Violence, Sex, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears – Oh My!
The fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is one of my favorite fairy tales. I even enjoy modern day re-tellings of fairy tales and I can’t continue typing another word without sharing the Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life and Times, written by James Finn Garner, where Goldilocks is described as a “melanin-impoverished young woman” and a “rogue scientist”. Excuse me while I chortle like a little piglet at this genius use of humor.
*Chortles like a little piglet*.
Now, back to business. This particular fairy tale is more than a good read that teaches a lot of moral doctrines:
- Little children should not trespass into someone’s territory
- You shouldn’t steal or meddle with something that doesn’t belong to you, and
- Intruders not only endanger themselves, (in versions where Goldilocks is Bear din-din) but also endanger the well-being and security of “the family”.
The fairy tale is also used to teach young children how to select books for their own independent reading.
Mama Bear books are cozy, comfortable, easy, and basically junk food reads (TOO SOFT!)
Papa Bear books are difficult, challenging reads that leaves the reader’s head spinning (TOO HARD!)
And Baby bear books? Well, say it with me, “They’re ju-uuuust right.” The reader can read each line with ease and if a challenging word or two pops up, the reader can dispatch them with a combo of wise reader strategies to decode the syllables with ease and carry on.
While rereading one of my dark fantasy drafts I wondered about the readability of my books. The prologue is bloody, violent, and gripping. I decided to use violence early on in the beginning because I wanted to show readers what was at stake for the main characters and their world early on. I realized that students as young as twelve could most likely read the words with little difficulty and comprehend them.
Regarding the content of a book, primarily the Naughty Three — violence, sex, and profanity — sometimes there’s either too much, too little, or just the right amount.
The use of violence, (and also the other taboos) I believe falls under the useful plot device of Chekov’s gun.
According to Mr. Wikipedia, Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle which requires that every element in a narrative be necessary and irreplaceable, and that everything else be removed. Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.
Thus, according to this technique, I comforted myself with the unbridled use of blood spilling violence, which appears on the tenth page of my dark fantasy/paranormal novel, “Forbidden” (will be out in May) and even earlier on page four of my dark fantasy/science fiction hybrid “Prelude to Morning”. The violence was not only relevant to the story, but necessary, and irreplaceable.
However, I still ask myself: “Would you feel comfortable having your oldest child read this?” At war with myself, I considered the Japanese animated shows he watches, such as “Attack on Titan” brimming with macabre, bloody violence where large, demonic-like giants roam the earth, hungry for humans, and popping them into their gaping maws with glee like I bite off the heads of Animal Crackers.
New Adult Genre
I also wonder, “What sets adult books apart from Young Adult Books? And is this new genre, New Adult, I’ve been hearing so much buzz about the bridge that spans the gap between Young Adult and Adult books?”
No, bridge isn’t a good analogy. It’s more like a doorway, a very loose doorway or gateway to taboos enjoyed by adults, like marijuana is the gateway to other illicit drugs.
If you do a Google or duckduckgo search of New Adult books or even a search via Goodreads.com, the covers of New Adult novels are quite . . . *ahem* saucy. No, saucy is putting it mildly. Or maybe I’m just a prude? Here, you be the judge:
(The prude in me chose a tiny, teeney-weeney photograph and the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to make it larger than a thumbnail . . .)
Want more? Click and investigate, you voyeur you!
In this post, I choose to show how there is a gross imbalance of sex, profanity, and violence or what I’d like to call the Goldilocks and the Three Bears Effect (GATBE) in the genres of Young Adult and New Adult fiction that fills me with dread and anxiety.
This will be a longer post, so please get cozy, and stay awhile.
Sex, Profanity, and Violence – Taboos R Us
Many may argue that sex, profanity, and violence are commonplace in videogames, music, music videos in our society, but I strongly believe that doesn’t make it right for children and teens to be exposed to it on a regular, daily basis, like the popping of vitamins or the changing of underwear.
The overuse of these taboos (for adults and especially children) implies that the adage, “Sex Sells” is true. Moreover, looking at the covers of magazines (movie stars and their latest sexually-charged plastic surgery investment), the latest movie trailer of the most recent best-selling book (cough cough Fifty Shades of cough cough) one would be led to believe that our country is like a New Rome, decadent, oversexed, and reveling in it! On a comical note, Gabriel Iglesias charmingly and accurately comments on the sexual presentation of commercials on Latin TV (starts at 1:08):
But does sex really and truly sell? Perhaps. And if so, should authors feel pressured to give into that tactic just to become and remain relevant in the oversaturated book marketplace? Also, should we allow it to have so much power at any cost that it cheapens the act and us as loving human beings?
I think not.
Several months ago, I took my Multicultural Club students on a field trip to SPIFFs. A hot pink sign sitting directly above the bus driver read: “The following radio stations won’t be played on an Astro Skate bus.” I wasn’t exactly sure why, but I assumed it was the musical content these banned stations played brimming with explicit lyrics of sex, drugs, and violence. Banning these stations, however, did not make any perceivable difference because the station the driver was “allowed” to play strung out songs that were just as inappropriate for the preteens I chaperoned.
