Your Snobby is Showing: Twilight, Trashy Pop Music, and Mindless TV

“I don’t want my son reading trash and wasting his time.”

My mom spewed those words at me several times in my teen years. She said that in reference to most of the YA I read, some of the nonfiction I dabbled in, and mostly anything that wasn’t strictly “literature” or science/math related. Deep beneath her blunt delivery lay good intentions: how could I be successful in school and in life if I spent my time reading about teenagers falling in love and doing drugs (or, er, each other)? As an incoming college freshman, how will I survive without a vast repertoire of literary references and knowledge about the subjects that matter?

The YA section of my bookshelf. Beautiful, I know.

The YA section of my bookshelf. Clearly, my mother couldn’t stop me from reading the genre.

If I could time travel to a few years ago, I would tell my mother that every form of media has value. Not only can you discern what not to do by reading bad books or watching insipid television, but you can pick up any work’s hidden qualities too. If person A were to read To Kill a Mockingbird – regarded as a classic by many – and one of my favorite books ever fanboy screech only pick up that the story is about some girl growing up in a hick town in the south, while person B reads Twilight – regarded as a joke by many – and uses it to cultivate knowledge about the cultural implications of vampires, you can see that it’s the person that matters, not just the media. Pop music, while with its faults, can empower and inspire and motivate. Even the most mindless TV provides endless discussion; while I hate to rag on Glee, some of its story lines and characterizations need serious work. But, through the show, one of my close friends and I have discussed rape culture, the importance of consistency in fictional characters, bisexuality, etc.

You shouldn’t judge people based solely on the media or entertainment they associate with either. I have a friend going to MIT who still loves the Twilight series. My close friends, while different, have qualities ranging from reliability to empathy to intelligence and more – and they watch Teen Wolf or play video games like Animal Crossing and Uncharted. Even though I read a ton of YA and occasionally play RPG video games, I like to think I’ve accomplished a decent amount by gaining acceptance to some great colleges and scoring pretty well on Harvard University’s social intelligence test.

Keep in mind that it’s always easier to criticize than to create. While it’s perfectly acceptable to acknowledge that something – a book, a video game, a TV show, a movie, etc. – may not be the best of its genre or art form, it’s a waste of time to look down on others who enjoy it. Instead, use your opinions and ideas to improve yourself.

The books I'm giving to my little cousin for her birthday! Am I a great influence or what?

The books I’m giving to my little cousin for her birthday! Am I a great influence or what?

Anyone agree or disagree on the value of media and how we should evaluate ourselves and one another because of it? Have you ever felt judged because of something you’ve read/watched/played? I apologize for the lack of posts lately. Camp NaNo, life, and most recently, illness, have taken over my writing time. Here are my brief thoughts on the third Harry Potter book and I hope to hear from you all soon!

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38 Comments

Filed under Books, Movies, Personal, Pop, Society, Television

38 responses to “Your Snobby is Showing: Twilight, Trashy Pop Music, and Mindless TV

  1. una231

    I agree with you completely. We read/watch things for different reasons – some people like to be intellectually stimulated, some just want to be entertained, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For example, I usually read what you call ‘strictly “literature”‘ (because I study literature and I like novels that can be interpreted on a number of levels), but I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been laughed at for watching mindless anime.

    • Yep! Even entertainment that isn’t so intellectual can inspire and provide benefits too – it’s great that you keep your interests open to literature anime. I’m an aspiring English major too so we have that in common. (: Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. I have to admit that I have been guilty of judging people for what they read/watch, which is rather hypocritical considering I watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This post is definitely a great reminder not to do that. I especially love the idea that it’s the person, not the material, that matters. I’d never thought of that before, but you are absolutely right!

    I actually read a book a while ago titled “Everything Bad is Good For You,” and it looks at how pop culture is actually helping make us smarter and better problem solvers. It was a good book.

    Also, I read your review (I ❤ Lupin), and then I checked out the Sorting Hat thing. Apparently I'm Ravenclaw/Slytherin. Not all that surprising, really.

    • Woo for thinking new things through blogs! I’ve heard interesting things about My Little Pony – apparently there are cultural allusions and other aspects of the show that make it appealing to older age groups? Anyway, I’ve added Everything Bad is Good For You to my to-read list and it’s cool yet slightly intimidating that you’re Ravenclaw/Slytherin. Thanks for reading and commenting as always. (:

      • It actually is a really great show. I thought it was ridiculous at first, but then some of my friends (who are several years older than me) recommended it, and I’ve been hooked ever since. There are great allusions and jokes that I’m sure younger audiences wouldn’t pick up on. Plus the main character is super smart and loves making lists, so I have to love her. 🙂

  3. Great article! I’ve read Shakespeare, Durant, Aristophanes, Sappho, Plato, and Chaucer for the fun of it…and I love Twilight.

