Observations Of A Youngling: Recurring Things That Shouldn’t Be
Good morning. I’m writing this partially in the middle of a school cafe area, so we’ll see how this turns out. A few weeks back, Stephen and I got into some discussion on various recurring themes in fiction. He asked me to go into some of the reasons why this phenomenon occurs–therefore, here we go. My thought, though, is that there is this bizarre snake-eating-itself effect where art reflects culture until culture reflects art (I’m stealing that from someone – can’t recall who).
Real world example 1: Somewhere in college I swore off sitcoms. I’ve got no quarter for race or gender bashing, and no quarter for people behaving like idiots and spending nine seasons never maturing as characters (Re: Friends). That, frankly, isn’t real life. Neanderthal men crushing beer cans on their heads and grunting stupidly paired with domineering, shrewlike women who are more male than female is beyond irritating . I’ve no quarter for sexual humor and a bare, bare tolerance for people trying too hard to be funny. Call me a killjoy.
But here’s where the real problem comes in: Sure, those things start out as seemingly harmless caricatures. Of course no one acts that way…right? You know, save the idiots we lock up.
That is, until an entire generation of kids grows up thinking that caricature is the norm.
Example 2: I’m a substitute teacher, and on record as saying there is never a “bad kid.” They’re hyper and will push the limitations of your sanity, but, nine times out of ten, that’s it. A squirmy, hyper, or ornery kid does not equal “bad kid.”
And the problem is, some of these kids really do turn into “bad kids” because they start believing that’s all they are. I’ve seen this happen: These kids really do start accepting the label. They’re bad. They’re not smart. They’re behind. They’re…lacking. They’re ADD. Dyslexic. ADHD. And because that’s all that’s expected of them, that’s the road they start to take.
So that’s why I can’t watch sitcoms for more than five minutes without getting nauseas. I don’t want a whole generation of boys and girls growing up to think that’s normal. They become adults, and they teach that to their kids, who teach their grandkids, and so on.
Yeah, eventually someone figures it out and something happens. But that’s just a lot of needless scars to me. And I just happen to think better of men and women than that. A lot better. Especially those of us who are co-heirs with Christ.
So on to books.
Peeve 1: The Moody Teen
And that’s where I think things get interesting in fiction. I don’t know what it is with the “angsty moody teenager” fad, but evidently people like it. Now, let the world do what it wills, but I think maybe, just maybe, we should tackle this a bit better. There’s consequences to being a smoke-blowing, rebellious, moody kid. And you’ll ostracize and insult the ones that aren’t that way.
Is it really good that even the church doesn’t expect anything more out of these kids? Yeah, my high schoolers groan over their assignments. Once they’re satisfied I am aware of their plight, they sit down and get to work. (Usually.) The middle schoolers…They have good intentions. They just need help following through.
My youth pastor had a saying (many, but this is one): “Teenagers are the kindest or cruelest people in the world.” And he did everything in his power to slay the cruelty and cultivate the kindness.
I’m just saying.
Peeve 2: Wuv, Twu Wuv
Same thing with chick-flicks and their novel counterparts: Ladies, do you really expect nothing more from a guy? From yourselves?
This is how the brief conversation with Stephen went:
Me: Per prairie romances: As a woman, can I put in a request that all these women find something better to do than moan about “evil patriarchal men”? Pretty please? (Do not get me started.)
Stephen: Kaci, I’ll probably say more of substance later, but your comment makes me wish I could install a Facebook-Like kind of button on here, then modify it so I could press it several dozen times.
“Evil patriarchal men”? That seems the fiction equivalent of men and women, even in churches, who make dumb cliched jokes about opposite-gender stereotypes. I don’t mind a little ribbing, but Christians should take seriously the truths that marriage and differing roles portray Christ and His Church. And while of course nothing is perfect, either in reality or fiction, why not show more of the ideal?
Well, time to start, I suppose. This point is a bit female-oriented. You gentlemen will simply have to reapply the principle as necessary, because I’m a girl, not a guy. 0=)
I think we definitely need more “ideal,” although I think some people mistake ‘ideal’ for ‘perfect.’ But I think it’s high time we stop harping on the negatives and invoke a few positives. Scripture has plenty to say about women who are shrewish harpies.
In other words, fine. Maybe he can’t remember a tie to save his life and maybe you can’t communicate with him well to save your life. Maybe you two both have flaws to work out.
But don’t get in this mindset of your world revolving around a guy. Are you seriously going to tell me this is abundant life? Is this joy in our sufferings? (Sorry, Americans – most of you have not suffered like the rest of the world does, myself foremost among the non-sufferers.) Is that really it? Is that what you want your sons and daughters to strive for?
