Niki Bhatia says, Pink is Pink and Blue is Blue: YA Literature argues that Love is Love, and it shouldn’t Matter Who



Through YA literature, authors Miranda Kenneally and Steve Brezenoff promote that love is genderless. Regardless, male, female, gay, straight, or lesbian…the emotions we feel when we love someone are the same. Gender doesn’t matter.

I’ve always been the first to say, “I don’t have a problem with gay people. Lesbian people. Whoever you want to be with, it doesn’t bother me”. Well this last quarter at UCLA, I read Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff and I learned that it doesn’t bother me when someone is gay, or lesbian, or straight, or whatever…but it does bother me when I don’t know. As a product of society, I’m uncomfortable when I don’t know what someone “is”. Day by day, society makes strides towards acceptance of the LGBT world. However, it’s just that. Why do we have to categorize people based on sexual preference? Why do we need to know?

Brezenoff and Miranda Kenneally, author of Stealing Parker, both use the power of their literature to prove that a relationship is a relationship, and when you love someone, you love them, despite society’s desire to label and distinguish by gender and sexuality.

In Brooklyn Burning the protagonist, Kid, is never identified by gender or sexuality, and neither is “Scout”—Kid’s summer love. Nevertheless, it is obvious that prior to meeting Scout, Kid had engaged in intimate relationships with both sexes. Last summer, there was Felix. He was a drug addicted, rockstar, and he broke Kid’s heart when summer ended. There is also Konny. Konny is Kid’s best girl-friend, but they too, have shared a few “more-than-just-friend” moments together. As a reader it was aggravating, I wanted to know. Is Kid a guy, or a girl? Which way does Kid swing? However, I wasn’t alone. Other auxiliary characters in the text reflect my frustration. Kid battles the stares from others, while walking next to Konny. People wondering what their relationship was, and Dad for example says, “I’ve got the only kid I know who doesn’t know whether to be straight or gay or a girl or a boy or what” (Brezenoff 121). Dad desperately wanted to give kid a label. It didn’t matter what Kid “was”, but he wanted to know that Kid was “something”.

Kid was well aware of Dad’s opinion, “I made Dad uncomfortable, virgin or not . . . maybe it would have helped if I brought someone home so my parents would be able to put me in a box, a check mark on the census form” (Brezenoff 58).

Kid is a heartbroken and homeless sixteen-year-old teenager. A character that is deserted by parents because they don’t know what their kid “is”.  Nevertheless, as the story unfolds, Kid’s relationship with mom is rekindled. She learns to accept Kid—guy, girl, gay, or, straight. More significantly, Mom learns that this information doesn’t actually matter. When her child is hurting from heartbreak, or trying to control the butterflies from falling in love, those feelings are the same feelings she felt at one point. The turning point for Kid comes when mom is finally back, and when Kid and Scout take their relationship public and comfortably display it to the eyes of strangers. Worried eyes were now just meaningless stares. No one mattered, and it didn’t matter if anyone knew; as Kid realized, “We’re in love . . .You can’t hurt us” (Brezenoff 194).

In juxtaposition to Brooklyn Burning, I also read Stealing Parker, which is a completely different novel is terms of addressing gender. The protagonist, Parker, is a teenage girl that paints her nails bubble-gum pink and kisses boys just to prove to others that she likes, boys. On the first page, Parker states the “problem”. Her mom is a lesbian that ditched her family and divorced Parker’s dad, so she could runaway with her “friend”. Later, the reader finds out that Drew, Parker’s best guy-friend is in love with the same guy that Parker is falling in love with.

Without losing its complexity, this text clearly places each of its characters into a category. Parker tries to divorce the feelings that she has for her mom, like her mom divorced her dad, because she doesn’t want people to label her as, “A lesbian, a sinner,” (Kenneally 14) like they have done to her mom. The way the narrator clearly defines everyone, works as a reflection of society. I, for example, was more comfortable reading because I knew what everyone “was”. Even Parker was troubled by Drew, when she didn’t know if he was gay or not. He was her best friend, she would love him regardless, but she wanted to know.

In the end, Mom and Parker revive the mother-daughter relationship that they once shared. Parker realizes that her mom is still the mom she has always loved, with hugs that, “feel like the warmest blanket on the coldest night” (Kenneally 230). Additionally, as Parker is beginning to grow up and experience a new kind of love herself, she apologizes, “I’m sorry . . . for how I’ve acted . . . For judging you. For not thinking about your feelings” (Kenneally 208). Parker realizes that Mom was never trying to hurt her; it was just the way she felt towards someone. Parker learns that despite anyone’s ridicule, “I can do whatever I want” (Kenneally 242). She can love her mom, just like anyone else loves their mom and she can fall in love with Will, just like her mom fell in love with Theresa.

