Saturday, March 11, 2006

Naomi Wolf article on teen fiction

The much-anticipated Naomi Wolf article on the Gossip Girl, A-List, and Clique series is up at the New York Times.

I must admit that these books have never appealed to me, maybe wrongly, because this world didn't appeal to me as a teen. The phenomenon that is their popularity does interest me, however. Wolf writes these novels, "represent a new kind of young adult fiction, and feature a different kind of heroine. In these novels, which have dominated the field of popular girls' fiction in recent years, Carol Gilligan's question about whether girls can have 'a different voice' has been answered — in a scary way."

Wolf finds blatant consumerism, detached parents, and conformity to be at the heart of these series: "In the world of the A-List or Clique girl, inverting Austen (and Alcott), the rich are right and good simply by virtue of their wealth. Seventh graders have Palm Pilots, red Coach clutches, Visas and cellphones in Prada messenger bags. Success and failure are entirely signaled by material possessions — specifically, by brands." You could argue, then, that these books simply mirror society today. It is unfortunate, but this is the life of well-off teens today.

Wolf is looking for the rebellion of old: "The great reads of adolescence have classically been critiques of the corrupt or banal adult world. It's sad if the point of reading for many girls now is no longer to take the adult world apart but to squeeze into it all the more compliantly. Sex and shopping take their places on a barren stage, as though, even for teenagers, these are the only dramas left."

What do you think? Where is the rebellion today? I'd argue it still exists in Harry Potter and The Bartimeus Trilogy. But where else?