Where’s the fire? Let’s not buy this twisted logic running around that guys are both the source of pain and the source of comfort. Given they are made imago dei and you, my dears, are no angels, don’t demonize or deify the other gender. And don’t teach these kids I see every day do to that either. I’ve got enough damage control to do. And I want to breathe life, breathe hope, into all of them.
I want my friends to know that real, godly guys exist. That men who really do know how to treat a lady are around, and there’s more of them than evidently they imagine.
I want these teenagers to know that there really are adults they can trust and that can slip into that father or mother role they want so desperately.
I want boys and girls to turn into magnificent men and women whose hearts overflow and who strive to live their lives worthy of this glorious calling.
I want to find the most unredeemable person in the world, pick them up, and tell them there is hope and a future, and that there most certainly is redemption available.
And I don’t think that catering to the world’s distorted, death-eater’s view of humanity can come anywhere close to that. Do not be conformed. We do not love as the world loves.
Where was I…?
Peeve 3: The Spiritual Midlife Crisis
This one’s related to The Moody Teen, so bear with me. Here’s how Stephen and I got started:
Me: Per spiritual crises: I’m not sure how healthy fixating on “spiritual midlife crisis” is. Maybe, occasionally, it’d be nice to see someone rock solid despite the hurricane around them. Occasionally, you know. You know, meet the storm head on and go full throttle through the center.
Stephen: I don’t believe Christians obtain instant sanctification the moment they’re saved. Scripture is clear on that point. (Plus, we’d take our holiness and go home, thankful to God almost only for what He’s done for us in our past, instead of having greater incentive to rely on Him in the present!) Still, I can’t agree more: can more of our stories (not all, but more) get past the whole “spiritual midlife crisis” thing, and emphasize more of God’s glory and love? (This sound very Spiritual to say, and there’s a risk of overcorrecting here, but I do believe much of contemporary fiction swings this way due to the bad influence of “felt needs” pragmatism in churches, and Surveys that Show churchgoers really want this-and-such self-emphasis.)
Me: No worries. I was responding drive-by fashion last night. You conveyed my intended meaning regarding “spiritual midlife crises” much more articulately. Part of that may also depend on what we’re calling a “crisis,” too. Corrie Ten Boom had a crisis. But deciding God might not love you because your boyfriends keep breaking up with you…Well, maybe God just thinks you date crappy men and is sparing you future crisis. Or maybe the problem is you, and he’s sparing them. Know? It’s kinda like the trend of teen fiction to write angsty, moody teenagers all the time. It’s just…not good to always focus on the downswing. And it’s insulting to the ones who aren’t moody and angsty.
I guess when I say “mature,” I just mean “has figured out that God isn’t out to get them.” At least in that particular sense.
I definitely didn’t explain myself well, here, but Stephen helped me out. Part of this may be a bias on my end, but, to be perfectly honest, sometimes I really do get tired of the following:
–Why did/How could God let this happen?
–I don’t like this situation. I think I’ll get mad at God and decide I don’t believe in and/or trust him anymore.
–Why can’t God just poof me out of this situation?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m the first to say God’s big enough to handle our anger. And I’m the last to downplay anyone’s pain. Those emotions are quite real, and Scripture is full of God helping us come down off the proverbial ledge.
But you know what? Sometimes, it’s really, really cool to read a book where the lead character takes the hit, falls, gets up, takes another hit, and falls again. And gets up. Again.
“Though a righteous man falls seven times he will rise.”
“Elijah was a man like us with a nature like ours.”
Honestly, that’s why we like movies like Braveheart. Doesn’t matter he’s outnumbered 3:1. His wife’s murdered. He’s betrayed. The lords are fickle. And he’s hardly made of stone – he struggles. But he gets up. Again. And again.
I’m not sure what the underlying cause of this one is. I’m not sure if we as a society just got tired of pragmatism and took a flying leap into emotionalism as backlash or what. I’m not even sure it’s accurate to say this one is across board. But a real, living, breathing person can only be mad or be in tears so long before he’s got to get up, wipe his face, and confront the ordeal headlong.
Even if it’s just confronting a girl spreading rumors. (Shameless plug: I still love how Eric does this in Valley of Bones. I bookmarked it.)
And it’s like somewhere along the way we didn’t pay attention to the Word. The events of the OT were recorded for our instruction. Time and time again, if you’re watching, God proves himself able and willing to help us deal with those crazy emotions and imaginations. You’ll notice more than once he doesn’t even try to talk until after he’s fed and watched over his servant for days until the man is in a physical and psychological state where he can think.
