television can be more emotionally complex than scripted.

You can stone me now.

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Public Service Announcement
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From now on, I'll be cross-posting everything from the Big Brother is Reading livejournal here.


Previous Posts, linked for your convenienceCollapse )

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your crystal ball ain't so crystal clear
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You know how sometimes, if you look at something long enough, you don't notice the little details of what made it great? It's like you're so preoccupied with what you KNOW it is that you forget some of the parts that make the whole so great.

Today I was checking out Big Brother websites, as you might expect from me when it's three days until the premiere and I'm at that point in a book I'm reading where I don't want to stop but I also don't want to know what comes next because I can tell it will hurt. (Side note: YA lit, you are the BEST. ♥) And I came across what they always always always use as the live feeds slogan, what they even use when describing the feeds in the ads for them that air during the BB episodes on CBS:

See what they can't show you on TV.


And HOW AMAZING IS THAT?

First of all, the "them" is misleading in fascinating ways: it implies that the ad is not made by the exact same people who make the show, which of course it is. It creates this artificial dichotomy of "you" and "them," establishing an in-group (fans of the show) and an opposing faction (the people who make the show). And it positions the people who produce the feeds as the mediating force between "you" and "them". Except the entire concept of the feeds is the idea that they aren't mediated: that they're just seeing real people in real time with no edits. But of COURSE they're mediated, in a million little ways, like choosing which camera to show and who the camera follows and even how the shot is framed.

This also invites the discussion of exactly what "can't" means: can't as in "too inappropriate to show on broadcast cable" or "too much footage for three 42-minute shows per week"? And "can't" or "won't"? There's no specific rule- besides the constructs of television- saying that each episode has to follow the predetermined format that it's been going by for over a decade.

This is ADDITIONALLY complicated by the existence of the Showtime "AfterDark" episodes, which literally are three hours of the feeds-- broadcast on cable television, with text scrolling along the bottom of the screen explaining what's going on. Which again raises the question of can't versus won't, and what's mediated and what isn't.

Reality TV is SO FASCINATING TO ME, and the season hasn't even started yet!

"It's not the ography that bothers me. It's the porn."
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Today, I went to see Adam Rapp's new play. It was at the Vineyard theatre (pretty small- maybe 150 people tops?) and featured nine actors (Billy Crudup played Tobin Falmouth, the protagonist). It's the story of an author whose book gets banned in a small town in the heartland, and he has to go speak on behalf of his book. It was based on his experiences with Muhlenberg High School banning The Buffalo Tree, although hopefully too closely, because the lead character is pretty much a jerk.

I'm trying to figure out how I feel about the play. I'm really not sure.

It was good. It wasn't the best ever, but it was good. I felt slightly out of sorts, though, as a fan of YA watching this play. As someone who gets passionately invested in YA novels, who has said some of the things characters in the play say, I felt awkwardly judged, like the authors never intended for me to care THIS MUCH and I should step back. I also felt like, even though the teenagers on Team Falmouth are the most articulate and smart people in the play, they fall into the same trap that everyone who tries to ban books falls into: although they view it as an act of rebellion, the fact remains that they take the book as a message and a call to arms, and they accept it. The entire argument against banning YA lit- one of them, at least- is that teens are intelligent enough to not just blindly follow what they think the text says, and to see these characters do that- especially when it involves spoilers!Collapse )- seems to undercut a lot of the goal of the play.

I think I want to write something comparing Metal Children to Chris Crutcher's The Sledding Hill, which are remarkably similar and yet different. They err on opposite sides. Chris Crutcher's authorial insert (named, er, Chris Crutcher) isn't fallible enough, while Tobin Falmouth is entirely too much so: spoilers for the play, although they aren't really the pointCollapse ). Chris Crutcher is up against ignorant bigots. Tobin is too, but the people on his side aren't portrayed much better: one side is ignorant of anything but religion, and the other side takes on THe Metal Children as a different kind of religious doctrine, waxing poetic about every single line.

(Is this how I sound about On the Jellicoe Road? I mean, not that I'm going to stop. But do I?)

Basically, I liked "The Metal Children" and I liked The Sledding Hill, but I love John Green's I Am Not a Pornographer, which is respectful and honest and doesn't belittle any side of the dispute but passionately argues FOR the critical reading of a text.

