Smut

In honour of banned books week.

(I have no idea whether these books were banned anywhere, but I’d think any school librarian remotely aware of content would at least try.)

A lot gets written about the influence of various media on kids.  You know, like do the violent video games make them more violent, do all the pink princess things make them act more entitled or vapid – that sort of thing.

Now me, I haven’t researched the issue at all.  But occasionally I come across an article about it in one form or another.  I tend to find these articles pretty convincing.  They seem like common sense, right?

If you sit there, regularly playing very well animated games where you kill people in gruesome and graphic fashion, it seems logical that you would become desensitized to violence.  And if you spend too much time pretending to be a princess, you will think you are one.

“I love you, but I want to eat you. You should stay away from me so you don’t tempt me to murder you.” (Not a direct quotation, but more or less the theme of the first two books.)

Or take the Twilight books.  I read them and I read a lot of reviews on them.  And in reading the reviews, I easily fell in with the line of thinking that, wow, this is a stalkerish relationship that has all the warning signs of later abuse.  If young girls read this and think it’s romantic, what kind of awful relationships will they put up with as adults?  Maybe young girls shouldn’t read this.

But then, the other night, I came across this book blog (which is hilarious, by the way) and in the “Trashy Tuesday” section were reviews of a bunch of VC Andrews books.

Have you read these books?  I have.  I think someone gave me one for my eleventh birthday and then I plowed through several others that I picked up at garage sales.  Now, even as an eleven/twelve-year-old, I was well aware that these books were not something I should be reading.  They were chock-a-block with sex.  But not sappy, romance novel-type sex.  No, we’re talking seriously dysfunctional, abusive relationship, messed up-type sex.

I think this is probably when I taught myself to read at great speeds.  I wanted to know how they would end and, at the same time, was quite confident that at some point one of my parents would find out what they were about and ban them.  So I wanted to get them finished before that happened.  Not that my parents were in the practice of banning books.  But these books – they are awful; I didn’t want it to happen, but I would have understood.  They are gripping, but there are no healthy role-models to be found in them for young girls. (Or young boys, for that matter.  I just don’t think boys read these books.)

“Grandma locked us in the attic for three years. What did you *think* we were going to do?”

Now, I thought Bella was a pathetic example for girls when I read her a couple of years ago.  But she’s freaking Wonder Woman if you start comparing her to a character like Cathy. (Or Heaven.  Or Dawn.  Or any of their daughters in later books in their respective series.)  These women all have Daddy issues (mostly abandonment, I think) and even stronger Mommy issues (Mommies tend to be a little psycho in these books and Grandmothers are just downright evil) that lead them, apparently, directly into shockingly poor sex partner choices.  (Creepy foster father-type?  Check.  Manipulative, obsessive brother?  Check check.)

Female characters who don’t fall into these habits tend to either commit suicide or go insane.

It’s smut of the kind that dictionary entries for smut are made.

I read this stuff at the very height of young person impressibility.  And you know what?  I’m ok.  I wasn’t traumatized by these books and in no way was I remotely inspired to follow in the footsteps of any of these characters.  Not then and not when I was older.  I read, I was briefly fascinated, and then I moved on.

I’m not sure what my point is here.  Obviously this is one person’s experience and hardly evidence of anything.  That said, maybe people can relax a little and not worry quite so much about the effects of every little piece of cringey information that gets through to young people.  Maybe young people are a little smarter and a little more resilient than that.

Or maybe not.  What do I know?  What do you folk think?  Should kids be able to read whatever they like?  If not, where do or should those lines get drawn?  Did you ever read anything as a kid (or see something on TV or in a movie) that you think has messed you up in some way as an adult?

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “Smut

  1. 1. Thanks so much for linking back!

    2. It was really strange for me, re-reading these books as an adult. I remember having feelings like yours that they would be found out and banned at home, if only my parents knew what I was reading, so I also read them fast.

    3. I really try not to censor too much what my kids (well, only the oldest really reads on his own) read. I try to keep up with new things I think he might enjoy, but also have a huge stock of things I know I read and enjoyed that I think are appropriate for his age (he just turned 13).

    He reads some things that I know are probably too mature for his general age group (for example, we read The Walking Dead comics together every month), but because I’ve read them too, I know that I can be there to discuss them with him, and maybe talk about anything he didn’t understand.

    I don’t want to limit him too much on the things he reads, because I think that finding books on your own is a great thing. I wouldn’t let him read books I knew were overly sexy, so it’s kind of strange that I say reading about violence is okay. I realize this. He knows, though, that fictional violence isn’t the same as real life violence. I’d kind of rather keep him from reading the smutty things I read at his age, though.

    I know, total hypocrite, but whatever. Yes, everybody has sex, but I’d still rather shelter him from overly sexual situations as long as I can.

    • I don’t think you’re a hypocrite. I don’t have kids, so have no idea how I would feel about what to let them read.

      I am interested in the idea that violence is better for kids than sex though, as it seems to be a common perception. As someone who is easily disturbed by violence, I think I would go the other way. Assuming the sex we are talking about is the respectful, loving kind, it seems like a pretty benign way to satisfy a kid’s curiosity.

      I probably would try to keep VC Andrews way the hell away from any kid. But even that, like I said, didn’t seem to have done me any harm. I wasn’t all sexified young or anything. So I just don’t know. Clearly I don’t have strongly formed opinions on this either way.

      • It’s not necessarily that I think violence is better for them, as much as they’ve already been exposed to it?

        I realize I’m probably not making a whole lot of sense here, but my husband plays a lot of Call of Duty and other types of war games, so they’ve grown up seeing those, and we’ve already had those discussions with them.

