In the introduction to her book Raising Your Kids Right: Children’s Literature and American Political Conservatism, Michelle Abate briefly discusses conservative themes present in Young Adult fiction (9), but does not extensively discuss the genre. This exclusion led me to examine a topical Young Adult novel, Susan Collins’ The Hunger Games (and by extension, the recent film adaptation), and its relationship to conservatism. At first thought I was sure that there was little connection, but further investigation has changed my mind.
dystopian The first conservative connection agrees with Abate’s assertion of children’s literature affirming libertarianism. The novel is set in a future where North America is governed by a ruthless totalitarian regime that constantly oppresses its citizens sense of self and has direct control over all production and manufacturing. Throughout the book and series the main protagonist, Katniss, constantly rebels against the government, making her a compelling hero for a political group “concerned that the United States is rapidly drifting toward socialism and that the size and strength of government is infringing on individual freedoms.” (11) This theme of rebelling against big government is often seen in many YA dystopian novels.
Christianity has also been closely connected to the American conservative movement, especially since the rise of evangelical Christians in the 70s and 80s. Since the release of the novel’s film adaptation, several reviewers have cited elements of the film and novel that seem to connect to Christian themes. Reviewers at The Washington Times and The Christian Post point out the main protagonist’s self sacrifice asserts Christian ideals and connects her to Jesus. Another review connects another character, Peeta, to Jesus, drawing from “the Bread of Life” that he offers to Katniss, and the fact that he was left for dead, spent several days in a cave, and emerged “resurrected.” Although some of these connections may be a stretch, the fact that Christian groups across the nation are appropriating the novel and the film into sermons and bible study are evidence that some similar themes are present.
Perhaps it’s the fact that many of these stories can be interpreted in different ways that allows scholars to align them with specific ideals (although Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed probably can’t be argued many different ways). Conservative propaganda or not, Michelle Abate has definitely been successful in making me take closer looks at the literature children, and adults, are exposed to.
In Hoop Dreams, Arthur Agee and William Gates struggle with the dream to get out of the ghetto and make it to the NBA, but there is no one really in their lives to help them reach their dreams. It is all left up to their own agency in a lot of ways. However, in the documentary you can see that both Arthur and William have a hard time with larger outside forces that are outside of their control.
A few instances of agency for Arthur and William in the documentary are when the boys choose to attend St Joseph’s on partial scholarship. They make the 90-minute trip to and from school every morning so they can have a shot to make it out of the ghetto and in to the NBA like Isaiah Thomas did coming from the same school. However, William thrives more at the school than Arthur does by making Varsity is freshman year and finding a private donor that commits to paying the rest of his tuition at St Josephs. Both Arthur and William come in to St Joseph’s with very low education levels, but William works harder to keep up his grades and learn than Arthur does. Another case where William takes his future in his own hands and shows agency is when he decides, against the coach’s advise, to be a father to the baby he and his girlfriend have.
The two boys are also at the mercy of larger forces against their control. Arthur’s family is not able to pay the balance of the tuition at St. Joseph’s so he is forced to leave the school and go back to his neighborhood high school. The high school he attends does not have a strong basketball program, so when recruiting time comes around, the larger schools are not showing any interest in him. This is hard on Arthur because he wants so badly to make it, but he just does not have the chance to do so. William also struggles against larger forces when he injures his knee. The doctors tell him that he may have to sit out the year, and the look on his face shows the pain not only in his knee but also in knowing what that would do to his chances at the NBA.
I think that James depicts agency in this way because it shows that even though that no matter how much a person wants to have control over his own future and not matter how much he work to reach their goals, sometimes he just cannot triumph over the larger forces at work against him.
In class, we discussed the moral panic surrounding rap groups such as NWA in the 80′s and early 90′s. Older black and white people, and many middle class moms were disgusted by what they assumed was violent, vitriolic, gang-related, and purposeless music. They assumed the message was “kill the pigs”, and that it had no purpose beyond inciting violence in young black youth. Of course, as anyone who has listened to the classic, “Fuck the Police”, knows, these songs were political statements and testaments of the conditions these young man had been forced into. However, many people in the US looked at the music through a racially charged lens. Black men are scary. Black men yelling “Fuck the Police” are terrifying. It makes no difference whether or not their families are being torn apart by police violence; they are scary and dangerous, and they are the enemy. This belief, held by a large segment of the population, led to the message of the song being lost in the shuffle for a lot of people.
Unfortunately, here we are 20 years later, and these types of stereotypical beliefs are still causing problems. They aren’t leading to the banning of rap songs anymore, they are leading to the deaths of young black males. Some people in this country still fear the black male, regardless of where they are or what they’re doing. That fear led George Zimmerman to shoot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager walking back to his dad’s house. Zimmerman has not been arrested, and this has led to protests around the country, especially since the release of the 911 tapes show that Zimmerman may have had a racial bias when it came to his suspicion of Trayvon. Stereotypes and assumptions are bad enough when they lead to moral panics over rap music, but when they lead to the death of a teenager, they’re inexcusable.