In each of these texts, the protagonist learns that he or she cannot escape society and its power to judge and discriminate. Nevertheless, he or she can do, as Susan Stryker declares in her essay, “My Words to Victor Frankenstein”; “though I cannot escape its power, I can move through its medium” (Stryker). Gender is something one is, “assigned at birth,” (Stryker) but unfortunately, it is also something that allows society to construct gender binaries as the “norm”. The characters in these novels learn that they might not gain everyone’s acceptance, but if they can accept themselves for whomever they choose to be, they will be just fine. Looking through a dictionary of twenty-eight different definitions of love, I did not once see a definition that defined love by gender. Like I realized through the work of Brezenoff and Kenneally, society finds comfort in categorizing people by gender and sexuality. It is easier to label, but it isn’t necessary. Love is genderless.


Consent Has Nothing On Smoldering Vampires

by Kayla VernonClark
Venue: Hairpin

The Twilight series can certainly, and not altogether inaccurately, be summed up as a story about a girl in love with her vampire boyfriend. Because despite such distractions werewolves discovering their two year old soulmates, the vampire version of the Cruciatus curse, and the frequency of volleyball-related near death experiences, the central plotline remains at its core the story of a girl in love with a boy who would, incidentally, like to murder no one else in the world more than her.

It is for that very reason that it seems so strange that Bella’s story, despite her authorship, does not only seem not to be about her but does not seem even to belong to her. In Twilight, Edward enforces the movement of many of the plot points by literally driving her from place to place, often regardless of her own desires. At one point in the novel, Bella “mentally calculat[es her] chances of reaching the truck before he could catch [her],” at which point he reminds her, “I’ll just drag you back.” Importantly, this “reminder” is actually named a “threat” in the novel, and as she is literally forced to calculate the distance between herself and the car, this passage is crafted in terms of escape and of the inaccessibility of escape. Bella is literally not provided with a choice; this passage is described in terms of a kidnapping. Her consent is disregarded completely as a necessary or even viable response.

Much of the narrative follows this pattern: Bella’s refusal, or potential for refusal, is followed either by threatened or direct physical action, as the narrative becomes not a series of Bella’s decisions but a series of Edward’s. He begins leading her both figuratively and very literally from one plot point to the next; he is even the literal better driver, and remedies what might be her bumpy ride between plot and supplants is own. As it happens, this ride travels at a hundred miles per hour with no history of ticketing, rendering the Forks police department incompetent in both the locating of murderers and thirty mile-per-hour speeding violations. It isn’t particularly surprising, then, that the conclusion of the book finds Edward driving her to prom—and to her resolution. Knowing she would have refused had he actually considered something as scandalous as asking her permission, he refuses to disclose their destination, robbing her even of the illusion of consent. Prom is the very last setting Bella would have chosen for her conclusion. Instead, it marks Edward’s conclusion for a narrative of his own devising.

When placed in conjunction with New Moon, the two stories seem reflective of very different narratives. More than just spawning “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” T-shirts and inspiring a war that would destroy a multitude of eighth grade friendships, New Moon hardly includes Edward’s physical presence at all. Not that Edward is missing otherwise—when she isn’t thinking about him, she’s searching desperately for ways to avoid thinking about him, or to bring him to her. After he leaves, when the weight of her depression is crippling and there are literally no words on the page, the startling blankness of the page echoes the striking disappearance of Edward from her life, as she struggles with her inability to cope without having him beside her. It means that Edward cannot drive her through her narrative arcs in his Volvo, or drop her off at the corner for a quick subplot before manhandling her back into his vehicle. But he nevertheless steals a part of her, too.

Within the novel’s universe, by the beginning of New Moon, Edward and Bella are hopelessly in love with one another; they more or less exist at the behest of each other. Apparently Edward’s love for her has continued to make her slightly less edible, and apparently his talent for ochre-eyed smoldering has not diminished since we saw them last. When he leaves her, he assures her confidently that her “memory is more than a sieve,” and that he himself shall fill his time with other fancies. This feigned dismissiveness does not extend only to his own actions; he also tells Bella that, though Alice wanted to say goodbye, he told her a “clean break from [Bella] would be better.” The Cullen family, which occupied a large portion of Twilight and filled up the spaced in which her friends had previously existed, has here been jarringly stolen from her. Without her consent, without so much as a discussion, her world is torn from beneath her feet.