And I think maybe these ‘midlife crises’ are nothing more than us possibly realizing we maybe don’t quite have the strength and control we so bravely want to have. At the root of these ‘crises,’ perhaps, is fear.
Perfect love drives out fear.
So there you go. I have one left (for now), but this is a good place to end. To wrap up: I think most situations where we get caught up in portraying people through the world’s eyes is, ultimately, a sign that far too much of the world’s perspective has gotten into our system. And in the end, these caricatures cannot offer, even fathom, the hope that exists.
Thanks for reading.
You are loved. Much loved.
Some of it I agree.
Some of it I disagreed. Friends is harmless.
I guess it depends upon your background. For instance, I can’t stand to watch the movie “Monster in law” for reasons I won’t get into. Having been there (my mother in law is great just for the record) with that personality it’s no longer funny.
Ack, Nikole, I thinkFriends shares a great deal of responsibility for the normalizing of pornography. Not to mention that I had a junior high boy do the “How you doin’?” line. Junior high! With morals like Joey?
Yes, I’ve watched the re-runs, and some of it now seems tame, but when it came out it was a recipe for the single life—multiple partners, acceptance of a lesbian relationship, and little, if any, adult responsibility. One audience “ahhhhh” moment was when two friends announce they were moving in together.
No, in my opinion, though Friends had some good points, it was not harmless.
Becky, not that I don’t watch Friends but from what I have seen the series is low on adult responsibility and good choices but I think it’s a bit dishonest to say it’s responsible for the normalising of pornography. I remember people saying the ‘How you doing?’ line. It wasn’t seen as accepting Joey’s morals, but seen as a funny quote. Nothing more. Friends is far from harmless but it’s not responsible for many of society’s bad choices, as seems to be the case in your post.
Kaci, another great post filled with your insight. Plenty to encourage and challenge us all. I’d love to see more positive male role-models (particularly dads) in fiction. They often seem to be the cause of so much pain (which is realistic but there are great dads out there). There needs to be more of a balance. Also, there’s nothing wrong with flawed characters but we should balance them out with some characters who are more resilient to the hard knocks of life, than others. We want characters we can identify with but also look up too. They should be flawed but likeable.
Let me illustrate this point:
There’s an anime series called Neon Genesis Evangelion, you’ve probably heard of it. The series is heavily flawed at times, but quite fascinating. The main character is Shinji, the teenage boy hero (and I use the term loosely) who is recruited, along with several other teens, to save the world. This young man has had a horrible life. His mum died when he was young and his dad blames him for his mother’s death. He sees his dad maybe every few years but his dad is so unloving and distant that he never truly feels his prescene . We should feel empathy for Shinji but most of the time we don’t because he’s so ridiculously angsty. I mean, he’s so angsty, you’ll want him to die. Not the series high-point. Anyway, what I’m trying to say, is that this is a good example of how NOT to write a protagonist. Shinji’s pretty much always a passive character in the story (a big no-no) and he’s so thoroughly unlikeable that it’s hard to appreciate him and cheer him on. It’s tricky, but we have to write protagonists that the reader can empathise with and to some level enjoy. They may be passive to begin with but they need to become proactive and develop over the course of the story. Otherwise, we risk the reader throwing our books across the room, or worse – crap fiction.
Hehe. I wasn’t quite intending to pick a fight over a show I’ve watched only a handful of episodes of.
Nikole, my mention of Friends was strictly with regard to the never-maturing characters. It’s not really my kind of show. I’d probably have issues with Monster-in-Law, too. The trailer was a bit of a turn-off for me, so I didn’t go see it. The sit-coms examples were strictly to provide an example of something a personal conviction led to. If it were just one or two shows, that might be one thing. When across board sit-coms start portraying everybody like that, there’s going to be problems on multiple fronts. That’s all I was going for there. Like Christian, I’d probably choose another word besides ‘harmless’ to describe it.
Maybe a better example would be Bringin’ Down the House, if you will. I saw that one in theaters and almost walked out. It was supposed to be an anti-racist movie, but the material was so offensive to me that I still maintain it became racist itself.
So I guess it’s more that I see these show that desire to point out stereotypes, rather than expose these things, in the end become the thing they mock and compound the problem. Does that help?
Christian- Also, there’s nothing wrong with flawed characters but we should balance them out with some characters who are more resilient to the hard knocks of life, than others. We want characters we can identify with but also look up too. They should be flawed but likeable.
Right. And that’s a great example of a protagonist that backfires. (I’m unfamiliar with the show, but I kept up with you.)
Becky–Not to mention that I had a junior high boy do the “How you doin’?” line. Junior high! With morals like Joey?