  4. Glad you took so much away from our discussion! Look at me, being a positive role model 😉

  5. So many things to gush over about this post 🙂 Once you start limiting what art forms/types of expression people are ‘allowed’ to engage in, it’s not a far cry from the similar (faulty) argument that says the Arts are more trivial than things like Science or Math – but obviously, our society needs both! People are varied, so too should be their forms of cultural indulgence, and they all have more to offer than some might think.

    This reminds me of a discussion on fanfiction that’s been circulating the interwebs since what is probably the Dawn of Time Itself. For ages it’s been regarded as mindless artist appropriation, a haven for porn, etc, etc, blahblahblah. But in fact, as people are starting to realize (yay!), transformative works are a vital part of our literary scope. They allow us to push the boundaries as publishing increasingly turns toward Market Appeal, allow us to explore ourselves and characters, allow for increased author circulation, feedback, community, and so, so much more. Plus, it’s been around for centuries, and is actually the whole reason literature exists (citing my sources, here: http://onlyalittlelion.tumblr.com/post/29097051054/tywinning-asked-you-2012-08-09-03-37-as-a)

    Oops, didn’t mean to usurp your magnificent post for a lengthy treatise on fic. Just, in general, I find it really interesting that people are constantly attempting to limit expression – but there are others, so many more, who are constantly pushing back. And that’s brilliant.

    P.S. The one teeny disagreement – actually, it’s not disagreement, more an addendum with which I feel you might agree? We do have to be careful, however, in giving /everything/ the same weight or significance. Using your Twilight example, I acknowledge that it’s gotten so many more kids into reading and that is absolutely fantastic! However, it sends some really nasty messages on abusive relationships (I won’t go into the character crafting, ha, since that’s more a personal issue ;)) that I do fear people might internalize as a result. So while actively limiting what people read or write should not be an option, it’s important that the ability to think critically about our lit still exists, and that we are able to objectively point out the problems presented in some and laud the good moves made in others. Because, as you very well know, reading can be that microcosm, that lens through which we learn to view the world, others, and ourselves. Learning to question everything, including ourselves and the very books we read, is how we sharpen that lens, rather than falling into a sort of blind acceptance.

    • Are we the same person because I agree with pretty much everything you ever post on this blog? (: I think I may have read a link or two you posted on Facebook (or Tumblr? I don’t know, I hope it’s not weird I see you on the internet at so many places) about fanfiction but that article was really fascinating. I remember you had Hukari and if so you definitely read that “One Story” idea from How to Read Lit Like a Professor – how essentially everything is derivative but not derivative at the same time. I think fanfiction could serve as great evidence to that argument; I used to write it a ton when I was in middle school. And like the author of that article said there is a lot of not-so-great fanfiction out there (and like him, I don’t say that to be snobby…) but there are beautiful and well-written works too, like probably what you write, Elaine.

      Also, yes, yes, and yes – I hope I didn’t send the message of “blindly accept every media form” because as well all know every work has some inherent bias and many implications that we may or may not pick up on, such as the abusive relationship idea you alluded to. We should evaluate what we read/watch/play on an emotional and an analytical level to maximize what we get out of it.

  6. I think books are what you make of them. You can read “literature” and completely miss the point. (I did this sometimes when I was little. I understood the words, but was too young to understand the characters, themes, etc.) You can read “trash” and get a lot out of it. I have friends who started with Twilight and moved on to things like Dracula and writing their own stories (they started with fanfiction).

    I’d be more worried about the people who don’t read at all than the people who read so-called trash. We read to be amused, to find characters we can relate to, etc. So why does it matter if someone is reading Percy Jackson instead of The Odyssey?

    I’ve never read the Mortal Instruments series (I should, though) but Kira-Kira is amazing. You’re a very good influence. 🙂

    *scurries off to read your review of the third HP book*

    • You’re so right. The first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird in Elementary School I really did not comprehend anything beyond basic plot – but, after rereading it in high school, I was blown away by all of the themes and how pertinent it was (is) to society. I also agree that reading anything and relating to it/thinking about it/enjoying it is better than not reading at all. After reading the first HP book I see several elements of the “Hero’s Quest” within Rowling’s work which makes me appreciate it all the more. Anyway, I’m glad you find Kira-Kira amazing, and I hope you enjoy the Mortal Instruments series if you pick it up! Thanks for reading and commenting. (:

  7. I don’t know that I’ve necessarily judged someone because of what they watch or read. But I have been surprised. 😉

  8. You know, if you ever need to clear your bookshelf, I’d be happy to help out! And I’s sorry to hear that someone close to you is dealing with an illness (or you). I love your post and I totally agree with it albeit it’s human nature to judge people. Hopefully you get back to posting! Your posts always make me think!