Edward had taken up the spaces of her friends; he’d become her constant accompaniment at school, and he’d come to occupy all the words on the page previously associated with any of her other companions, with the exception of the now-removed Cullens. His abrupt goodbye does not allow her a moment of recovery. Edward leaves out of a desire to protect Bella, as he decides what is best for her without a moment’s conversation regarding the reality of his absence. He makes the decision that her safety matters first, and with that dislodges himself from her life—and dislodges her entire narrative. Her narrative had been his movement (and, of course, his rock hard abs). Her narrative had been dependent upon his choices. And, again, without her consent, he removes her plot completely, which forces the narrative into a stasis that even features a number of blank pages with the headings of months above them. Without Edward, there is no movement at all. He kidnaps himself, and with that he steals her story.

Frustratingly, both novels seem to propose that Edward’s attractiveness works against a need for consent; because he makes Bella hot and bothered, and because “perfect” numbers among one of the most common adjectives in the novel, permission becomes irrelevant. In the universe of Twilight, “no” invariably means “yes,” unless you are sure to add a sprinkle of hundred foot high cliffs and a pinch of likely death. Consent may be sexy, but the Twilight universe is a reminder that even free will cannot trump a hot stalker with scorching ochre eyes who wants full access to your blood and your plot.

Zombies vs. Vampires: Battle of the Sexiest Dead Guys

Tess Hedlund

Written for the Gawker

 NicholasHoultWarmBodies2501 Edward_Cullen

With the popularity of Twilight and Vampire Diaries and the nation’s obsession with the apparently inevitable zombie apocalypse, it seems everywhere you look there is a new YA book published with a focus on the undead. But overall, people think the vamps are super-sexy while the zombies are relegated to the lunch table full of the creepy and gross kids. So what’s up? Both vampires and zombies are technically dead, have a nasty tendency to bite, and somehow infect and turn people, yet the public reaction to each is entirely different. People view vampires as handsome male love interests. The zombies, however, are villanized, given no soul/thoughts/ability to love, and consistently cast as the generic and nameless threat to the protagonist’s survival. So why are these mythical undead creatures treated so differently when they are in fact incredibly similar? The answer lies in how we view and interpret what desires these monsters represent.


Desire for Sex

The act of consuming involves the outside world directly with the inside world of the body, and what is put into the body is often considered to define who the consumer is. As such, eating and food are connected intimately with internal desires. Vampires drink blood and thus vampires partake in fluid transfers just like people do during sex.  Blood is also life-giving substance, so the purpose of vampire feeding is to generate life in themselves instead of simply causing death for others. Plus, vampires bite with fangs and then suck the blood. The penetrative and oral aspect of these actions turns every vampire bite into an abstract sexual encounter. Alternatively, zombies eat brains, innards, flesh, etc. and this type of feeding draws images of cannibalism and gluttony instead of sex. Vampires cannot live without blood but often are depicted trying to abstain, while zombies apparently can live without eating indefinitely but do so anyway. Therefore, zombie feeding is an annihilation of one being for no purpose and not a transfer of any form. As such, zombies represent violent destructive desire instead of sexual desire–the difference is profound.


Desire for Beauty

Furthermore, a death by vampire is relatively clean; this is why all vamps are perfectly undamaged when they turn. Since our culture is obsessed with remaining young and beautiful, it stands to reason that we would be attracted to the vampire’s preservative immortality. But zombies possess chewed up, disfigured, and decaying bodies. Charlie Higson’s The Enemy makes this struggle between youth and decay a very literal one when everyone over the age of sixteen becomes a zombie. The concept of age, rot, and death is associated with zombies while vampires are considered youthful, preserved, and lively. The fact that we find vampires attractive only proves that the idea of forever is appealing to humans with the caveat that forever is spent being beautiful and not grotesque.


Desire for Normalcy

Additionally, zombies are attributed to medical change, while vampires are mythical in origin. The story behind the zombie apocalypse is usually some manmade disease or weapon or cure gone wrong, which makes zombies a manufactured monster. Susan Stryker presents in her essay “My Words to Victor Frankenstein”, that transsexual beings are considered monstrous because the medical involvement in their expression seems to make them “at war with nature”, and insults the vision of control people hold so dear by confronting their “status as ‘lords of creation’” (Monologue). Furthermore, just as the transsexual altered body “literalizes [an] abstract violence” (Theory), so too is the zombie’s altered and manufactured form symbolic of violent and unnatural desires in comparison with the vampire’s relatively normal ones.


