unlimited access with print and download

Free

Continue searching

Naughty or not?: Exploring controversial content and core universal themes in contemporary young adult literature

Dissertation
Author: Colette Marie O'Bannion
Abstract:
A reader might assume contemporary society has progressed beyond literary censorship. However, as recently as 2008, the Gossip Girl and Twilight young adult literature series both faced challenges in distinct sectors of United States society (American Library Association (ALA), 2009: Martindale, 2008). A number of concerned parents, community members, and school officials argue these series contain inappropriate material for young adult readers (Shrieves, 2005; Wolf, 2006). New readers have accepted invitations into the world of reading due to their connection with these series. Supporters of contemporary young adult literature are concerned readers might abandon their interest in literature because select members of society have deemed specific books unfit for young adult readers (Flanagan, 2008; George, 2007). My research utilized grounded theory and coding to explore controversial content and core universal themes present in the Gossip Girl and Twilight series in an effort to define any remediating qualities in the literature. I pre-coded for frequency and type of controversial content using previously established categories for challenging literature. This resulted in a wide range of frequency and type of controversial content that needed to be investigated further. I coded deeper using contextual categories I created. Fansites and literature served as my frame of reference to explore the series for evidence of core universal themes. There was substantial evidence of multiple core universal themes throughout both series. Themes of love, choice, fitting in, and protector, were addressed with care, consideration, and humor. Through my research a theory emerged. Literary censorship rarely represents the contextual entirety of the literature in question. This study will hopefully encourage those who question the appropriateness of literature to explore these and other controversial books with deeper contextual understanding. As supporters claim, young adult literature is able to offer young adults a safe place to explore and "develop wisdom about unsettling and possibly dangerous activities" they might face in the real world (Curry, 2001, p. 32). Young adult literature can provide an opportunity for readers to escape their reality, imagine lives different from their own, and gain multiple perspectives on how to handle what life might throw at them.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

PROLOGUE………………………………………………………………………. 1 Why Gossip Girl?......................................................................................... 1 Why Twilight? ……………………………………………………………... 4

CHAPTER 1: YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE CHALLENGES……………….. 7 Statement of Purpose………………………………………………………. 10 Young Adult Literature…………………………………………………….. 11 Young Adult Literature Focus……………………………………………... 14 Researcher Perspective…………………………………………….. 17 Popular Culture Framework………………………………………………... 22 Assumptions and Limitations……………………………………………… 24 Significance of the Study………………………………………………….. 25 Summary…………………………………………………………………… 26

CHAPTER 2: HISTORICAL CASES OF BANNED BOOKS…………………… 28 The Odyssey…………………………………………………………28 Textbook Holy Wars………………………………………………. 29 Board of Education v. Pico………………………………………… 40 Moral Majority Hit List……………………………………………. 48 Out of the Closet Objections……………………………………….. 51 First Amendment Rights…………………………………………………… 55 Contemporary Views of Censorship……………………………………….. 60 Frequently Challenged Authors……………………………………………. 64 Judy Blume………………………………………………………….64 J.K. Rowling……………………………………………………….. 70 Support for Banned Books………………………………………………… 74 Summary…………………………………………………………………… 75

CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY………………………………………………… 77 Grounded Theory…………………………………………………... 77 Coding……………………………………………………………… 79 Gossip Girl………………………………………………………………… 80 Twilight …………………………………………………………………….. 86 Data Collection…………………………………………………….. 89 Summary…………………………………………………………………… 93

