A look into the minds of teens - who are actually adults thinking like kids, but stay with me - is really, fascinatingly scary:
In a juicy profile, New Yorker's Rebecca Mead goes inside the behemoth teen taste-maker Alloy, a sort of sinister junior Clear Channel that's responsible for much of the YA bestseller list, including the multimedia Gossip Girl and Traveling Pants juggernauts and, more lately, The Vampire Diaries. And do we ever see the pink, undead, bratty sausage being made! Here's how Mead describes the efficient hit-factory:
[Alloy] pack-ges about thirty novels a year for publishers, and also generates television shows and a growing number of ideas for featureﬁlms. In order to do all this, Alloy has developed a process with an industrial level of eﬃciency. Ideas are typically suggested in weekly development meetings and, if they gain the approval of Morgenstein and Bank, are ﬂeshed out into a short summary by an editor. A writer is asked to create a sample chapter on spec; if Alloy executives are happy with the sample, they put her (or, on occasion, him) on contract. The writer hashes out a plot with Bank, one or two other editors, and Sara Shandler, Alloy's editorial director-an alumnus of Seventeen, who, at the age of nineteen, put together the anthology "Ophelia Speaks".
It's always kind of creepy to see unabashed marketing at work, and especially when it's aimed at an impressionable age-group, however lucrative. Of course, cash-in teen-lit has a long pseudonomynous history, from Nancy Drew to Sweet Valley. And the Alloy execs would just say they're giving kids what they want. One Alloy exec defends it thusly: "Editors and publishers can get hung up on what's good for kids...At Alloy, they always think ﬁrst about what kids want to read." Which, of course, isn't always - or indeed, ever - an improving tract. And the idea that the body of literature informs and shapes said nascent tastes, paving the way for a lifetime of dutiful buying - well, that's conveniently ignored. Yes, kids want candy and Easy-Mac: because they've seen ads designed to attract them. Not because it's what's best for their development, or some genetic imperative of childhood.
Sure, some of the series sound really interesting (I really want to read the second "Wish" book that they map out in the piece), and the Alloy execs say we're moving away, culturally, from the excess of "brat lit" into Twilit territory because "more serious, angsty literature is where girls are right now. Morbid, dead-girl lit." And some of the book are even of historical interest! Mead mentions a new novel about
"a boy who acquires superhuman powers after being tortured during the Civil War." Then there's the new gilded-age Gossip-Girl-esque series, the cover image of which Mead describes:
The result is a look that no woman in the Gilded Age would have been immodest enough to wear beyond the boudoir or the brothel, though the Alloy team felt that the sartorial anachronism was entirely forgivable (much like the heroine's request for "ciggies"-slang that would take another sixty years to emerge). "Girls today would not relate to the more severe necklines and covered arms and horrible hair styles that girls were wearing at the time," Sara Shandler says. "We tried to do the imaginary-princess version." Or, as one of the publishers competing for the book described the gown, "the ultimate fuck-me prom dress."
And there, of course, is the rub. There's a continuing belief that kids can't relate to anything unlike themselves. Richer versions of themselves, 19th Century versions of themselves, maybe magic versions of themselves - but the feeling seems to be that kids are such incredible narcissists that any truly expanded horizons are more than they can handle. And the problem, of course, is that it's self-fulfilling. The other day I passed a poster at the bus stop bearing a still from the new Where The Wild Things Are movie. "Read," it ordered - seemingly without irony. Alloy would totally agree.
The Gossip Mill [New Yorker]