Desire for Control

Famous vampires, like Edward Cullen, go against their natures and reign in their desires while the zombies indulge endlessly. In Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Edward denies his thirst for Bella and “[swears] not to hurt [her]” (264), even though she “is exactly [his] brand of heroin” (268), thus proving he both loves her and has an extreme control over himself. His ability to go against his nature even though he believed “the fragrance coming off [her] skin…would make [him] deranged” (270) equals an attractive element of restraint. People tend to fetishize the denial of things they want, imagining this denial makes a person stronger and more honorable. Not to mention, people also further fetishize that which they cannot or should not have. This leads Bella to develop an attraction for Edward that is equally overwhelming. On the other hand, people project zombies as evil because giving in to base desire is seen as sinful or weak.

 warm bodies

Desire for Love

Nothing is sexier than someone who finds you irresistible. Edward is more attracted to Bella than anyone else because of her blood. This inherent specialness makes Edward consider her “the most important thing to [him] ever” (273), and gives him the strength to resist biting her. People want someone who will recognize their individuality immediately and fall in love with them for it. Unfortunately, not only do zombies generally not resist eating person, but they will also eat anyone. No one is different to a zombie, no brain smells better, no body is more appealing, and thus they cannot create a love-based relationship. But if we gave a zombie the ability to both find someone attractive and resist eating them, would they then be exempt from the ugly zombie hypothesis? Yes and No. For example, in Isaac Marion’s novel Warm Bodies, the main zombie character, “R”, eats a brain that has memories of love toward a girl, thus she becomes special and desirable. These feelings enable him to restrain from eating her and therefore a romantic relationship flourishes. But love eventually restarts R’s heart and makes him human again, which reinforces the idea that zombies are still unsexy, with the exception that reformed zombies are tolerable.

Thus while both zombie and vampire literature is likely to be as immortal as their characters, our judgments about the attractiveness of each is equally unlikely to change. Vampires are sexual, beautiful, natural, in control, and prone to falling obsessively in love for no good reason, whereas zombies are violent, deformed, manmade, unruly, and just as happy to feed on you as the next person with a heartbeat that comes by. In the end, vampires win the sexiness contest, but only because they are consistently imagined in a way that fulfills so many of our desires, whereas zombies are easier to leave as the ensemble cast of a horror film. And since accepting zombies as attractive means accepting the more monstrous side of ourselves and the reality of living in a world couched in medical change, death, greed, and indiscriminate pleasure seeking, it is quite likely zombies will never be allowed to play the leading role.

Fangs vs. Flogs: The Fan Fiction Influence

Brittany Taylor

Venue: L.A. Weekly

As I nervously hide the cover of my Fifty Shades of Grey book I began to laugh because I realized I was just doing the same thing last week while reading Twilight. This realization brought to my attention how similar these texts are. Both contain gawky awkward protagonists who drool over hot, controlling older men. After a few Google searches I discovered Fifty Shades author E.L.began her story as fan fiction called Master of the Universe. It all makes sense now.  Fan fiction is what we want to see from our favorite characters. Instead of the soft intimate touches Bella and Edward share some are looking for the rough, intense moments between the two and that is where Anna and Christian come in. They are what some want to see from Bella and Edward. But is fan fiction a reputable piece of work or just straight plagiarism?

The novel is one of the greatest forms of creative expression. When one reads a book they are either left satisfied or wanting more. Those wanting more sometimes decide to take matters into their own hands and write it themselves. This huge epidemic that emerged is called Fan fiction. Fan fiction has been around for a long time. King Arthur tale is a great example. The legend of King Arthur is early fan fiction due to many not knowing concrete facts. People like Chrétien de Troyes filled in the tale with his desired version of Arthur’s life. Characters like Guinevere, Sir Lancelot and Sir Gawain all came out of the legend and highlighted more than King Arthur. You could even say East of Eden and The Chronicles of Narnia are fan fiction of the Bible.

Now imagine an Adonis like man whose main goal in life is to protect you but is so controlling. But who comes to mind? Is it Edward Cullen? But what about Christian Grey? Yes the Christian Grey who likes tying up women in his kinky playroom. Many are familiar with Twilight and the novel has grown a huge fandom because of its appeal to so many readers. As a result many wanted theses characters to continue living, which brought on Master of the Universe. Scrolling through Master of the Universe you will encounter multiple pictures of a shirtless Robert Pattinson before encountering Bella Swan’s dilemma of having to interview multimillionaire Edward Cullen because her roommate Rosalie is ill. Now change Edward to Christian, Bella to Anna, and Rosalie to Kate and then we have Fifty Shades of Grey. Fifty Shades shows that fan fiction can become a New York Times #1 bestseller and enter mainstream culture. E.L. James took the desires of many fans of Twilight and gave them their fantasy. But is it plagiarism?