For example, when the song with the repeating chorus “Don’t tell ‘Em” sung by blah blah in his sexually charged contralto voice, all of the little girls began singing along word for word. I found it disturbing.
As a child, I admit I was sheltered and would have remained a virgin until marriage (like my mum) if Madame Life hadn’t decided to remove her frilly, prissy gloves and backhand me with a tragedy (at age 18) I care not to share via Internet at this point in time. I was ridiculed and called a mutant (minus the ability to kill with my mind and stop bullets – darn it) for not engaging in sex, and an abnormality. And even though I was sheltered, I did experience crushes and all of those squishy, butterflies-in-my-stomachs feeling that adolescents experience then and now. Sex though didn’t preoccupy my every waking hour. I had other passions crooning for my attention: drawing, writing, reading, singing, and learning to speak Japanese.
And it seems as if the oversexualization of children is increasing with each passing year.
I find it sad that violence, sex, and all of those other “taboos” have slipped so easily (and seemingly without much of an outcry) into young adult books and I wonder where I, as a writer, teacher, and a parent, should draw the line?
Preteens and Teens Aren’t Naive
Some people argue that teenagers have sex, but just because they’re doing it doesn’t make it right or a good idea, especially if the sex is unprotected. I mean, I could run around with scissors while riding a bicycle.
But it’s not a good idea.
I could even fashion a bow and arrow with a plunger in place of the point in order to leap around like Link, from Legend of Zelda or LOTR’s Legolas and shank the baggy pants off of “kewl” teenagers from afar and escape unscathed.
But it’s not a good idea . . . wait a minute, maybe I . . . Nah.
Teenagers aren’t as naïve as we think, but they also have more class than we give them credit for. Often during independent reading my students will come to me and show me a book that has too much profanity in it. Or books that have scenes they feel uncomfortable reading. We discuss as a class if the book should be dismissed from our Classroom Library. For the most part, we don’t ban books, but we let other students know that this book may not be good for you, due to its content. And there are students who enjoy reading books riddled with gang battles, abusive parents, and bullies who are downright psychopathic. And with a proud smile they tell me: “This is nothing. I watch the Walking Dead!” For the most part, I’m proud of my students and how they know what works for them and have the ability and bravery to move on if something doesn’t.
Now, on a legal note, teenagers aren’t even allowed to watch porn. From my perspective, the reading of sex is equivalent to watching sex. However, depending upon how explicit the author’s writing is, the erotic images painted by a sex scene are capable of replaying over and over again like the words of a popular song in the reader’s mind again and again. The way I see it, reading sex is the same thing as watching sex, if not more explicit. Sex, as pleasurable as it can be, doesn’t need to be on the minds of any person, (regardless of age) at all times, especially young adults and teens.
Good Writing Sells
If sex sells, then why are the most popular YA books like Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hunger Games missing excessive amounts of sex and profanity? Because if the story is good enough and the characters are real enough then swearing and sex are not necessary. Instead, adding such spicy taboos only takes away from the book as a Ghost Chili pepper smacks the flavor of a good meal out of your mouth. Ask Adam of Man vs Food. 🙂
Feel the burn, darling!
(Yes, I’m well aware that these exemplary titles include violence and I’ll get to that in a little while. Patience. Patience.)
IMHO Reasons Violence, Sex, and Profanity Should occur (on various GATTB levels) and only if necessary:
- It depends on the book because authors have an obligation to their readers and themselves to be consistent and true to the characters, setting, and plot of their multifaceted stories.
- Comfort Zone for the writer – Too Hot, Too Cold, or Just Right? What’s too hot for me, regarding the amount of sex, profanity, and/or violence may be just right for you. However, writers should be sensitive to the comfort zone of the audience they’re writing for. Again, think of the movie theater ratings and the age group of your audience . . .
- Does this particular (taboo) scene add to the plot? I recall reading a great book on writing page-turning scenes and the author (whose name eludes me) repeatedly stated that if the scene doesn’t advance the plot, stake it, cut off its head, and burn it, burn it, burn it! Well, not in those exact words, but you get the point. Talented writers must cut out weak scenes that are basically fluff and filler in the grand scope of a great story. So, any scene that includes violence or sex should either alter the plot or the characters in some way, whether it be for better or worse.
Where I Stand
Based on my comfort zone as a writer, mother, and teacher, I hope my students wait to read my more violent books that may or may not be laced with racy sex scenes, and riddled with naughty swear words. To date, I’ve begged them to postpone reading my “older” books until they’re at least fourteen and let their parents dip their toes in the water first if they so choose. And when these kiddos are much older, I hope they enjoy my books as they age into adults and become lifelong supporters of my literary worlds. Why do I hope kids will wait until they’re a little older?
Because I respect and want to protect their innocence, their hearts, and souls in a world where purity is increasingly growing scarce and the numbers of those willing to protect it are rapidly decreasing. I think that YA, and especially MG books should keep in mind the innocence of their audience.
And who knows . . . perhaps, such practices may ensure the future of mature, dedicated readers to come and stay.
Comments are always welcome and appreciated.