The thing I came away from this play with, more than anything, was that I want to read The Metal Children. Not "The Metal Children" (as in the play, printed in book form, although I am intrigued by that), but The Metal Children, the book around which the play's controversy revolves. It's not a real book, obviously. (The play describes it as the "1999 Printz winner," which no one but me found funny.) I want the story about young women in a small town who get pregnant and are replaced with metal statues of themselves, engraved with GONE FOR NOW. I want this story full of cursing and rage, which apparently ends with a graphic abortion at the feet of the statues. I want this book with the symbolism where women's lack of reproductive choice literally turns them from people into objects. I want an Adam Rapp novel, featuring powerful female characters, which doesn't have any easy answers, for the characters or the readers.


But that's not happening. Luckily, I stopped at the Strand and got ARCs of Fat Vampire and Another Pan, so for now I will content myself with those.

THAT'S what I'm talking about.
Hunger Games
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TWITTER ACCOUNT YOU HAVE PAID OFF

[captcha: ASCOTS OUT. Yeah, I got nothing.]

Survivor: Judge Judy Edition
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Today, I want to talk about my current Survivor pet peeve: the purpose of the jury on reality shows. The Survivor season finale aired Sunday night, immediately prompting another reaction full of "FIXED!" and "UNFAIR!" I would argue that the perceived problem with the game isn't an issue with the game, but rather with perception of the game.

On reality show juriesCollapse )

Had I been on the juries, I like to think I wouldn't have voted for all of the people who won. But I also think that if I had been in the game, my opinions would be different: both because I don't have any personal grudges with the game, and because with one other person in the mix, everything changes. Had I been on the jury, maybe someone would have left earlier or lasted later. Maybe one of the people who made the finals wouldn't have even been cast because there are a finite number of spots on the show. Speculation about what anyone outside the game would have done on the jury is pointless, because the game is determined less by the structure of the game and more by the people who play it.

IF ANYTHING GOES WRONG, JEFF PROBST WILL BE MY CONSTANT.
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On Monday, I saw Jon Scieszka and Katherine Paterson speak. It was, as you might imagine, amazing, on account of them being Jon Scieszka and Katherine Paterson. I got books signed and took furious notes. They said some great things.

The quote that I've spent the most time thinking about, I haven't really been considering in the context of children's lit, but rather reality television. When asked if she puts real people in her books, Katherine Paterson said "No, because people in books have to be believable, and real people aren't."

Yes. Yes. That's exactly it.

People see an inherent contradiction between knowing reality shows aren't really real and liking them for the reality inherent in them. I would argue that these views actually complement each other if one also assumes that TV viewers have grown savvier about media tropes.

The reason people enjoy unscripted media isn't that what's on screen is "really real," but that some element of it isn't fake- which sounds like it's saying the same thing, but it isn't. Scripted media can have twists, and frequently does, but they're calculated twists, designed to get the audience's reaction. Over time, a knowledgeable audience that understands story structure can make educated guesses about what will happen next.

But people can never be 100% predictable. No one expects them to show what "really" happens, and they may fit into tropes as well as they can, but it's impossible to fit perfectly into that box, because of- again- the human variable. Behavior cannot be completely controlled by external forces.

Reality television can be predictable, because the audience can familiarize itself with the tropes of editing unscripted media as easily as scripted. But there is the possibility of scenarios getting up-ended: Richard Hatch can win a million dollars, Colby Donaldson can give up $900,000 by choosing to sit next to Tina instead of Keith; Jonny Fairplay can lie about his grandmother's death; Jason can look at a stick and think it's an immunity idol. It's completely implausible, except that it actually happened. Within the moment, people believed unbelievable things, and that let the unbelievable become real.

To quote Kate diCamillo:
Magic is always impossible. It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between. That is why it is magic.


That's the draw of reality TV for me.


Well, that and the way that BB9 winner Adam is asking for the court to pay for his rehab (from the oxycotone ring he started with his $500,000 Big Brother winnings) and Will Kirby (BB2/BB7) and Erin Brody (For Love or Money 1 and 2) had their first child- a baby boy named Cash. It's all of the above, really.

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