An LA Times article reports that the Fifty Shades author claims her fan fiction work and novel are “two distinctly separate pieces of work” but was reported an 89% plagiarism on turnitin. The earlier version has vanished on many websites, including the James posted it on, but I found it (!

When looking at both texts there are many similarities: Clumsy brunette, immature mothers who force brunette to grow up faster, fathers who lack emotion, confuse brunette about love and the scorching hot man who the brunette can’t resist and my list can go on for another five pages. The first kiss presented in each text shows the desire both narrator presents to the text but they still differ.

“And then his cold, marble lips pressed very softly against mine. What neither of us was prepared for was my response. Blood boiled under my skin, burned in my lips. My breath came in a wild gasp. My fingers knotted in his hair, clutching him to me. My lips parted as I breathed in his heady scent (Meyer).”

“He lunges at me, pushing me against the wall of the elevator. Before I know it, he’s got both of my hands in one of his in a vice-like grip above my head, and he’s pinning me to the wall using his hips. Holy shit. His other hand grabs my ponytail and yanks down, bringing my face up, and his lips are on mine. It’s only just not painful. I moan into his mouth, giving his tongue an opening. He takes full advantage, his tongue expertly exploring my mouth. I have never been kissed like this (James). “

The men of their tales control both kisses. Edward is soft and gentle with Bella out of fear of losing control while Christian is domineering and forceful. Bella’s kiss is only forceful because she can’t control her teenage urges while Anna’s kiss is forceful because of Christian’s urges. Both Anna and Bella share intimate moments with their lovers but James take a more aggressive direction as a response to the gentle moment between Bella and Edward. As they further their relationships both become intense but Bella’s intensity is due to the impending threat of her life and Anna’s is caused by her boyfriend’s urge to want to flog her. There are many characteristics of James’s characters that are similar to Meyer’s characters (even up to the point of both antagonist becoming pregnant) but James’s BDSM world differs from the vampire world in the sense that it is not a young adult novel.

Fifty Shades of Grey shows that the love of characters and wanting them to live on can lead to success and others wanting your characters to live on. E.L. James’s novel has had great success and is on its way into being made into a film. This proves that fan fiction is not just some silly fantasy community but is a part of the literary culture. Fan fiction keeps characters alive and is a tribute to the tales. Fan fiction gives the people what they want. The online society allows for instant notification rather than waiting to get picked up by a publisher. Everyone may not get a big break but can still get their work out there. Fan fiction may not become the main source of literature in the future but it will always have a spot in literature, even if it just me reading Freaks and Geeks fan fiction.

LA Times Article:

Why Does Everyone Hate Money?

By Rebecca Bucher

The Hairpin

Like many readers my age, I first read The Princess Diaries in elementary school after seeing the movie and was traumatized. A certain bookstore chain marketed the book as: “Loved the movie? Read the books!” despite the fact that the movie is for kids and the book is decidedly YA. Set in Greenwich Village, and rife with pop culture references and fifteen-year-olds’ musings on sex, The Princess Diaries seems to consider itself a very different sort of book than Twilight. Princess Diaries is conscious of the ways in which Mia’s love life is important and validates her feelings even while it is conscious that she is somewhat immature and still learning and figuring things out. While not entirely condescending to Mia, the book makes it clear she’s not quite “finished” yet whereas in Twilight, Bella is a fully-formed adult in a teen’s body, in a world populated by incompetent adults. Twilight affirms Bella’s romance and her. Both characters however have to struggle between fostering their newfound identities – Mia as princess of a small European nation and Bella as forevergirlfriend of a vampire – and maintaining a normal teenagehood. How does consciousness of wealth and class work in Princess Diaries and Twilight as part of the characters’ synthesis of their identities and in what ways does this operate as wish fulfillment for the reader?

Both Mia and Bella identify as middle class only children of scatterbrained single mothers, children who are responsible for keeping track of the household and its finances (a fantasy for the children of helicopter parents?). As they encounter their true identities, they come into close contact with wealth. Both conscious of how much money people have, Mia and Bella view their social standing in terms of their money. For Mia, this is seemingly fixed status. Even after she discovers she is a princess, she cannot fit in with the “rich kids”. Their richness is a part of their identity separate from their actual net worth. Both Mia and Bella harbor almost an animosity towards money and wealthy. Bella considers the wealth of the Cullens with derision – it’s an exasperating quality of theirs (the famous “stupid shiny Volvo owner”) even as she clearly is compelled by the clothes “that subtly hinted at designer origins” (Meyer 32). Mia, daughter of an artist, equates money with selling out or with phonies like her heart break crush Josh Richter (who dates her only so he can brag he dated someone with a net worth of $300 million dollars). She also is inured to wealth – it’s a commonplace thing annoying relatives have whereas Bella dislikes the Cullen’s opulence (when she can’t have it) because it seems excessive compared to her life.

