I vote for more of those things in YA. More sex, more violence and blood, and more profanity.
That sound you’re hearing is my agent yelling, “noooooooooooo!” But it’s how I feel.
Now before you run off and tell everyone that Shaun’s a nut job, you should know that I don’t believe in any of those things in real life. Except for profanity. I think censoring profanity is what makes it so taboo, but that’s another issue. When it comes to violence and sex, I’m pretty conservative. I’ve never even been in a fist fight.
So why then am I advocating more of these things in YA? For two reasons, really:
1. Because it allows teens to experience these things vicariously.
2. Because it’s what teens want.
As usual, I’m speaking from a guy’s perspective. Based on current trends in literature (Twilight, Vampire Diaries etc) I’m not sure WHAT girls want.
Reason 1: Okay, I’m a pretty enlightened guy. I saw Julie and Julia and I’m not ashamed to admit that I like it. But I also like movies where things blow up/the world ends/the bad guy or girl gets cut into bloody chunks. I adore the ultra violent style of Tarantino. I’m practically frothing at the mouth for Mark Millar’s movie adaptation of his comic book Kick-Ass. I watched Gamer and I thought there wasn’t enough blood. And in any movie where aliens land, I giggle when they blow up New York city. And I’m not alone. Kill Bill volumes 1 and 2 had a combined domestic gross of over $130 million.
Why is this? Because entertainment like this allows people to live events and do things that they could never ever do in real life. It’s the same reason people go to see wrestling or boxing. It’s the same reason Romans watched slaves butcher each other in the coliseum. It’s these forms of condoned violence and sex and profanity that allow people to siphon off their aggressive urges in non-violent ways. Is it maybe a little sick that I cheered on Uma Thurman’s character when she dismembered The Crazy 88’s? Um, yeah. But remember, I’ve also never been in a fight. Maybe having good outlets for my testosterone-fueled violent tendencies is why.
Now I know the argument exists that children who watch violent movies or play violent games are more likely to be violent. That, in my opinion, is where parents come in. Because I think the children that are prone to this type of behavior are going to be prone to it whether they play GTA or not. Parents should be there to monitor a child’s media consumption (I’m a firm believer that a parent should watch/read/play all the same things their child does…how else will you know what’s going through his/her head?) and make sure that they understand the difference between fantasy and reality. It’s one thing to watch the titular hero of Kick-Ass don his costume for the first time and be a hero, but another to try it yourself.
Reason 2 – It’s what teens want. It’s nice of us to think of teens as quaint little people with no urges/needs/desires of their own. It’s also why so many of us adults fail to understand them. At 16 I thought about getting laid, driving fast, impressing my friends, getting laid. Did I mention getting laid? And teens want to see their experiences and fantasies played out in their media/literature/video games.
One of the best teen shows on television is SKINS. They fight, drink, swear, take drugs, and even steal a corpse. That show is everything I aspire to be as a YA writer. I know it sounds like the show lowers the bar down to the lowest common denominator, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, things are exaggerated. But it captures the true state of the teenage soul. It is all about the confusion and heartache and stupidity that comes with being a teen. If I were a parent, would I want my kid acting like one of the kids on the show? Hell no. But I’d certainly want him to watch the show.
And millions of teens can’t be wrong. SKINS is so popular that it’s being brought over to the US.
I’ve talked a lot about movies, and I know that. But I’m a writer, so what does this have to do with books? The answer is everything. I’m advocating more of these things in books because they’re rare. Imagine what a YA book written by Quentin Tarantino would be like. Have you got it fixed in your head? Because if we’re going to draw more boys to YA books, those are the kinds of books we need. Two recent, good examples of books that I think fit this type are The Hunger Games and The Knife of Never Letting Go. Neither book pulls back on the violence. Both offer grim views into the hearts and minds of their respective protagonists. And both have done pretty darn well.
If we want to get teen boys reading again, we have to provide them with a product that is similar to or better than the movies/games/comics that they love. And that includes creating positive literature that includes a healthy dose of sex and violence and profanity. It means creating flawed, characters that your mother would be ashamed to have you bring home for dinner.
I think this blog began as one thing and ended as another. But that’s okay. That’s how we roll.