CHAPTER 4: CONTROVERSIAL CONTENT CODING RESULTS…………....94 Gossip Girl………………………………………………………………… 94 Series Synopsis…………………………………………………….. 94 Gossip Girl Coding Results………………………………………... 97 Homosexuality……………………………………………………... 98 Nudity……………………………………………………………… 100 Sex Education……………………………………………………… 101 Sexually Explicit…………………………………………………… 103

xi

Unsuited to Age Group……………………………………………. 105 Offensive Language………………………………………………... 107 Abortion…………………………………………………………… 107 Drugs………………………………………………………………. 108 Alcohol……………………………………………………………... 111 Gossip Girl Coding Summary………………………………………112 Twilight……………………………………………………………………...113 Series Synopsis……………………………………………………...113 Twilight Coding Results……………………………………………. 114 Sex Education……………………………………………………….114 Sexually Explicit…………………………………………………….115 Offensive Language…………………………………………………116 Violence……………………………………………………………..117 Vampire Violence…………………………………………………...118 Werewolf Violence………………………………………………….120 Bella Violence……………………………………………………….121 Abortion……………………………………………………………..124 Drugs……………………………………………………………….. 126 Occult/Satanism……………………………………………………..125 Vampire Descriptions……………………………………………….126 Werewolf Descriptions……………………………………………...138 Occult References…………………………………………………...148 Suicide………………………………………………………………148 Twilight Coding Summary…………………………………………. 149 Summary…………………………………………………………………… 149

CHAPTER 5: CORE UNIVERSAL THEMES CODING RESULTS……………..150 Gossip Girl Core Universal Themes Coding Results……………………….151 Love…………………………………………………………………152 Blair and Nate……………………………………………………….153 Serena and Nate……………………………………………………..154

Dan and Vanessa…………………………………………………… 156 Choice……………………………………………………………… 157 Blair and Nate……………………………………………………….158 Serena and Nate……………………………………………………..159 Dan and Vanessa…………………………………………………… 160 Fitting In…………………………………………………………….161 Jenny……………………………………………………………….. 162 Vanessa…………………………………………………………….. 163 Dan…………………………………………………………………. 164 Twilight Core Universal Themes Coding Results………………………….. 166 Love…………………………………………………………………166 Bella and Edward…………………………………………………... 167 Bella and Jacob…………………………………………………….. 169 Choice……………………………………………………………… 171 Abstinence…………………………………………………………. 171

xii

Good Vampire vs. Bad Vampire…………………………………… 173 Vampire Transformation…………………………………………… 175 Protector……………………………………………………………. 177 Edward and Bella…………………………………………………... 178 Jacob and Bella……………………………………………………...181 Jacob and Renesmee……………………………………………….. 182 Summary…………………………………………………………………… 183

CHAPTER 6: CONCLUSION…………………………………………………….. 185 Book Banning Overview……………………………………………………185 Researcher Perspective…………………………………………………….. 186 Why Gossip Girl?...............................................................................188 Why Twilight? ………………………………………………………189 Support for Young Adult Literature…………………………………………190 Significance of the Study………………………………………………….. 192 Areas for Further Research………………………………………………….193

REFERENCES…………………………………………………………………….. 194

APPENDICES…………………………………………………………………….. 211

ENDNOTES………………………………………………………………………. 239

1

PROLOGUE

Why Gossip Girl? It was spring 2005. I was a fourth grade teacher at a prestigious Catholic school in Silicon Valley. I was very excited when I noticed that girls in my class, particularly those who had not previously demonstrated an interest in reading, were clamoring to head to library time on Friday afternoons and were actually reading during independent reading time. Imagine that! Reading during independent reading time. Shocking but true! After paying close attention to their behavior during library time and having a quick chat with the school librarian, I realized that the girls were obsessed with one specific series, the Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar. The school librarian filled me in that the series had initially been purchased for the junior high girls to read, but my girls had been checking them out the minute they were returned. At the time, the older girls had not even been able to peruse the book jackets. I was initially pleased, as any young teacher would have been, believing with the tiniest hope this newfound passion for reading might have been the result of my flair in the classroom. Not to worry, the delusion did not hold for long. After seeing the covers of multiple books in the series as they rested upon the classroom desks, a tiny alarm went off. Granted, a tiny alarm in my head, but with the images on the covers, it could have possibly been the classroom smoke detector going off. The few covers I saw depicted three teenage girls wrapped in nothing but towels, the midsections of three teenage girls, and two teenage girls bikinied and glowing. The cover art seemed to suggest a more mature recommended age than the less than worldly nine-years old my young girls were. At the time I did not fully explore the series. I did what many parents, librarians, and

