Amy Stern (bigbrotherreads) wrote,
Amy Stern

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Cult of the Author

I have a lot of thoughts on the Cult of Celebrity and What It Means and What It Encourages. Because, I mean, I am ALL ABOUT being a geek. If you've seen me at ComicCon (or... anywhere, actually) you know that I have very little problem going and being a giant nerd about things I love. I don't have problems going up to ask questions at panels. But I've always had that little gut-pull of anxiety when I have an opportunity to do something one-on-one, and the power exchange feels weird.

This is the root of my conflicting emotions regarding the possibilities of talking to/meeting reality television contestants. I have strong feelings about them, I want to know about their experience, I feel like I would like to be their friend-- but I also feel like I love the image that they projected on the screen, and the way they were edited, and how they choose to protect themselves, not necessarily them. Besides, with the one-way communication that is reality television (we get to see every detail of their life; they don't have any idea who we are), it feels... unbalanced and creepy? And it's unbalanced on both sides; it's entirely possible I like the character they were edited into but not the person they actually are, or would really like the person but not the edited character they are. At the end of the day, I don't want to be a stalker but I also don't want to be disappointed.

(That said, if I had the opportunity I WOULD JUMP ALL OVER IT. Reality stars, call me!)

Anyway, I'm thinking about this a lot right now because yesterday, I went to a book signing. John Green and David Levithan were at the Borders on Park Ave to talk about Will Grayson, Will Grayson, so I bought that and maybe tripped and fell on a copy of Guardian of the Dead while I was there and got it signed. What the process actually was, though, was leaving work, getting there half an hour early and learning it was already standing room only, waiting a while, watching about an hour of A+ readings and question-answering, and then waiting on a line for approximately forever to get stuff signed.

I was one of the very last people to get things signed, because I figured I wasn't going to race people to get there when I am a grown-up, WITHOUT a curfew and WITH brand new books to read. So I was waiting for a good long while. And while I was, I had plenty of opportunity to observe the way people reacted to John Green (and, although to a smaller extent, to each of the following who were there, roughly in order: Maureen Johnson; David Levithan; Robin Wasserman; Adrienne Vrettos). John Green, who has Brotherhood 2.0 and Nerdfighters and the normal assortment of blogs and twitters and everything, and as such has a very definitive personal web presence.

What I'm saying here is that I don't consider myself a Nerdfighter by any means, but I know John Green and the name of his son and dog off the top of my head, and I was in the minority in the room. Like, I never went to an NSync concert when I was sixteen (because I really did not give a crap about NSync) but that was what it felt like. It was the teen author equivalent of an NSync concert. People were shrieking. People were crying. People were wearing shirts made specially for the occasion.

And this is where I have two trains of thought.

One is that this blatant fannishness towards the author makes me uncomfortable. At one point John Green ran down the line and doing his entertainy happy dance that he does on the vlog, and all I could think of was his comment during the Q&A. Someone asked the real name of one of his characters who goes by a nickname, and he basically said that even if he knew, by not putting it in the book it's no longer up to him to choose, and the reader can bring to it whatever they want. Basically, he said that he thinks the author is dead, which is a school of thought to which I subscribe.

But how CAN the author be dead when there's this fannish convergence around the author? How does it change things to know when I'm reading Looking for Alaska exactly how John Green feels about Catcher in the Rye? If I buy Maureen Johnson's book the day it comes out because I follow her on Twitter, when I might have waited a few weeks if I didn't, am I still able to judge a book by its merits in a vacuum? And is it even POSSIBLE to judge within a vacuum, when virtually every school of thought says that you can't divorce the story from the culture surrounding it? Even the most stringent close reading can't make you fully divorce yourself from who the author is and what they represent, which is why people read different books for different moods, or have diferent reactions to seeing people reading different authors.

And why is the cult of the author so bad? I mean, I have this gut-instinct negative reaction to it, because I like to think I'm a serious scholar who judges books on their merits and is smore interested in that than anything else. But how much of my problem comes from the fact that there's a certain level of letting go and just being fully enthusiastic that's equated with stereotypes of hysterical teenage girls? Is there unconscious gender or age bias coming into play when I maintain a certain level of detachment? Or is that just a question of preference or personality or whatever?

And how much am I letting the way that I am an adult who reads YA novels get in the way of understanding how great that moment is to connect with an author, and feel like part of a community? When I was in fifth grade I met Madeleine L'Engle, and I was so freaked out and excited I couldn't speak, and probably if I could have gotten a shirt relating to A Wrinkle in Time I would have. So how, in a world where it IS possible to get a tee shirt with John Green's face, can I legitimately be critical of someone wearing it? If I'd met YA authors when I was a teenager (and let's say, for the sake of this hypothesis, that I wasn't in my "I'm too mature for YA" phase when I was actually a teen), when I wanted to be a writer, would it have been BAD if I was screaming over them like a Justin Bieber fan at whatever it is that Justin Bieber does? Isn't it a good thing that teenagers are idolizing authors of legit novels instead of passing musical fads? Or is that a variation on "At least they're reading," which gnomicutterance tackles quite nicely here? Can I really be saying that the Cult of the Author is a flawed way for people to choose books when I've grabbed some of my favorites based on cover design, despite the proverb?

Just- there are so many questions here. Am I implicitly saying that literature is more of an important text than movies or TV or music? Is there a difference between being a fan of the author as book producer and being a fan of the author as person (or manufactured character, as the case may be)? Why do I feel like I can be arbiter of what's too much and what's enough? Am I just showing signs of inadvertently being an ironically detached hipster?

And as a blogger, aren't I basically banking on a different facet of the cult of celebrity in the hopes that people will comment and engage me in discussion? I'm hoping that my credentials, in the form of masters degrees,give me some kind of prestige, and that my icons lead to image recognition, and that what I say leads people to subscribe to this via RSS or LJ friending. I want people to value my ideas rather than my personality or presentation style, but I know that I can't COMMUNICATE my ideas to more than a small circle of people unless I make a public face for myself, so I have to create/maintain a personality and presentation style that invites readers so that I can my ideas across.

Basically, what I'm saying is that I'm confused about how I feel.

What do YOU think?
Tags: reality: performativity, topics: cult of the whatever, ya lit
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