What happened in the year 2000?

Any good literary analyst can tell you that books are snapshots of the time period they’re produced in, in spite of whenever or wherever the book takes place.

I knew that the writing style of historical romances circa the 1970s/1980s was different than the 1990s and then the 2000s.  The 70s/80s romance novels (historical or contemporary) were post second-wave feminism.  The tales from the 80s were skewed more toward dark, violent and tragic.  The 90s retained this grittiness but riding on the third wave of feminism were less abrasive in their violence toward women, and more about making women into complex characters.  The 90s met the take-charge heroine, and so came the fall of the damsel in distress heroine.  In the 2000s, there was a shift to fetish virginity and attach it to nobility of character and a dire need to make a martyr of the heroine with her always trying to save orphans, poor people and fallen women in the most conflated ways.

These are the trends I’ve noticed in the pop fiction, which really says a lot about the evolution of the perception of women by other women over the last two decades.  The current trend skews toward martyrdom and I believe that comes with the more pseudo-sentiment of community we’ve been espousing for the last few years.  The virgin excitement may come from a generation that is used to people not being virgins and finding that era’s norm a peculiarity.

I found these little things worth noting, because they really offer an insight into how women perceive themselves and how the values of a culture change over time.

Writer Age Stamp Part Deux

While reading Sarah Dessen’s This Lullaby, I felt like the teenagers were older than they were.  I liked the book, and Remy especially but she sounded more like someone in her twenties than late teens.  Even after the early college Psychology and Sociology classes given to us in high school, we were psychoanalyzing each other pretty often.  But high schoolers don’t often dwell on the way their behaviors are habits the way Remy does.

Teens are less hampered by trying to analyze long-standing behaviors or to treat something they did for two years as a long-standing behavior.  They’re still trying out new things and most don’t feel bogged down by the past in that way.  Remy’s reflectiveness felt a little beyond her years, particularly the way she is about sex, drinking and smoking.  She seems weary of it though only eighteen, and I haven’t really heard folks sound like that until they hit their quarter life crisis.  She reminds me more of people’s reactions to graduating college.  Graduating from high school, there are still so many open doors and opportunities waiting, but at the end of college, you’ve made your bed and have to lie in it.  Remy’s lack of seeing college as a new beginning was the primary reason I got that vibe.  It seemed like she had too much experience for the very narrow time frame she had been in her party girl phase.  Even if she was a serial dater for about a year, she still couldn’t have had enough boyfriends and relationships to really draw the conclusions she’s coming to.

There was too much “finality” with Remy’s descriptions to seem like she was still a teen.

How Writers Age Stamp Themselves

I loved the book Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.  It was an amazing story with deep and rich characters, and I fell in love with Etienne and Anna over and over again on each page. That said, the one and only thing that bothered me about the book was the use of technology.  Or lack thereof.

The characters have computers and email, but the technology felt very 1990s.  Anna was solely dependent on phone calls and occasional email to communicate with her friends and family back in America.  I’m part of the first generation to grow up with Facebook, Twitter and everyone in class having a cell phone, so I immediately was confused by the lack of communication.  In college, students abroad felt like they were still at school with us through pictures and status updates and instant messaging and Skype.  My best friend and I went to high school together, but 80% of our relationship was online based.  I spend hours chatting with friends on messenger services.  My cousins that live internationally send pictures and messages from their BlackBerry Messenger service so there are no fees.  While reading, the emails were entirely text based and there were no mentions of any of the technology that is pretty standard in this day and age.

Did this make a difference in the overall story?  Well, yes and no.  The characters and the story were still amazing, but it’s anachronistic.  How we send and receive information does have an impact on how things play out.

1) Pictures — Anna doesn’t take pictures with her new friends, no one is taking pictures.  These days, if you go to Paris (or even the corner market) someone is always snapping pictures of everything and somehow they end up online.  Senior year of high school, we took as many pictures and video-taped as much as we could with anyone we could.  If Anna went to Paris recently, she would be photographing and uploading like crazy, as would her friend Bridgette.  Also, this would have alerted Anna immediately to the fact that Toph and Bridgette were dating or something was going on.

2) Phone calls/email — I mentioned this earlier.  My friend joked that I did have a valid gripe with the whole phone call thing once in a blue moon notion, and that today your phone can probably make coffee (hey, there’s probably an app for that somewhere).  Also, even though cell phones get mentioned, they’re not as pervasive in the story as in real life.  I know people in third world countries with better technology than the novel explored.  Anna would have Skyped with her little brother if she missed him so much.  The occasional emails would have still occurred, but it being the majority of her communication with her best friend seemed odd.  Toph wouldn’t have called her, he would be posting on her wall and commenting on everything she posted.  There would have been a greater chance of them staying connected while she was away as well, and I know people who have made their entire relationship digital while the other had to be away and stayed together through the other person’s return.  That’s the power of communication today — you don’t have to be there to be there.

3) No Social Network — It didn’t need to be Facebook, but anyone in school in the last few years has an account there.  Even when I was in high school, we had Friendster and Xanga and LiveJournal that people used.  I can’t imagine a world where you’re not blogging or updating, and the amount of high school drama that caused.  Again, this would have changed Bridgette and Anna’s relationship because it wouldn’t have been as disconnected, and Anna would have a clearer idea what was going on back home.  She would be spending time looking at profile pictures to remember her friends and relationship status is kind of a dead giveaway.  Also, she would have friended her new friends at school and learned more about them that way rather than talking.  This is a huge thing that changed the social dynamic of the modern world and how people get acquainted and stay in contact.  People don’t ask if you’re seeing someone anymore, they check your profile status.  Also, all bands these days keep website or host a web page.  To not see Anna fussing over a guy’s website or profile was odd.

Not every current YA story needs to have mentions of technology, but in this particular instance it really dated the book and its author because a subplot was a breakdown in communication due to technological limitations.  Basic utilities of daily life were unavailable, and that’s something that makes writing YA difficult these days.  The speed of change in the way we communicate rapidly and rabidly changed in a span of less than ten years.  I think the college interns should get a peek at these manuscripts to make sure that loose ends like this don’t fray the story.