2

teachers chose to do and reveled in the fact even students who had not been previously motivated to read had become avid readers of the series. As a teacher, was not it my duty to get young people to read? Not my duty to police the books they were choosing to read? Especially, if they were available in the school library of a Catholic school, they must have been appropriate, right? A few years later, I had left the teaching profession to further my own education. During my first year of coursework, while reading and attempting to comprehend and write about educational theory, I further developed a diversion that had been in place since childhood. However, it became completely necessary to lose myself a few (or more, admittedly) hours a week in something that was not difficult to comprehend, not even for the average American teenager. That’s right! I watched television. What might have been considered low-brow by many academics proved the perfect way for me to chill out. Not just any low-brow television would do. I became a self-admitted underground viewer of a particular television series called Gossip Girl, as in, based on the young adult literature series, Gossip Girl. Don’t get me wrong; I was fully aware I was addicted to a show airing on a network called the CW, which was geared towards a junior high school and high school demographic. This demographic would have been approximately 11 to 18 years of age, right smack dab in the middle of the parameters issued by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) (Cart, 2008) of ages considered to comprise the young adult demographic. Thankfully, I can say I was not the lone adult viewer of Gossip Girl. At least, I believe there were others like me. Rest assured, quite a few of my peers also thoroughly enjoyed the series. Why did I enjoy the series so? It was super glossy, superficial fun. Gossip Girl presented polished plotlines

3

of partying, scheming, hijinx, and sexual misadventures. Uh-oh! This was when a tiny alarm, similar to the one that went off in my classroom years earlier, sounded again. I began to question the maturity level of the series, both young adult literature and television. If a well-educated woman in her thirties (early, thank you) was both delighted and at times scandalized by the content, what had my innocent nine-year old students been exposed to? Surely my young girls had not been devouring such mature content. Or had they? Was it okay I had not put my foot down and demanded to know exactly what was in the pages between the scandalous covers? Was it okay that I had not thrown a fit to have such material removed from the library’s shelves? Had my young girls been irreversibly harmed by the mature content in the Gossip Girl series? Soon after the tiny alarm resounded, I was enrolled in a Qualitative Research Methods course. I decided to take a closer look at the Gossip Girl literature series. I began to read the first few books in the series to compare the content I was watching as part of the television series to the content in the young adult literature series. I kept my fingers crossed that it was not as bad as I worried it might be. My first quick read of the books did not relax my nerves. The books contained content about sex, drugs, alcohol, and had a high dosage of offensive language. I became concerned I had let my impressionable young girls and their parents down by not doing due diligence in regards to the books. I was not sure what to do about it though, so I let the matter drop. The next semester, I enrolled in another Qualitative Research Methods course and chose to keep exploring the series. I read the next few books in the series to once again compare the content I was watching as part of the television series to the content in the young adult literature series. My first quick read of these books did not lessen my anxiety. Sex,

4

drugs, alcohol, and the use of offensive language were presented frequently. After the course concluded, it became clear to me my dissertation study would be shaped in some way around the controversial content present in the Gossip Girl series. Why Twilight? It was December 2008. I would soon be on vacation. Finally! Or what seemed to be finally. I had been working extremely hard in my program and had been working beyond full-time between my two jobs. I had three weeks off at home in the Bay Area and no homework to speak of. Yay! Well, the last part was probably a bit of a lie. I believe many of my professors would have jumped for joy if I had spent my mental time off devouring curriculum theory texts and quoting Foucault. My brain had other ideas. Okay, one idea really. I would get to read. Read! Not curriculum theory, not popular culture theory, not the educational greats; in fact, anything mainstream that would not cause my brain to strain. The foremost question in my mind was, “What do I get to read for fun?” Imagine that. Reading for fun! I asked a number of my peers what books they had read recently and enjoyed and the resounding response was the Twilight series. Were they serious? The vampire books in the young adult section at Borders? They were kidding me, right? Unequivocally, no. Men and women, aged 20 to 50, of varied educational and professional experience, recommended the series about vampires. I was flabbergasted! They not only recommended the series, they gushed over the series. Many of my peers had read the entire series more than once. Some of my peers were not even what you would label readers, but they had been sucked into (pun intended) the Twilight series. Surely I would only be interested if I followed science fiction, supernatural, and vampire stories?