As long as that’s the only thing of his they emulate…
Per Spiritual mid-life crisis….
I had a father who dealt with depression his whole life, which eventually ended in suicide. To read about men and women who struggle, sometimes triumph in this life, but ultimately are victorious as they walk into Heaven in Christ’s healing arms, is very beautiful to me. I enjoy these things in books and movies too, even the secularized versions.
Take the movie Life As A House for example. A man is dying and realizes he needs to reconnect with the son he ignored, the ex wife he didn’t love good enough, and himself. So he takes his son, and eventually his whole family, and begins building a house. The house itself is representative of the rebuilding of a life he gave up. How much more beautiful can you get than that? But does the man triumph entirely? No, he doesn’t get back up again, he dies. But the things his son learns from him, and the affirmation of his love that his ex wife finally feels heals them. Sometimes our struggles are not about us, or our victory…sometimes they’re about other people. I know I learned so much about faith in God through even the worst of storms from my father, and when the shadows collect at my eyes and I feel like God is less a reality and more a possibility, when pain seems all I know, I remember my father. And I make it through. Living to fight another day. Because the inevitable truth is…we’ll be fighting til the day we die.
Justin, I’m not ignoring you, I’m just pondering a bit longer. 0=)
I really like your post. I have no brothers but I do have two younger sisters. It was always obvious to me that women are just as capable, thinking, and intelligent as men, therefore I have always supported their rights. It’s only just. We are shooting ourselves in the foot if we don’t allow women to be full citizens in every respect and contribute their best. As for the rest you mention, as a college professor I am drawn to the students who are mature beyond their years because they refuse to be “Friends” or anything like them. There should be a place in literature for them, too.
Please visit my blog and leave a comment. My current book series centers on a teen girl mature beyond her years and she’s irresistible. Thanks!
Just to make sure: I don’t think it’s just women who are downplayed in these things. I find it equally sexist to portray men as Neanderthals who do nothing but grunt, play X-Box, and figure out ways to get in a girl’s bed. It’s a twisted degradation, and pretty much why I can never call myself a feminist. The feminists would completely reverse to a matriarchal society where the intelligent, dominatrix female must care for and nurture the poor buffoon who can barely remember to get dressed and brush his teeth before work in the morning.
What can I say? We are made in the Imago Dei, male and female.
I look forward to reading your blog.
Kaci, where is the FaceBook ‘Like’ button when I need it. Excellent post. Both genders are being attacked by Satan but men are being targeted more because he doesn’t want families to function well. Because a happy family leads to a happier society.
Christian – Yeah…It’s a war on all fronts. The worst is always within.
Hey Christian — the “Like” button is actually up there, only it’s called “Recommend,” just above the about-the-author box.
Cheers mate. Let’s share the Speculative Faith love!
Hey Christian, have you ever taken one of those silly spiritual-gifts quizzes and been told one of your gifts is encouragement? Because if you have, and that was the result, I think the silly quiz might have been right after all. 🙂
Thanks Stephen. Yes, I’ve taken several of those quizzes before, with unusual results but one such result was encouragement. I struggle to accept meaningful compliments, so I wrestled with this one and God won. I’ve also noticed people saying that I have the spiritual gift of encouragement, so there must be truth to it. I feel both humbled and blessed. Thank you and thank God! Confidence in Christ!
I loved this. All of it. I’ve been staying with a friend this week who watches more TV than I do (that’s not hard; I never watch it on my own), and all of this has been striking me — the things our culture is normalizing, the degree to which people are degraded, the degree to which sex is trivialized, the degree to which Imago Dei is lost. And it’s been inspiring me, as a writer, to uphold a higher understanding of what humanity is and can be.
Thanks for some great thoughts.
Thanks Rachel! And yeah…it’s this bizarre dichotomy where people apparently think they’re glorifying themselves (at least, either that or actually trying to be degrading) and really doing the reverse.
It’s not diversity; it’s mutual scorn.
While I don’t agree with all his theology, one of the greatest authors of fiction that held up a true ideal was also one of the grandfathers of fantasy: George MacDonald. I’ve actually adopted several of his characters as role models — and found that doing so has had extraordinarily good fruit in my life.
Wow, great post! I’m so glad people like Rachel Starr Thomas, Andrew Peterson, and others are giving us epic stories about non-moody teen characters.
Oh, and thanks for reminding me why I rarely watch TV. 🙂
[…] while back Kaci Hill wrote this fantastic post on “Recurring Things That Shouldn’t Be,” pointing out patterns in Christian fiction that, instead of edifying, tear down. Sometimes they do […]