The reader is supposed to be impatient with Bella and Mia’s reaction to this wealth. The reader is supposed to say, “omfg he paid for a bowl of pasta with a one hundred dollar bill? marry the man!” Mia talks about how annoying it is that her dad thinks she still likes tea the Plaza. Lame! Is not the reaction the reader has. Of course you want tea at the Plaza. Of course you want to be a princess and rule a country and go to balls and have a stylist and be given fancy clothes. The reader does not say, “oh you’re right, Edward and his family are perfect and I really want to be a part of their life, but if only they weren’t rich and didn’t have a beautiful house and didn’t buy me whatever I could possibly want.”

John Berger in The Ways of Seeing says of women under the male gaze: “Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another” (46). In Mia’s case, she has to reconcile her sense of herself with the difference in how she is being appreciated by others after the change to her identity. Bella has to do the same, but she clings to her distaste of wealth in a way Mia does not, suggesting a reluctance to do this. While both are conscious of how they are seen in regards to their class status, the introduction to their new aspects of their identity forces them to confront changes to that.

In both novels, wealth ostracizes. The students ostracize Tina Hakim Baba, the daughter of a sheikh because she is a “freak” for having a bodyguard. Both Tina and the Cullens sit alone at their own table in the cafeteria. When Mia’s princesshood begins to become visible in her hair, nails, etc she is exiled to the freak table. Bella likewise sits alone at a table with Edward when he takes interest in her. The gaze of everyone in the cafeteria functions to make characters conscious of status, of which wealth is a significant part. As they start coming into their identity and realizing the role of wealth in it (Bella riding to school in Edward’s car, Lars the bodyguard trailing Mia), their consciousness of this gaze, as well as the magnitude of the gaze itself, increases. Hello, paparazzi. And Jessica, the Forks equivalent of paparazzi.

This self-consciousness confirms for the reader that the wish fulfillment aspects of the stories (discovering you are a princess and fabulously wealthy, falling in sexy magic unconsummatable love with a perfectly beautiful magical creature) are indeed worth having. By being frustrated with Mia or Bella for not liking something that is super awesome great, or at least not worthy of the amount of mental anguish the wealth causes them, the reader affirms that the thing (the money) is worth having and not meriting the reaction the characters have to it. In addition, the negative reaction of the characters to the wealth prevents the characters or reader from seeming like a sellout. There’s an ambivalence towards money. It’s great to have, but only if you resist having it as much as possible, otherwise you’re an obnoxious juicebox.

In Mia’s case, an awareness of the male gaze and the class gaze allows her to accept her identity, and moments when she exhibits a lack of awareness of the gaze are dangerous, such as when she is flattered by Josh’s attentions despite the fact that he is a media whore using her status. Once she recognizes and confronts that, she is able to have a “normal” life the school dance with her friends in a custom made designer dress.

In Bella’s case, at the end of the novel at her school dance her discomfort over Edward’s wealth and her class awareness becomes a way for her to express her identity as distinct from Edward and her peers and the ostracization she still feels. She’s not one of the normal Forks people – they aren’t in fancy dresses like her, but she’s also not one of the Cullens and doesn’t share their values over money. However, while Mia eventually embraces the affluent aspects of her identity, Bella continues to reject it. Attitudes towards wealth and class awareness are markers for characters’ acceptance of their identities and how they are viewed by others.

Entering the Arena: or How “The Hunger Games” and “Brooklyn, Burning” Help Me Talk About Facebook

(Rookie Mag)

When I waffle out loud to people about whether I, at the age of twenty-two, should finally get a Facebook account, I take my arguments straight out of Young Adult literature. In the worlds of novels like Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” and Steve Brezenoff’s “Brooklyn, Burning,” I’ve found parables of our current culture of hyper-sociability, ones that heighten the already tricky, barbed-wire paths of young-adulthood to a contemporary intensity. Their depictions of modern human interaction feature the same reservations and convictions I swing between on my journey towards social media. What have we gained by centering our lives around these institutions? What have we lost?

“The Hunger Games’” commentary on reality television is well-known, but the dystopian setting Collins constructs has even larger implications on how we see reality in general. The artificially constructed nether-space of the Games’ Arena resembles our arenas of social media in extreme, Gamemakers conjuring up fires or flesh-eating hounds as deftly and forcefully as Facebook switches itself to Timeline. It’s a giant camera, watching and amplifying to the nation Katniss’ every expression, in a way that feels familiar to anyone whose status updates have rippled through the currents of consciousness of their friendship circles. Even the trees hum with the tweeting of mockingjays, descendants of “muttated” espionage-birds jabberjays, which possess “the ability to memorize and repeat whole human conversations” (43) – imagery which cannot but recall a certain website’s similarly avian, echoing propensities.