5

Apparently not. They kept saying it wasn’t a vampire story. It was a love story that just happened to have a cast of vampire characters. Color me confused and doubtful. It started to get very close to the date I was due to leave and multiple trips to Borders had left me empty-handed. Granted, there were a few titles I could have picked up, but nothing was grabbing me. On my last day of work, a coworker named Steven convinced me to just borrow the Twilight series. Just take it with me. See if I pick it up. He just happened to have the books at his desk because another one of our coworkers had just returned them. Steven said to just try to read the first title in the series and if I didn’t like it, no worries. Picture me throwing my hands up in the air in defeat. I put said vampire books in my suitcase with no real intention of taking them out. I was a book snob. The plan was to go shopping as soon as I arrived at home and find better books to read. Imagine my surprise when I did not find anything. Anything! It would be okay. I would survive. Goodness knows I had heaps of magazines that had stockpiled since the fall semester had begun. I had no idea how quickly I would get through a few months worth of Marie Claire, Glamour, InStyle, Lucky, Allure, and the Beauty Bible, (moment of silence, please) Cosmopolitan. I tore through them and was again left with nothing of importance to read. Uh-oh. I did have a series of books in my suitcase. It would be okay. I would just read enough of the first book to get me through the evening and first thing in the morning I WOULD find a book at Borders. Except I never made it to Borders. I was up four nights straight, entranced in a love story that just happened to have a cast of vampire characters. I tore through the pages of the Twilight series, all 2,445 of them. Classic literature purists will scoff, even be outraged, but the Twilight series is a love story for the ages. Truth be told, I had indeed scoffed when I listened to

6

my peers gush over this vampire story. My heart was completely swept away by the story of eternal love and devotion. When I finished the series it was with a hole in my heart. Certainly this love story wasn’t finished? If it was an eternal love, there had to be more to the story, right? But it was complete and I would go on to gush and recommend the Twilight series to any of my skeptical peers who needed a good mindless read. Much like my viewing of the television series Gossip Girl, I knew the Twilight series was not written with me in mind. The series was a young adult literature series, written expressly for young adults. But much like my viewing of the television series Gossip Girl, I was not the lone adult reader of the Twilight series. Not even close to the lone adult reader. Displays for the Twilight series in Borders and Barnes & Noble would eventually be located in a general area of the store, sometimes even in the adult fiction section, not hidden in plain sight in the young adult section. I experienced a different reflex with the Twilight series than I did with the Gossip Girl series. I was by no means scandalized, not even a little, by the content within the books. However, I had heard through the grapevine the books were facing challenges across America. Why? What was wrong with the series? None of my reading set off tiny alarms. In fact, it was the exact opposite. I would be very comfortable with young adults, even those as young as eleven, reading the Twilight series.

7

CHAPTER 1 Young Adult Literature Challenges Fear of corrupting the mind of the younger generation is the loftiest form of cowardice - Holbrook Jackson (1874-1948) A Wrinkle in Time, Bridge to Terabithia, Forever, and The Outsiders are just a few examples of young adult literature that has been banned in distinct sectors of United States society over the past fifty years. The aforementioned books were published as early as L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in 1962, Hinton’s The Outsiders in 1967, one of Blume’s many challenged books, Forever, in 1975, to Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia in 1977. A contemporary reader might assume that contemporary society has progressed beyond the banning of literature. However, as recently as the early 2000s, the Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling, had been banned in libraries and schools across America (American Library Association (ALA), 2009; Bertin, 2009; Curry, 2001; Foerstel, 2002; Krug, 2009). The Harry Potter series was one of the most recent young adult literature series to attract young readers (Heilman, 2003). Heilman (2003) states that Harry Potter has found and maintained a presence in much of society. The popularity of the series produced a new generation of readers, many of whom had been reluctant to read before losing themselves in the world of Harry and his friends (Young Adult Library Services Association, 2008). A Wrinkle in Time, Bridge to Terabithia, Forever, Gossip Girl, The Outsiders, and Twilight; this might be an updated list of banned books in contemporary United States society. The books that comprise the Gossip Girl series, written by Cecily von Ziegesar, and the books that comprise the Twilight series, written by Stephenie Meyer,

