The reaction from the YA world was instant and overwhelming. Late Saturday night Twitter was ablaze with protests, and a new hashtag, #YAsaves, telling how YA fiction had changed people’s lives, was the #3 trending topic in the world. (Which should tell you how many of us crazy-cool YA authors are home on a Saturday night. Woo!)
Like many authors and readers, I was outraged and saddened by the article, and by the cheerleading section in its comments.
What I was not, however, was surprised. It’s no accident that this opinion piece masquerading as journalism appeared in the Wall Street Journal, as opposed to any other newspaper.
The Journal’s news reporting used to be top-notch. They’ve won thirty-three Pulitzer Prizes, the last one in 2007, a gold medal award-winning story about executive stock fraud. All the while, their editorial page had a strong conservative slant—they were, after all, the paper of record for the business world, whose primary goal is profit.
In 2007, the Wall Street Journal was bought by Dow Jones & Company, a subsidiary of News Corporation, the same communications conglomerate that owns Fox News Channel. Many of the Journal's serious journalists and editors have since flocked to other news organizations, frustrated with the paper's new lack of interest in thorough, investigative journalism.
The people who run Fox News--and now the Wall Street Journal--want you to believe that America is engaged in a "Culture War," that the country is divided by moral issues such as gay rights, affirmative action, abortion, and feminism. We are not one American people united by belief in freedom and equality and our love for baseball and apple pie--no, we are at WAR with each other, dammit, and everyone must take sides.
This fearmongering belief was most memorably expressed in Pat Buchanan's speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention:
There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.
Really, Pat? Gay rights are as dangerous as Soviet nukes? Really?
Sadly, these days, more people than ever subscribe to this fear-based world view, thanks to Fox News and right-wing talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and his many wanna-bes. Every year, Fox host Bill O'Reilly yells about the "War on Christmas"--a manufactured controversy if there ever was one.
You might be thinking, come on, Jeri. You're an author, not a pundit. You write books for teenagers, you shouldn't be spouting about politics on your blog. In other words,
SHUT UP AND WRITE!
Well, normally I stay quiet about political issues online (as quiet as I can). If I commented on every issue that bothered me, I'd never get any books written.
But now, the right wing has waded into my territory. They're accusing me and my friends and our publishers of "us[ing] the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives."
When you start waving code words like "depravity" in my direction? I speak out. Lots of other authors and readers have spoken from the heart, in a non-political way, about how YA novels have changed and even saved their lives and how they provide a way for teens to deal with the darkness within and without. How many of them literally wouldn't be in this world if it weren't for books.
It's all true, and I totally agree. But I don't feel the need to repeat what others have said so eloquently. Everyone comes at these things from different angles. Mine is political, because it's what I know.
And, of course, musical, because that's also what I know. This crusade against "depravity" in YA books reminds me of the fight against rock 'n' roll back in the late fifties. Part of the controversy was about sex, but most of it, especially in the South where the music was born, was about race. White parents didn't want their kids dancing to black music, even if it was played by white musicians. Disc jockeys in Memphis received death threats for playing the music on white radio stations or for hosting mixed-race dance parties at black churches. (I wrote a short story about this tied to my vampire DJ series.)
The root of these freakouts is fear. Fear of the Other, whether the Other be a different race or sexual orientation or religion or mental health status. Fear that their children will grow up without that same fear.
I try real hard, but I don't understand that impulse. My parents weren't liberal by any stretch of the imagination, but they encouraged me to read anything and everything, even if it led me to see things differently than they did. They weren't afraid of the world that books could show me.
Not every kid is as lucky as I was. If we, as storytellers, can lay a path through the darkness, we owe today's teens nothing less.