Throughout the entirety of this documentary, William and Arthur were both used as agents of potential success for numerous parties. The most prominent of these parties being their own personal families and the coaches for whom they played basketball. The reasons for which I feel they hold agency are quite similar for each party, but provide a different end. For the boys’ families, success through basketball would mean financial success for every immediate family member. Essentially providing everyone in the family with the rags to riches story which most, who are not placed in this sort of harsh reality of coming to age, only see happening for themselves. Secondly, the coaches who coach these boys are under severe scrutiny, constantly, for whether or not they have what it takes, in terms of coaching skills, to take their potential, and turn them into lean, mean, basketball machines.
The only boys only had one choice to change their future: play basketball, and play it well. This was the only avenue to success for these boys who had come of age in distressed environments; drug infested, crime riddled, and hopeless. Arthur and William are totally and completely at the mercy of the coaches in both their separate college choices, as well as the coach they shared at St. Josephs. As painfully depicted in the film, Arthur was not only removed from the basketball team for not playing “well enough”, though he did play to his full potential at that time, but he was also removed from a higher learning opportunity, and placed back into a public school that looked at him as another Black boy in a system that doesn’t work for him anyways.
I think James chose to depict agency in this particular way because there is very little understanding of the role sports and recreational activities play in the lives of William, Arthur, and other boys like them. I think if it was one thing the director could have wanted us to learn from this movie is that what most people use to entertain themselves with (basketball here) is most certainly another thing in the lives of boys coming of age in distressed environments. Basketball is their livelihood; their way out, and even if they play to the best of their ability, their fate still lies in the hands of others. It is the sad, harsh, and unseen reality James really wanted to shed light on within this film.
WIlliam Gates and Arthur Agee, 03/05/2011, oddpedia.com
When I was younger I had Barbie everything. I had the Barbie dream House. I had Barbie and Ken; I had just about everything. Except I never had a black Barbie. I really didn’t the purpose in getting one. They looked exactly like the white Barbie except with a darker skin color. As years went on more and more Barbie stuff would come out. There would be new Barbies, new Barbie accessories. However, one day I was watching TV and I saw something that wasn’t Barbie. I saw Bratz. the Bratz dolls really intrigued me. Bratz dolls came out in 2001 when I was 9 year old. The Bratz dolls were made by MGA Entertainment. These dolls looked like they were for girls of different ethnic backgrounds. They originally started off with 4 girls; Sasha (black), Jade (Asian), Chloe (White), and Yasmin (Hispanic). There was one for every girl that may have wanted one. Bratz did not start off with just one white doll and later add on another; they began with different dolls. This gave little girls more of an option to pick which one they wanted. It also helped because these were dolls that were more like them. In our class discussion of Ethnically Correct Dolls, I felt like this connected to the discussion. It was mentioned in class how it was harder for the little black girls to connect to the white Barbies because they lacked black features. I found this to be true. I didn’t want a black Barbie because it looked just like the white ones. They had the same features, the same type of hair. Nothing was different. However, with Bratz I could relate more to those. The black Bratz doll had curly hair, big lips, and had the same color eyes as me. I feel like the Bratz creator was truly thinking about every little girl when they created these dolls. I have to say Bratz was my favorite doll to play with growing up.
Amazing, life-altering news was released todayby MTVnews, the one hit wonder boy band of the nineteen nineties 98 Degrees is reuniting! While reading this article, and overwhelming feeling battled the instant naseau. I flashed back to being a twelve year old girl, jumping and screaming at the top of my lungs as the Backstreet Boys flew over my head at their concert at the Frank Erwin Center. I remembered hanging NSYNC posters (Justin Timberlake) from ceiling to floor in my room. I was completely OBSESSED.
I see the same crazed expression on the tweens of today with the Justin Beiber phenomenon and the formation of the new boy band One Direction. The thing that is scary about this situation is that I had at least hit puberty when screaming and crying over Justin Timberlake’s dance moves and goofy hair. That is not the same today. The Disney Channel is pumping out pop sensations like a creepy tween dream factory. They start out by watching Mickey’s Playhouse and end up falling in love with Zach and Cody.
Because of this, the age of boy crazed girls is getting younger and younger. We are creating a generation of girls who would dream about marrying Justin Beiber when they should be playing hide and seek with friends.
In the last year a video was uploaded of a three year old crying her eyes out because she loves Justin Beiber. This is not healthy, we are over sexualizing our youth and erasing their imagination. Is this really what we want our young women to be like? I think not.
Throughout the 171 minutes of Hoop Dreams, there are various documented instances of agency within William and Arthur’s lives. The filmmaker, Steve James, decides –whether he intended to or not– to portray these instances in different lights according to who was the focus of the situation and who was wielding the power.
When the documentary focused on William, his success at St. Joseph’s are attributed to the positive choices he makes –the agency that he has; William works hard to increase his reading level; William doesn’t allow himself to be intimidated by others and as a result, gains self-confidence; William works hard to get his ACT scores high enough to qualify for a scholarship: William chooses Marquette over all the other colleges. These exercises of academic agency set William up to be a hard working young man who can do great things with his future for the better…when the opportunities arise –and they do not seem to come by as often as they should for him. In contrast to the agency that positively affects William in the classroom, the agency that puts him at the mercy of someone else outside of tends to provide hardships for the promising young man. Read more
This is the course website for Rebecca Onion's American Studies seminar at the University of Texas at Austin, convened during the spring semester of 2012. You can see the website for last semester's version of this course at this link.