8

are currently two young adult literature series that have faced challenges in particular sectors of contemporary society (ALA, 2009; Martindale, 2008). A number of outspoken parents, community members, and school officials argue that these two series contain inappropriate material for young adult readers (Martindale, 2008; Pauley, 2008; Shrieves, 2005; Wolf, 2006). These claims led to the inclusion of Gossip Girl author, Cecily von Ziegesar, on the “Most Frequently Challenged Authors” list in both 2006 and 2008, as reported by the American Library Association (2009). Although the Twilight series is relatively recent, having been introduced to young adult readers in 2005, it has received its fair share of controversy (Martindale, 2008). A great many new readers accepted invitations into the world of reading based solely upon their connection with the Gossip Girl and Twilight series. Those who support contemporary young adult literature are concerned that these readers might abandon their newfound interest in reading because particular members of distinct sectors of contemporary society have deemed the books unfit for young adult readers (Crawford, 2008; Flanagan, 2008; George, 2007; Maughan, 2007). Leanne Katz (1997), former executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), contends parents have the right to restrict reading materials for their own children, but those same parents do not have the right to restrict reading materials for the children of others. The National Coalition Against Censorship is dedicated to educating and mobilizing United States society about censorship (NCAC, 2009). In the case of literary censorship, books are typically challenged with the best of intentions by parents and authority figures (ALA, 2009). Many parents and authority figures defend their concerns by claiming to protect others, frequently children, from what they believe

9

are difficult ideas and information (ALA, 2009). These parents “believe they know what is best for all students to read and what information children should not receive in the name of protection [author’s emphasis]” (Kelsey, 2007, p. 27). The simple, yet complex reality, is that children mature at different rates, have different backgrounds, interests, and reading abilities (ALA, 1999). In the past four decades, courts have supported a young adult’s constitutional right to view information and literature of their choosing (Kelsey, 2007). Most frequently, the young adult demographic refers to young men and women aged 12 to 18 (Cart, 2008). Courts have accorded students their First Amendment rights in a number of literary censorship cases (ALA, 2009; Board of Education v. Pico, 1982; Ennis, 1996; GSLIS, 2009). For example, in 1972, a case came before the Michigan Court of Appeals, regarding the removal of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut from local schools (Todd v. Rochester Community Schools, 200 N.W.2d 90, 1972). The plaintiff contended the book discussed religious matters (Todd v. Rochester Community Schools, 1972). The court ruled against the plaintiff, allowing the book to remain in local schools (Todd v. Rochester Community Schools, 1972). The defining First Amendment rights case regarding literary censorship took place in Long Island, New York, in 1982 (American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 2009; Board of Education v. Pico, 1982). The Island Trees School Board pulled 11 books they deemed inappropriate from library shelves (ACLU, 2009; Board of Education v. Pico, 1982). Steven Pico, a seventeen-year-old student, and four other students challenged this decision in a case that would eventually be heard in the United States Supreme Court (ACLU, 2009; Board of Education v. Pico, 1982). The Supreme Court found in favor of high school student Pico and his fellow

