Why so Dark, so Young?

Stina Leicht over at SfSignal has a thought provoking article on the prevalence of dark young adult fiction.

During the last panic over the dark trends in YA fiction, a few questions cropped up over and over: “Why are our kids are so attracted to dark literature? Why do they seem to think the older generation are out to get them? Or is this attitude merely being projected onto them?” I believe this trend in dark fiction for young adults happens for a reason, and yes, they do sense hostility from older generations. They’ve good reason for it. It exists.

Her theme is that there is indeed darkness in modern juveniles, but that the darkness is merited, because the hostility of the older generation to the younger does indeed exist, and growing up can indeed be a dark and scary prospect. 

She points to the tripod trilogy of John Christopher (a trilogy I loved in my youth, I must admit) as being an apt symbol of the fear of aging. Her point is trenchant. In that book, upon reaching the age of majority the alien overlords of Earth ‘cap’ the youth with a mesh of wires, altering his brain to make him docile. Any youth reading the book is surely reminded of the conformity of opinion of the adults who rule his life, and wondering if he also will become merely a worker or a housewife without that divine spark of heroism or sainthood that leads to revolution as well as evolution in life.

She lists that the younger population is harder hit by the current depression than the older as an evidence of the hostility between the generations. The reasoning is obscure to me, since the ability of persons longer in the workforce to save and weather a depression is and must be greater than the young. I could see it as a source of envy from the youth toward the old, but not of hostility from the old toward the youth.

So rather than actually addressing the issue, the writer here dismisses it as a “panic”, something not unique to this generation. I respectfully disagree: my opinion (for what it is worth) is that the concern about the obsession of the youth with vampires-as-antiheroes, bloodsplatter covers of romance books, images of morbidity and death is a signal of a sickness in the spirit of our times. (I do not mean to detract from Stina Leicht’s article, which I admired, but I did not like the approach the article used to address the question, nor the tone.)

I would have speculated that the hostility of the old toward the young had some unique aspects in this generation, unrelated to the depression.

  • Never before has mere selfishness and self-will been considered a legitimate and legitimizing reason for any human act. These days, it is commonplace to respect the choices of others, even when those choices are stupid or wicked. This atmosphere of moral anarchy lends itself to both the perception, and the reality, that the older generation cares more for itself than it does for the youth. Spending all the wealth of the young by running up inter-generational debt is merely a monetary example of this.
  • Never before have there been an organize faction of anti-child activists, both zero growth population advocates and people who just don’t like kids. Surely children notice this.
  • Never before has motherhood and child-rearing been routinely and stereotypically presented as a grinding and unpleasant chore, if not outright slavery for women. Children are not stupid, and notice that it is now commonplace to regard the sacred task of bearing and raising them as a malign chore.
  • Never before has the divorce rate been so high. This act of placing one’s self before one’s family is unprecedented in its popularity and in the absence of public disapproval. Children raised in single-parent households may well regard any fiction that does not portray the world as a scary and uncertain realm haunted by monsters as unrealistic.
  • Never before has there been so many childish and childlike adults. There are 30 and 40 year old men in this culture who act like children, and like spoilt children. They play children’s games and watch children’s cartoons and in several respect compete with children, occupying their same mental orbit, so to speak. This competition between overlarge and normal-sized children may well spook the small children, or be interpreted as a sign of hostility.
  • Never before have so many children been given mind-altering drugs in school in order to control unruly behavior. This sounds like a dark and paranoid horror story in real life, which the child can see in his own classroom.
  • Never before have children been raised in a society where the social norms were deliberately nihilistic, defeatist, self-destructive, and full of such self-loathing and self-righteous victimization. They taught that the truth is that there is no truth, and they are taught that it is illogical to be logical. There is no moral compass, and so the little ships are lost at sea.
  • Never before has such a concerted effort been made to force adulthood onto children at such young ages, especially when it comes to both sexuality and sexual perversity. Children are exposed to concepts and images and abominations at remarkably tender ages by rather self-righteous partisans who demand that the children of others be acculturated to their worldview. But even without this, it is no longer the norm in this society to protect children from either news reports or from grotesque and graphic ideas and images which earlier generations would have shielded them from. The result is that children are laden with burdens too heavy for them, ideas shocking to their young minds. This gives rise to the idea that the universe is dark and horrible.
  • Never before have so many children been so aware that their brothers and sisters were killed in the womb by their mother. They can easily imagine the baby that with joy and wonder they felt kicking in their mommy’s tummy, is now gone, and mommy is hollow-eyed, and for some reason little sister is never going to be born.  The thought surely occurs to at least some of them ‘that could have been me. Mommy could have killed me.‘ The legalistic distinction which says an undeveloped human is not a human is too nice and subtle to be clear or comforting to a child’s mind.

So while I would agree with the general point of the article, I would say that this antipathy between the older generation and the younger is indeed real, and is an outgrowth of the Culture of Death, and therefore morbid imagery has a greater sway over the imagination of the young than has been seen heretofore.

And, it should be obvious, the publishing industry, writers and editors alike, which once took seriously the ideal of protecting the younger readers from shocking or prurient or violent imagery, now for the most part has joined the partisans mentioned above, and wants to spread the Culture of Death, and to make it seem normal to minds too young to be skeptical about it. The reason why the modern books are dark is, in part, because the darkness in the souls of the entertainment industry is something they use their art to spread.

I can hand my child a novel of the Hardy Boys or L Frank Baum’s Oz or even the bloodthirsty pulp yarns of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Robert E Howard without a qualm, and without having read or vetting the book, merely because I know and trust that publishers used to vet them for me, and their standards were true.

One of the main appeals, for me, of Heinlein’s juveniles was that his peculiar uncouth manias were absent. I remember with nausea the mention of Deety Burrough’s nipples in NUMBER OF THE BEAST, but I have just read A PRINCESS OF MARS to my children, and I can report that Dejah Thoris, while glamorously naked as any exotic princess of a far barbarian tribe should be, did not have her nipples mentioned once. I hope the distinction is not too subtle.

Nowadays the publisher will fret over the use of a word like ‘Oriental’ to describe a Tibetan, but will publish a volume of Steampunk Lesbian Tales (for example) with the sexual abnormality of the characters being trumpeted as the main selling point. So their standards are not merely absent, they are hostile.