    • Ha ha I used to have many more books until my mom forced me to donate some of them. -_- I’m just deliriously sick but it’s not that serious – thanks for the support. Also, yes, it is in human nature to judge and I don’t castigate people for doing that… but I think we should keep in mind that humans are multifaceted and the media they engage in is only one part of who they are. It’s a true compliment to know that my posts make you think, thanks for reading and commenting!

  9. This is just what I needed Thomas. Lately, my parents have also been judgmental about my ya books.We can not be stopped!

  10. My mother did not approve of my reading tastes. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, which she did not consider literary. Now I read a little bit of everything, but still mostly science fiction and fantasy, which, in my opinion, can be highly literary. I’ve read science fiction is now being assigned to high school students and all I can say is: about time.

    Rather than go in to why, I’ll comment on YA fiction. 🙂 I don’t read a lot of it, but I’ve read enough over the past few years to have an opinion. I like it. YA authors are brave. They’re writing the sort of books adults should read more of. The plots are less constrained and points of view are less jaded. This might seen a weird comment when you consider how many YA novels have dystopian settings, but the point of view can alter a setting, right? Cast a different light on events, so to speak.

    Generally, I allow my daughter to read whatever she wants. She is 12 and usually chooses her books from the YA section of the library (I vet them for mature content first). She also reads a LOT of manga, which I don’t mind, but recently I have encouraged her to read more traditional books, because while the manga is easy to read, I think it fosters the snippet/instant gratification mentality. I noticed she was scoring lower on the comprehension portions of the standardised tests and wondered if reading fewer ‘longer’ narratives had something to do with it. We’ll see.

    • I’m sorry your mother did not approve of your reading tastes, but judging from your blog and what you’ve written here you’ve done more than well with the reading material of your choice! I agree that YA authors are brave and branch out into less traditional territories than some other authors in different genres. And, yes, the variegated points of views prove to be helpful in granting teens and adults who read YA a deeper perspective into a myriad of characters/situations/emotions/themes/etc.

      I think you have a smart strategy for your daughter and it’s great that you vet what she reads while allowing her choice. From my experience reading longer narratives can help with SAT scores – I read a decent amount of manga before high school but pretty much only picked up novels after that (even if they were YA). I scored pretty well without any assistance other than just reading, but I raised my score by taking practice tests. However, because your daughter is 12 – way younger than kids who take the SAT – perhaps widening her horizons in terms of reading taste is the best way to go.

      Thank you for your detailed comment!

  11. Livvy @Nerdy Book Reviews

    This is a very thoughtful post, and on probably one occasion or more I have judged others on the media they watch and have been judged because that is society. However, I do think we pick up something from everything we read and they do make an impression. After all, they wouldn’t be around if they didn’t have any kind of influence or reasoning in life. Lovely post!

    • I think – and probably should have stated this more clearly in the post itself – that it’s okay and natural to judge, as long as you know on what premise you’re judging and how short-sighted or narrow that judgment is. Anyway, I agree with you, different forms of media all leave some sort of impression. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  12. Awesome post, Thomas! And yay, you’re giving your cousin Kira-Kira, such an amazing book! Just recently, I was reading the book “Easy”, and the book cover is a couple who are almost at the point of kissing, and the thing was, I was a little embarrassed to let anybody else see the cover. I guess I was afraid to be judged as a typical teenage girl that only reads sappy romances, you know? Although I try not to have any shame of what I read, because I think every genre has something good in them, something you can learn from!

    -Grace 🙂

    P.S. I did Harvard’s social intelligence test and scored a little above the average yay! Then I went on to do a few more! They’re quite fun, I must admit ^^

    • Thanks Grace, and I’m glad to find another Kira-Kira fan! Ah, yes, I read Easy just a week or two ago – just know that the people who would assume you are a “typical teenage girl that only reads sappy romances” aren’t worth your time. And even if you did only read sappy romances, your intelligence, modesty, multifaceted talents, and much more make you better than anyone who would berate you.