10

plaintiffs to be allowed access to literature in their school library (ACLU, 2009; Board of Education v. Pico, 1982). In Counts v. Cedarville School District (2003), the United States District Court granted permission for students to access the Harry Potter series in their school library without the requirement of parental permission. The Gossip Girl and Twilight series both contain material similar to other literary works that have been objected to in past cases. Concerns about content referencing drugs, occult/Satanism, offensive language, sex, and violence have been stated in previous censorship cases (ACLU, 2009; Board of Education v. Pico, 1982; Counts v. Cedarville School District, 2003). This parallel puts these two series in danger of being censored in the future (Martindale, 2008; Pauley, 2008; Shrieves, 2005; Wolf, 2006). Statement of Purpose The purpose of this study was to investigate the frequency and type of controversial content present in the Gossip Girl and Twilight series. The first step in the research process was to investigate the frequency and type of controversial content present in both series, utilizing the American Library Association’s established categories for challenging literature. Once established that controversial content was indeed present in both series, it was essential to then investigate the frequency and type of controversial content contextually. This was necessary to establish the content within the frame of each series and better understand the controversy. The purpose of this study was to also situate qualities in the literature potentially remediating the controversy. Exploring core universal themes present in the literature, I sought to reveal what about contemporary young adult literature makes it special, not necessarily just what makes it scandalous.

11

The purpose of this study was to develop a theory about the remediating qualities of contemporary young adult literature that would encourage concerned parents, community members, and school officials to explore these and other controversial titles with deeper contextual understanding. Young Adult Literature The definitive authority for information regarding young adult literature is the Young Adult Library Services Association. The Young Adult Library Services Association is a division of the American Library Association launched in 1957 focusing its efforts on the evaluation, selection, and interpretation of young adult literature (Starr, 2010). At its inception in June 1957, the division was titled the Young Adult Services Division (YASD) (Starr, 2010). In 1961, members of the Young Adult Services Division determined their primary goal was to improve and extend services to young people in libraries across the nation (Starr, 2010). To further this goal the division developed annual book selection lists, multiple genre booklists, formed committees that reflected the needs of young adults and those who supported young adults, and published documents expressing support of young adults (Fine, 1992). In 1992, the Young Adult Services Division changed its name to the Young Adult Library Services Association (Gottschalk, 2000). To modernize the division, it also modified its image, identity, logo, and vision statement (Gottschalk, 2000). Adopted in June of 1994, the association’s Vision Statement is: In every library in the nation, quality library service to young adults is provided by a staff that understands and respects the unique informational, educational, and recreational needs of teenagers. Equal access to

Full document contains 252 pages
Abstract: A reader might assume contemporary society has progressed beyond literary censorship. However, as recently as 2008, the Gossip Girl and Twilight young adult literature series both faced challenges in distinct sectors of United States society (American Library Association (ALA), 2009: Martindale, 2008). A number of concerned parents, community members, and school officials argue these series contain inappropriate material for young adult readers (Shrieves, 2005; Wolf, 2006). New readers have accepted invitations into the world of reading due to their connection with these series. Supporters of contemporary young adult literature are concerned readers might abandon their interest in literature because select members of society have deemed specific books unfit for young adult readers (Flanagan, 2008; George, 2007). My research utilized grounded theory and coding to explore controversial content and core universal themes present in the Gossip Girl and Twilight series in an effort to define any remediating qualities in the literature. I pre-coded for frequency and type of controversial content using previously established categories for challenging literature. This resulted in a wide range of frequency and type of controversial content that needed to be investigated further. I coded deeper using contextual categories I created. Fansites and literature served as my frame of reference to explore the series for evidence of core universal themes. There was substantial evidence of multiple core universal themes throughout both series. Themes of love, choice, fitting in, and protector, were addressed with care, consideration, and humor. Through my research a theory emerged. Literary censorship rarely represents the contextual entirety of the literature in question. This study will hopefully encourage those who question the appropriateness of literature to explore these and other controversial books with deeper contextual understanding. As supporters claim, young adult literature is able to offer young adults a safe place to explore and "develop wisdom about unsettling and possibly dangerous activities" they might face in the real world (Curry, 2001, p. 32). Young adult literature can provide an opportunity for readers to escape their reality, imagine lives different from their own, and gain multiple perspectives on how to handle what life might throw at them.