With one little piece in yesterday’s Room for Debate section in The New York Times, Time magazine’s columnist Joel Stein alienated a culture. As he drafted his short but provocative post, “Adults Should Read Adult Books,” he must’ve imagined how all the closeted elitists out there would find his snobbery refreshingly vindicating. Surely he wasn’t the only one who thought it was childish to read, watch, and play childish things!
In the post, he takes a big swipe at any media that vaguely stinks (to him) of childishness and brainlessness, even while acknowledging that his stereotypes are entirely baseless.
An excerpt from the silliest thing you’ll read all week:
I appreciate that adults occasionally watch Pixar movies or play video games. That’s fine. Those media don’t require much of your brains. Books are one of our few chances to learn. There’s a reason my teachers didn’t assign me to go home and play three hours of Donkey Kong.
I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like. Maybe there are complicated shades of good and evil in each character. Maybe there are Pynchonesque turns of phrase. Maybe it delves into issues of identity, self-justification and anomie that would make David Foster Wallace proud. I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read “The Hunger Games” when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.
In a few sentences, Stein blithely dismisses two and a half decades of study that have suggested otherwise about film, television, and video games. And not only is Stein’s comment a simplistic, unconstructive assessment of new media, it’s also a put-down of young adults that aspire to nuance, thoughtfulness, and active participation in their reading practices.
Luckily, we have sharp-tongued folks like culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg, who took Stein to task in a finely-worded rebuttal:
…the ideas that children and young adults are only capable of digesting mush, or that the only way to discuss sophisticated themes is to include explicit sex and violence are pure hogwash. Young people are capable of fairly sophisticated reasoning, of empathy, and even of significant evil, and many of them can rise to meet fairly high bars as readers.
Rosenberg isn’t a dreamer: she admits that there’s a fair share of trash among young adult literature. But if we don’t believe in the potential for sophisticated, instructive, and artful media aimed at young adults—especially at a time when screen-based and interactive formats are taking precedence—how can they ever grow up to be the adult readers we imagined them to be?