manet’s the dead toreador, sick-lit is a trend and it too will pass, the austerity zombies

 The Dead Toreador-Edouard Manet

 The Dead Toreador by Edouard Manet. Probably 1864. Oil on canvas. Was Manet obsessed with death, the dark side of life. Did he have a preoccupation with the morbid and depressing. If so, thank you, more please.


The previous post was about two studies that showed it is probably best to limit the exposure of young children to certain kinds of television programming. This is a culture criticism piece that looks at the phenomenon of sick-lit and teens, Sick-lit: a symptom of publishing’s decline?

Literary media have been abuzz about the “sick-lit” controversy: novels written for teenagers with themes of death, fatal disease and psychological disease such as anorexia. Apparently these are very popular with girls in the U.K. and North America. Detractors say they are dangerous because they romanticize these things, especially cancer; they encourage wallowing in depression and may actually encourage vulnerable children to harm themselves.

[  ]…The criticism of these books comes from all directions, right and left: The sensationalist Daily Mail published a piece accusing sick-lit of encouraging inappropriate behaviour for teens, such as premarital sex. The Guardian’s teen lit critic retorted, “illness, depression, sexuality – these are all issues that teens are going to bump up against in their lives.”

This is a pretty good piece in an era where culture critics are generally pretty dense. The problem with this criticism, regardless of origins on the left or right, is the lack of evidence. Did the preoccupation with things – books, music and movies with certain themes come about because of those media sources or did the preoccupation come with the teen years and the hormones. Since every generation seems to go through some kind of moody phase – it would seem that the media is something they seek out. In response – the book publishers of 1880 or 2013 see those trends and respond. A few years ago it did seem like there was a preoccupation among teens with eating disorders, than it moved on to vampires and now it is sick-lit. In a few years it will be something. Some new way to manifest teen to early twenty-something anxiety. For the writer of that article it was the Kafka her mother gave her. For me it was Edgar Allen Poe and old black and white film-noir movies.

This whole discussion could never have happened 40 years ago, when there was no such thing as YA fiction. There was children’s fiction and then there was fiction. Children’s fiction was wholesome or propagandistic. When I was done with the Narnia and Hornblower series I moved right on to Kafka, which was far more troublingly violent and grim, perfect for a teenager with an interest in the weird and gross. I still think if you have a teenager who wants disturbing stories, it’s far healthier to just give her Kafka. Throw her in at the deep end, I say.

Note that everybody accepts that we’re just talking about girls here. Obviously the sick-lit genre is a sub-genre of romance, and boys are not expected to read it or slice themselves up in response.

In this it is representative of a general trend in publishing, which is toward silos. That is, books are being produced in ever more strictly defined categories. The Narnia books were for both genders and had compelling boy and girl characters. (To their credit, so do the Harry Potter books.) And then we had Jane Austen and Kafka for everybody over 14, regardless of gender.

While one’s teen peers do have an influence I tended to keep a lot of that kind of stuff – the deeply felt, slightly strange stuff to myself. Somehow I went from Poe to F. Scott Fitzgerald – This Side of Paradise is all about the self obsessed romantic musings of a teen. I noticed that these editions of Fitzgerald I was buying were by a publisher that also published Thomas Wolfe ( the good writer, not the Tom Wolf who wears white suits and writes good concepts in incredibly dry distant prose). Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel, well also filled with with angst, death, ghosts that may be real or just live in our psyche, family as safe harbor and infinite source of pain, some amazing flights of prose – words with wings and some southern Gothic motif thrown in. One of aspects of this is too much censorship by way of trying to prevent certain feelings. Granted it was the dystopian extreme, but Fahrenheit 411was a warning about banning books that ‘made’ people feel things, things that made them feel bad or lonely or discontent, or whatever. The cure is worse than the disease.

Economics is still dry and no one likes to read it, yet it is so important. You can’t ell that by the general level of discourse because most of the general rubble that ripples out in sound bite after sound bite is by people who not only don’t have a clue, that wouldn’t recognize a clue if you gave it to them in neon lights, I saw this in my Twitter feed, Jamelle Bouie @jbouie “This is just a perfect storm of ignorance, sanctimony, and bad writing.” Jamelle is a pretty good writer about politics and economic issues, but it is unlike him to be so blunt. So I read the piece at the link by, not an economist or even someone well read on the subject – Joe Scarborough. Getting economic news from Joe is like getting back surgery from the produce manger at the corner market. Joe is a knower. He just knows things. Paul Krugman sets him straight in this short blog entry, Gratifying Signs of Desperation

On both sides of the Atlantic, the austerians seem to be freaking out. And that has to be good news, an indication that they realize, at some level, that they’re losing the debate.

First up, the sad story of Joe Scarborough, whose response to my anti-austerian appearance on his show has been a bizarre campaign to convince the world that absolutely nobody of consequence shares my views. Why is this bizarre? Because while I could be wrong about macroeconomics (although I’m not), it’s just not true, provably not true, that I’m alone in arguing that the current and near-future deficit aren’t problems. (Among others, there’s this guy you may have heard of).

So in the latest twist, JoScar is citing my Princeton colleague Alan Blinder, who he claims is totally at odds with my position. Hmm. The article he’s citing (which is in the Atlantic, not the New Yorker)), bears the following headline:

Not so different from me.

Meanwhile, Olli Rehn of the European Commission, a firm advocate of austerity, responds to the disastrous economic news in Europe, which has confirmed the warnings of austerity critics and led to a widespread reassessment of fiscal multipliers; it seems that they are large in a liquidity trap, just as some of us predicted. Rehn’s answer? We need to stop putting out these economic studies, because they’re undermining confidence in austerity!

As I said, these signs of desperation are gratifying. Unfortunately, these people have already done immense damage, and still retain the power to do a lot more.

Joe is in The Village where most of the villagers have decided that the only way to get rid of the witches is to burn them. The only thing he hears or wants to hear is how high to build the pyres. Krugman is therefor a heretic because he and a few other people are saying you’re making a terrible mistake, there is no such thing as witches. History has shown that we should not listen to the witch burners. Joe should read some history and some economics not written by the Villagers. Austerity does not work. Obama is and has been trying austerity-lite. Not the best course of action, but not the total disaster that the Village would force on us.

sophia loren trying on a white coat, 1970s.

sophia loren trying on a white coat, 1970s. from Life magazine. it is obvious enough, but I’m supposed to give them credit.