More than a place--it's a writer's muse.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

YA Culture: Stalk in the Name of Love?

*Please note: I'm putting on my devil horns and pulling out my briefcase--Yep. Playing Devil's advocate today. So take out your salt shaker and be prepared to take all this with at least a grain or two of the white stuff. ;-)

Question: Does the current YA culture encourage an acceptance and even deification of the stalker mentality?

My brother and I were recently talking about *this and he (having that pesky male perspective ;-) brought up the fact that while some of his Twilight hating friends are quick to jump on the stalker bandwagon, some admit to remembering other movies from their youth as amazingly romantic--movies where the guy was "devoted," "reckless" and "intense."

Remember the 1989 movie Say Anything with John Cusack?

I sure do. Remember that moment when Lloyd stood outside Diane's house and blared "In Your Eyes" in a tribute of his love and devotion? Wasn't that romantic?

Eh, not so much from a legal view point. That romantic hero could have definitely been tossed in the clink for stalking. Diane had just broken up with him, after all.

In the 1967 movie The Graduate Dustin Hoffman's character stalks Elaine and disrupts her wedding. Romantic? Not so much... But a classic, right? Of course, there aren't probably many tweens and teens watching *it.*

In the Twilight series a heck of a hullaballoo has been raised over vampire Edward's stalker-like tendencies. He watches Bella sleep, he shows up in her room without her permission, etc. As much as I enjoyed *many* aspects of the Twilight saga, there were moments alarm bells went off in my head because Edward was a bit too intense in his devotion. And yet that "intensity" is rewarded with Bella's love.

It makes me wonder if any guys get mixed signals as a result. I mean, you show up in places uninvited occasionally at generally inappropriate times and you get the girl. Errr... Hmm. And from the girl's perspective are we accidentally sending the message that if a guy stares at you and invades what you may consider as your privacy (um, bedroom) it just means he *really* likes you?

For my age group (and there are many of us who enjoyed Twilight for exactly the reasons it should be enjoyed) we have enough life experience to know that in real life even hunky Edward would freak us out if he pulled the same behaviors he did with Bella. I mean, there's flattery and then there's obsession, right? ;-)

Of course, when we were teens (mumble-mumble years ago) we had a waaay different view of the world, right? Emotions ran high (right along with the hormones) and everything we felt we felt SO very deeply.

Now, old and jaded, I wonder.

And the music I'm hearing more recently makes me wonder, too.

Lady GaGa's recent hit Paparazzi (which is quite catchy) has a few lines that freak me out:

I'll follow you until you love me.

But I won't stop until that boy is mine. (There are a couple more, but fair use and all that ;-).

And even Taylor Swift (whom I adore) has a song called The Other Side of the Door with the following lines:
I said, "Leave," but all I really want is you To stand outside my window, throwing pebbles, screaming, "I'm in love with you."

And she sings it beautifully!

Love's complicated and confusing--I get that. Crushes are even worse (there's a reason they're called "crushes").

So should we as authors (or song writers or whatever) reduce the width, breadth or depth of the worlds we create and the characters that inhabit them to worry about people whose distinction between reality and fiction may not be a clear and clean line?

At what point do we need to censor our freedom of expression for the safety of our impressionable youth?


*Yes, such conversations are frequent in my family. ;-)


Indigo said...

I think it depends a lot on how loved or insecure you are at that age too. I've seen cases were a young girl would put up with abusive/stalker boyfriends in light of having someone simply love them. What they don't see is there is a fine line between love and obsessive/controlling personalities.

Having said that there is a reason we remember and hold on to those feelings of first love. We want to be the center of someone else's universe.

Loved your take on this. (Hugs)Indigo

SarannaDeWylde said...

As a parent of young girls and a writer, I believe you have to write what you feel is appropriate. It's up to parents to decide what their kids consume. I read all the Twilight books, Harry Potter books, I read all of these things before my kids did and we discussed those issues that you've raised.

Also, look at a lot of the themes in YA. Some of them are pretty adult, but that's because kids are dealing with these things already.

As a writer, it's up to you what you produce. If a story calls to you and you feel good about writing it, then you should write it. But if not, then you have to shut those voices out of your head.

It wasn't a YA story, but it's one I still have in my head. It's kind of a horror story, but there's a brutal kind of redemption. It's been poking at me for five years, but I refuse to write it because it will give breath to a man that doesn't deserve the sort immortality he'd get by living in my story. No matter how loud those characters are, I won't write it. Maybe another author would.

Shannon Delany said...

Thank you, Indigo.

I agree with you about the way a reader feels about themselves being reflected back at them (or adjusted in their eyes) through some of the things they read.

I had several female friends that suffered at the hands of abusers while they struggled to find a better definition and understanding of love. And I've known boys accused of being stalkers by girls who couldn't make up their mind and had emotions constantly set on hyperbole.

It is a fine line between love and obsession (especially when we're so young and new at relationships). And it's hard when we want so badly to be the center of someone's universe that we sacrifice ourselves entirely to feel worthy. *hugs to you as well*

Saranna, girl, I'm with you on a parent's responsibilities to know what their children are reading, watching and listening to.

And I don't think you have to be controlling to do it, either (which I believe some parents fear they'll be considered). To me it can be about previewing things and opening viable discussions about them. Could it be uncomfortable and take more time? Umm, yes--but we're parents (it's almost like it's a job! ;-).