Katniss’ Arena and ours, fuelled by equally insatiable mass voyeurism, must by necessity be theaters of their participants’ feelings. During the Games, Katniss learns strategic deployment of emotion to gain public affection and communicate with her mentor. Concealing the complex layers of her person, she becomes instead an avatar, a “Katniss Everdeen” that belongs to everyone. Who in our world doesn’t do the same, selecting specific profile pictures from masses of possible images, choosing to like this comment or follow that person, signaling cultural codes in the subtextual language of cool? The smartest skill to hone in the Games as on the internet is the savvy construction of persona, painting yourself in broad strokes accessible to all, despite the sacrifice of some interpersonal nuance.

If we are all actors, broadcasting emotions like so many smoke signals, the line between our performances and ourselves starts to fade. Katniss, compelled into faking a relationship with fellow contestant Peeta, finds the spectacle complicated by her increasing inability to separate scripted feelings for him from true ones. This blurring of real and not real used to be the territory of celebrity, but now all interactions are up for the same scrutiny – the same compromise – from a voracious public of friends and followers. Even without being in a “Relationship” in the Zuckerbergian sense, I wept alongside Katniss at the incomprehensibility of her own heart: “we’re supposed to be making up this stuff, playing at being in love, not actually being in love” (301). Social media leads us to the great question of our age, more unanswerable with every new acquaintance: who are we when nobody is watching? The screens we build around ourselves as a society have pared down our already tenuous grasp of the self to threadbare wisps; we cannot know if these things we project so automatically are real emotions at all.

Instead we have labels. Thank goodness they attach so easily to things and people – a little too easily, perhaps. Brezenoff’s “Brooklyn, Burning” is a study in how our addiction to labels, even those seemingly “axiomatic” (as per Eve Sedgwick), flattens the three-dimensionality of the human spectrum. The central ambiguity in the novel is the undisclosed gender of its two protagonists, Kid and Scout, the narration’s “I” and “You.” This uncomfortable gap forces us to confront the frenzied categorizing inclinations social media so readily lends itself to. Kid’s father’s inability to deal with his child without the aids of #straight or #gay or #girl or #boy (as he might tweet) belies the reliance we’ve developed on this crutch, one that damages things that can’t be reduced to trending topics.

Like in “The Hunger Games,” geographic space in “Brooklyn, Burning” is representative of informational, virtual space. It prompts issues of community also relevant to social networks: can one place support different, often incompatible clusters of people? In Brooklyn’s collection of disparate communities, brought into uncomfortable proximity with each other – hipsters, laborers, Polish, homeless, developers – we sense a resonance of the melting pot of a platform like Facebook, people interacting with different people in ways they would never have been able to without the internet. What unites the communities within Brooklyn, though, is the feeling of being both part of and separate from New York City – an insider-outsider dynamic that characterizes the experience of participating in social media, simultaneously living through moments and documenting them. The half-welcoming, half-forbidding nature of Kid’s Brooklyn (a network of portals forever opening and closing, “collective backyards” like “the central courtyard of some medieval fortress,” 79) mirrors the push-pull tension in Kid and Scout’s “You and I” pronouns: detached and intimate, universal and particular. These are the central paradoxes of social media as well. To live, these days, is to instagram, blog, pin and otherwise record ourselves living; in this vortex I hear again the hollowness of Katniss’ request to Peeta: “Don’t let’s pretend when there’s no one around” (100). There’s always someone around – if just the two of them, watching themselves playing at love.

Being a constantly public individual is a fragmentation of the self on an often tragic scale; as Peeta confesses before the start of the Games, “I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not” (141). Why, then, should I consider getting Facebook at all – why not slip a fence into the wild, private freedom of a wood outside my district? Because, goes the simple answer, I am in the world and the world changes. The safety-in-anonymity I’ve been trying to keep intact is an illusion, and ignoring this, as Katniss learns, becomes increasingly morally questionable ground. Facebook, Twitter and the like, frustrating and soul-sucking as they can be, have long stopped being a mere appendage to our real lives and just flat-out become it, the very fabric of our consciousness. Navigating them is the challenge I have to engage in as a conscientious young adult in society, and maybe out of the chaos of friending and liking and following and reblogging that ensues, colors will blend, like those of “Brooklyn, Burning,” into a mural of strange harmony.