        I absolutely agree that being exposed to loving, respectful relationships is one of the best ways to educate children about sex and sexuality.

        We’ve had discussions with him about it, and he knows he can come to us with any questions he has and we’ll always do our best to be honest with him.

        I am, however, not ready to broach the incest topic with him. [sigh]

  2. I am so glad you wrote this and posed this question! I was just talking last month to my best friend who is very into the Fifty Shades series… Along with every other woman between the ages of 18 and 99. It is, btw, a series borne of the GIANT fandom of the Twilight series… which I didn’t know until I researched it. Anyhoo, I haven’t read either and don’t intend to. Mainly because the premise just doesn’t interest me… but after she explained the “Fifty Shades” storyline to me, I was so perplexed that I had to do some research of my own.

    I was concerned that this huge glorification of S&M and dominance and control was being sucked up by SO many YOUNG women. Every woman I come across, it seems, is trying to get me the read this series (which is also why I am against it. I tend to push back when people collectively push too hard for something). I wondered how unhealthy it might be for young women to be reading about this sort of hyper-control, abuse and dysfunction that they would begin to see it as normal and thus, lower their expectations even MORE about what a real and healthy relationship should look like. Until I read one critic’s take on it and that was basically the point you are making here…

    I have read countless King and Poe about murder and the evil that lurks in the hearts of man… and I am no closer to becoming a killer.

    Great post! Good discussion 🙂

  3. I TOTALLY get your point. That said, I don’t know. I still think something like Twilight is more influential to impressionable young girls due to one very obvious factor: the love story. I haven’t read Flowers in the Attic (I know – *gasp*), but I’m willing to bet that it’s not about love. And the sad truth is that love is pretty much all hormonal teenage girls are obsessed with. So. When they see a needy, winey, “heroine’ like Bella go all suicidal when her vampire boyfriend pitches a fit and leaves town when he realizes he can’t ask her to abandon everyone she loves in order to be with him (hellooo — isolating from friends and families is one of the key signs of a future abuser), they think that’s a “normal” way to behave. Like it’s normal to be suicidal when your boyfriend dumps you. Because it means you’re really in love.

    I don’t know. I just think it’s different because a young girl will read Flowers in the Attic and know that it’s fiction and know that it’s not something she wants to happen to her. But Twilight? Well. It’s obtaining the unobtainable man. Every young (hetero) hormonal girl’s dream. Therefore, more influential.

    • Oh, point definitely taken. Bella was a horror show, start to finish. Yeah, I can swing on the pendulum of this debate forever, actually.

      I like to think that girls are a little savvier than this though. Or even if they aren’t, I know when I read those books (yes, I’m an adult, but still), I was constantly thinking, “WTF girl – there is another very hot guy who’s completely into you, who you’re friends with, who doesn’t sneak in and watch you sleep, AND who doesn’t want to eat you. What are you doing going after the sparkly, moody vampire with the hungry family?” So even if they miss that half that “romantic” stuff is really just creepy, maybe they at least see there’s a better choice that could have been made. (We’ll just pretend that character doesn’t eventually fall in love with a baby.) And if Bella was wrong about that, then she could well be wrong about everything else. Do you think they’d take it there?

      Actually, maybe not, since it appears grown women have gone all gaga over the apparently equally dysfunctional relationship in Fifty Shades.

      Hmm. This is actually a little depressing.

      • omg. I had this response all typed out then my computer turned into a POS and I lost it. Let’s try this again.

        THAT is what it is — it’s attaining the unattainable guy. Yes, I read both trilogies (though 50 Shades was absolutely apocalyptic in its horrendous writing — especially in the second and third books — E.L. James could’ve maintained some semblance of integrity as an author if she’d just stopped with the first book). Her one redeeming quality — and the only reason the story got published and became a smash hit as far as I can tell — is not because of the sex, but because of the GUY. Her imagination spawned the ultimate fantasy guy and then made him attainable by the girl next door. He’s a less vampirey version of Edward — Incredibly handsome, rich, mysterious, and most important, EVERY WOMAN WANTS HIM.

        And that’s the thing. Us women would rule the world if it weren’t for our competitive drive. What? Who cares if he’s a controlling, abusive, megalomaniac? He’s my megalomaniac and every other woman wants him so he must be awesome. Sweet.

        So books like this not only romanticize abusive relationships, but they bring out more of this nasty competitive drive in women. (Not that it’s bad for women to be competitive. But when it’s towards each other over something ludicrous, there’s a problem. Also, ironically, it’s not the S&M I have a problem with in 50 Shades. With 2 consenting adults, I actually think it was great for the author to show that’s not necessarily a *bad* thing. But the taking our heroine away from her friends? The telling her where she can go and how to dress? And then she just laughs it off, like “Oh, that’s just my fifty. Tee-hee.” Whatever. That’s bullshit.)

        So. While it’d be nice to think that women are smarter than that, let’s face it — many are not. The thrill of “winning” something that others can’t have is ingrained in many. It’s kind of sad. But it’s also what makes books like this more influential (in my opinion) than an undesirable fictional story.

        Wow. That is probably the longest comment I’ve ever written. You’re welcome. 😉

  4. Maybe what we really need is to let everybody read all the books, but then also have companion books of discussion questions that people have to discuss or at least think about so they can view the stories critically. “What do you think of these characters?” “What parts of this do you find romantic?” “What parts do you not find romantic?” “Why?” “If someone did this in real life, would you find it romantic?” “What if it were someone you weren’t interested in – how would you handle the situation?” etc.

    Book clubs for everybody!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s