I applaud the more adult themes that we see in YA--many teens have been thrown into situations that would wrack adults' nerves. They deal with so much more in life (at an earlier age) than most of us ever did.

I also agree (geez, I'm so agreaable!;-) that as authors, artists, etc. we must decide what voices and stories make it to our page. We must find and use our own moral compass and hope others do the same.

I also think I know what you mean about the story that's been poking at you--there are many people and tales that I'll never spotlight because it serves nothing but an accidental glorification of them.

Thanks ladies! I appreciate your input!

Casse AKA Catholic Kittie said...

Nothing says I love you like a stalking charge. *sighs* If only my ex's felt the same. All I got for my efforts was a call on the cellphone saying, "Cassandra you can stop driving by my house at anytime now. Its freaking my mom out." Ok I am just kidding, I was never caught! I kid again I don't drive so the house drive by was always not an option for me. Thank God. But seriously Twilight's relationship is unhealthy on both sides. Its border line abusive. Mental abuse at the least. He stalks her, her self worth is based on him loving her, which she second guesses at every turn. He leaves her broken then comes back and its back to intense blind devotion with him not having to answer for himself. Bella needs counseling.

Jennifer L Hart said...

Great blog Shannon! (As always :-)

Yeah Say Anything is still one of my favorite movies and there is that whole no means try harder message, but I think it comes to a matter of degree.

Like, if the police have been brought in, yeah, too far man. Between hormones and pop culture playing up that suprise visit = romantic thing it's a tough call.

Does that mean we, as writers ought to censor what we put in our novels? No, because in the end it's an individual's choice. A teenage boys catch a bad rap but a guy knows if he's made the object of his desire hide or burst into tears that he's gone too far.

Plus, like Saranna said, that's why they have parents.

Liane Gentry Skye said...

Wow. Some great questions you raise there, my friend! I do worry about it, but do I obsess over it? No. This is fiction. I'm not going to go out and shoot a man just because I read about it.

Is there a certain percentage of the population who will emulate our angsty heroes? Probably. My job as a parent is to teach my children the differnence between smitten and troubled. And sometimes that can be a very, very fine line!

Wow. Fab post, Shannon, very thought provoking!

Shannon Delany said...

Casse! LOL --As much as I enjoyed Twilight (and I've read all the books and seen both movies--the second twice, for the curious ;-) I agree that from a clinical perspective, the relationship between Bella and Edward isn't healthy.

BUT it's interesting and considering the emotional instability exhibited during the typical teenage existence (let's face it, we weren't all *totally* sane *every* day) and first love, I can totally accept it as realistic (if we forget the whole vampire thing).

And it does in ways remind me of my youthful fascination with a particular boy. Although my self worth wasn't tied to his approval (a darn good thing, too) I *really, really* longed to be someone special to him. I think that's pretty typical, in retrospect.

I guess again, as a mom, I don't want my offspring to think those behaviors are normal (so we talk about stuff, like Saranna and many others of you do). But it's great to read and enjoy the series (as well as the mentioned movies and music). And it's awesome to imagine stepping into Bella's shoes (partly because we never have to truly live through those issues she struggles with).

At RWA in DC last year I had the privilege of hearing author Anne Stuart talk about the role of the dark hero. She pointed out that the men she writes may be powerful, sexy and dangerous (and for many women, the stuff of fantasies) but if she met them in real life she'd run the other way. That's sort of the way I think of Edward at this point. Fascinating but in real life--far too dangerous for my taste. But he's a wonderful brooding, angst-ridden character!

And *that's* the power of fantasy! We get to check out the dangerous guys (or behaviors) without risking anything but a papercut because we're turning pages too fast! :D

Jennifer! :-) Thank you. Yes, I agree (hence the grain of salt and Devil's advocate comments) we *should* be able to express ourselves freely (with our personal moral compass playing guide, of course). And yes, in the end, the choices people make cannot be blamed on the books they read, the music they listen to or the video games they play. It all comes back to the individual, choice and personal responsibility.

And good, involved parenting helps to make sure that's the way it stays. :D

Thank you, ladies!

Shannon Delany said...

Liane--lol--I was taking my time theorizing and being exceedingly verbose while you were here, typing, too! Small world! :-)

And again, your comment is one more reason you Divas rock--you all know that proper parenting--the appropriate and supportive raising of the next generation-- makes all the difference in topics like safety, happiness and censorship. *hugs!*


Jenn (Books At Midnight) said...

Great post and topic! I'm a teen myself, so I can't speak from the "old and jaded" side, but truthfully, and maybe I should be ashamed to admit this, I don't really notice those stalker signs much. I know that abusive relationships are a major no-no, but as for those mentions in literature and music, they're freaky when you actually analyze them but not that bad at face value. Now again, I'm an extremely shallow teen here, so I can only how books such as Twilight appear to me. I think they definitely play on your perception and idyllic fantasies, and when I first read Twilight back in middle school, I enjoyed it. But after it became really popular and Edward/Bella's borderline obsessive, stalkerish relationship was brought up, it really lost it's appeal to me. What captured my heart the first time was that their relationship appeared to be my ideal love - not the stalker part, but the part where it's unconditional and all-encompassing. I'm not saying that type of love can't be captured in other books, but I think that's what some stalker behavior in books appears to be to teens and that's why teens are able to overlook any creepy aspects.

As for real life, if anyone exhibits that kind of behavior around me... I have 911. ;)

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