      I agree that there is some value to every genre and that the tests are quite addicting! Congrats on scoring above average for the social intelligence one, and thank you for reading and commenting. (:

  13. Jenny

    Ugh my dad says that to me all the time (about reading YA). Like actually, just because Ari and Dante was published less than a century ago doesn’t mean it’s trashy and pointless! x-( **sigh**
    I took the social intelligence test and scored below average. -_- Some of the eyes scared me so much though. I hate looking at people’s eyes.
    Also, I was looking at your bookshelf and saw Forbidden on it. I read it last night, and just… :-0.
    The ending was so sad, but it was also just so unflinching/raw/honest, and just… wow.
    I think I’m still in shock.

    • I cannot convey my love of Ari and Dante succinctly – it is a work of art and could be analyzed at many levels on plot, characterization, writing, etc. Yes, some of the eyes are intimidating to look at, and oh snap, Forbidden… such a strong book, it’s one of my favorites! Glad you had a visceral reaction to the ending as well, it tore my heart to pieces too.

  14. I agree with this entire post. I can’t count how many times a person I know talked down to the books I read because they aren’t “actual literature.” But really, no matter how pointless/bad you think something is, it might also be a brilliant thing to someone else, and there is always something to intelligently discuss about it.

    (Besides, those people who say YA is trash simply haven’t read a good amount of YA. Some of those books that aren’t “actual literature” can contain some powerful things.)

    Oh, and I got a 30/36 on the social intelligence test 😀 That’s a little above average…

    • Agreed! People just need to be educated and exposed to more variety within the genre. (: Also, congratulations, we’re pretty close with our scores! Thanks for reading and commenting as always Lottie.

  15. Your mother sounds like mine (“don’t read so much fantasy! you won’t be able to deal with reality!”); also, your YA bookshelf looks like my “have read”/”want to read” lists. I think a smart, inquisitive person can get deep discussion/meaning out of even the trashiest of media. Of course, that doesn’t mean one will enjoy it….or want to consume it, but one must be very, very careful judging others’ choices in media. Even Twilight….although my inner book snob still kicks a little at that one…

    • Glad that we have somewhat our somewhat harsh mothers in common, as well as our taste in YA books. I agree that individuals who possess that knack for inquiry and that desire to search for depth can acquire value out of many forms of media. Thank you for reading and commenting, and I’m sure you know you’re not alone in regard to your views on Twilight!

  16. Pingback: The Sunday Post(13) | book adoration

  17. I couldn’t agree more!

  18. I’m always getting teased by my dad for reading children & YA books. Partly I do it to keep up with the books professionally and partly because I really enjoy those kinds of books. I think it is perfectly acceptable to read fluffy YA books or even watch shows like “The Vampire Diaries” (one of my guilty pleasures), and play rpg video games and still enjoy books like “The Aeneid” and “Gilgamesh”.

    • It’s wonderful that you’ve found a way to incorporate children & YA books into your professional life, while maintaining your enjoyment of them none the less! I’ve heard positive things about The Vampire Diaries, perhaps I’ll check it out… but yes, being well-rounded is not an impossible feat, not by a long shot. Thanks for reading and commenting as always. (:

  19. you’re totally right. nothing wrong with reading for entertainment; the great thing about YA is that it opens the door to so many other books. While there are exceptions, a lot of YA is written simply and with not as much hard-to-grapple-with themes like say, Anna Karenina. For people growing up and just beginning to find their own way into the world, it’s helpful to have some easy-to-read signposts. I myself was a voracious reader of YA in late middle school, though I’ve stopped in high school. It’s time-consuming to separate the good stuff from the bad, so I just rely on the tried-and-true books first.

    I get judged a lot for kpop.. because I totally look like the I-enjoy-Bach-and-sipping-tea-while-reading-Anna-Karenina-and-The-Economist type. But people aren’t mean about it.. just mystified.. I have a personal theory why I like it so much.. it’s mindless BGM for concentration, which is true.. I’m always blasting music and doing psets.

    Michelle

    • you have a point Michelle, YA can serve as a gateway to books for older audiences! though I read in a study somewhere that adults purchase YA books more than actual young adults do… (like 55% to 45% I think, if I find it I’ll probably share it on some social media website). though one can discern from the amount of adults on websites like Goodreads who read YA that is a popular genre irrespective of age group.

      you don’t have to justify your reason for listening to K-Pop, but I admire your self-awareness! you’ve contributed a lot to the K-Pop world/discussion through your blog, which I am sure many, including me, are grateful for.

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