The New Yorker
December 12, 2012

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The assignation of gender comes intertwined with a socially justified rigid set of social roles that are expected to be met from said individual who is being categorized. In her article, “Gender”, Judith Halberstam mentions that this social construct is imposed upon us at birth usually based on our sex and remains rigid for the rest of our lives. “Gendering of the sexed body begins immediately,  as soon as the child is born, and that this socio-biological process is every bit as rigid and immutable as a genetic code.” (117) We have no personal input on deciding our gender from the time that we are born and changing it at a later time based on traits that we choose to embody creates much controversy.

disordered gender

The immutability of gender can be seen in classical literature such as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott in which characters who try to break away from the construct end up getting sucked right back into it through the encouragement of other characters. Jo, truncated version of Josephine, is characterized by her free spirit, independent thinking and her tomboyish nature. Jo openly reveals her rejection of femininity, and the ideals that encompass it, in the first chapter of the novel. She gets insulted when her oldest sister Meg encourages her to start acting more like a young lady to which she responds “ I hate to think I’ve got to grow up and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and look as Prim as a Chinaaster. It’s bad enough to be a girl any-way, when I like boys games, and work and manners.” (3)  She commits acts like shortening her name and not conforming to the latest fashions in an attempt to rebel against the femininity she cannot dispel. Jo’s frustration with her gender arises from her longing to achieve things beyond “stay[ing] at home and knit[ting] like a pocky-old woman.” (3) Her passion of writing and her refusal to marry Laurie, sets up the reader to believe that her independent nature will ultimately allow her to live a solitary life in pursuit of achieving her dreams and becoming a writer. This hope is shattered when Jo gives up writing to marry Professor Baehr and bears him a son. She ultimately conforms to the fate of her sisters and all women in her society by taking on the roles of mother and wife enclosed in the domestic space. Jo provides literary evidence of the immutability of gender that Halberstam commented on. What happens when the assignation of gender in literature is absent?

Steve Brezenoff makes a bold move by assigning an ambiguous sex to his protagonist Kid in Brooklyn Burning. He successfully achieves this through his usage of non-gender coded names such as Kid and Kid’s love interest Scout in addition to his mode of storytelling. We view the world of the book through Kid’ eyes in a past tense first person narrative written for Scout. This mode of storytelling was the most appropriate for the novel because it enables Scout’s sex to remain unknown since it does not force Kid to refer to Scout with the pronouns of “he or she” but rather as “you”. By lifting the assignation of Gender, the expectations associated with that gender are lifted along with it. As a reader you do not expect the character to act in any particular way or love a particular gender. By not having a gender construct to bias our expectations, we can gear our attention to the genuine traits of a character that all humans share. We learn that despite of the sex or gender identification, everyone suffers hardships the same, we all fall in love the same, and we all get heartbroken.  Transgender literature delivers a world that accepts breaking away from the construct as a norm.

Kid, Scout and the other characters of their generation such as Konny and Ace redefine the social norm in the novel. Konny and her unfaithful boyfriend Ace are presented as bisexual characters. Kid at one point in the novel tries to make a move on Konny because Kid thought that is what she wanted out of their friendship. Konny and Ace also both show lustful interest in Scout but Kid manages to avert their interest to develop into something further. Brezenoff presents a world in which characters have broken out of the gender constructs in which they don’t criticize each other for their decisions. He does however add in an opposing figure representative of a previous generation that disapproves with the changes that the new generations are imposing. Kid’s father is the only character in the novel that bluntly rejects Kid’s choice of identification because it brings him shame. When he is being offered custody of his child he refuses to accept it and says “I’ve got the only kid I know who doesn’t know whether to be straight or gay or a girl or a boy or what.” (121) He follows this statement by saying that he has kept his family hidden from his co-workers for five years implying that it is because he doesn’t want them to see Kid. Though his rejection of his child may also be reflecting his own perceived insecurities of failed parenting, they are meant to be reflective of past generations that are too close minded to allow change in the gender norms. Through the rejection we experience the emotional and physical danger that transgender and homosexual individuals experience and we witness how that unstable state significantly subsides when they find a source of acceptance.

Breaking away from gender norms is controversial but exposing others to different sexualities and identifications is the only way we are going to make them socially acceptable. Through Little Women we witnessed the beginnings of breaking away from gender norms only to ultimately conform to the larger society. In Brooklyn Burning we get see the push beyond the norms and witness how being true to oneself and not conforming to society leads to happiness. By advocating for literature that encompasses different sexualities and identifications, we not only contribute to the effort of making them more acceptable but we also include aid in diminishing the isolation that these people feel by including them in pieces of scholarly mainstream culture.

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