September 25, 2006

God Stereotyped me in His Own Image

Children's/YA author Gail Gauthier didn't much care for King Dork (which is fair enough, of course - some people just don't dig it, and you can't please everybody.)

Even so, in this post she quotes Tom Henderson's attempt to analyze the workings of the high school girl social structure and asks an interesting question:

I keep wondering how teenage girls feel when they see this ["mean girl"] stereotype in a book or movie. Do girls recognize themselves as the head harpy? As the social climber hoping to get the harpy's place? As the loser girl in the bunch? Do they see nothing wrong with this scenario? Do they just assume the author is talking about someone else? Or do they wonder who the heck these people are?


Boys take a beating in a lot of YA books, too, including King Dork. When, say, an adolescent athlete sees his kind described as tormenting and abusing weaker kids, what goes through his mind?

As I've probably said before somewhere or other (because I do a lot of interviews and often have to repeat myself when I run out of material) I believe the plight of the picked-on kid is such a crowd-pleasing topic for books and movies because everybody has felt something of that pain at some point in their lives. Even if you weren't always at the bottom of the heap, you still have an idea of what it feels like to be there. Or maybe it's just enjoyable to observe someone in worse shape than ourselves? Regardless, I'd guess it would be pretty hard to enjoy a book like King Dork unless you could identify with the Tom Henderson or Yasmynne Schmick "type" at least a little, but I think most people can to some degree.

But Gail's question has always bugged me, too: what if you are (or were) one of those people, the "psychotic normal" people Tom complains about? A huge chunk of popular culture, of which King Dork is only the tiniest, flimsiest, most insignificant flake, is devoted to satirizing you and criticizing your behavior. And that must be pretty strange.

A ways back I quoted from Amysue's Read-o-rama on this subject:

when I moved back to the area after being away for almost 20 years, I bumped into some of my school days tormentors. Not a single one has ever been anything but pleasant. If they mention our youth at all they will say something along the lines of "you were such an individual, I really admired that."
That is exactly how the conversation goes, always, in that situation. I have a dark, perverse maybe, turn of mind, and I have to admit that I often imagine these people rushing off afterwards to phone up one of their fellow former alpha-sadists (as Tom would say) and secretly rubbing their hands together saying things like "yes! remember when we always used to make the skinny girl/nerdy guy/handicapped kid cry at lunch? Remember how the fat kid tried to kill himself? Good times!" But of course, they don't do that, i know. What do they say to each other, though, really? Posted by Dr. Frank at September 25, 2006 07:44 AM | TrackBack

I don't know about anyone else, but some of the ways you phrase descriptions in King Dork I find really funny in my mind because a) I relate to this story of torment, b) I can laugh now that I have some distance from my own story of torment so when she says "Readers aren't reading them for laughs," then I must reaffirm that I am indeed reading it for laughs, as part of my therapy treatment.

Regarding running into the people who maybe were not so nice, well, if they're not in jail or under house arrest and I happen to be in their path... I imagine that they still think I'm weird because I'm still not like them and they have no idea how to react because I appear to them as a traveler from the future who has secrets they wish to know.

"So you live in San Francisco..."
"Yeah, I love it there!"
"Aren't you afraid of the earthquakes?"
"Oh, it's really safe, you should see the modern architecture. Nothing like the movie with Charlton Heston, really."
"There's always something in the news about a disaster in California or about your governor."
"Yeah, well, it's a great place to live. You should take a vacation and come see for yourself."
"Oh, um, it's a far distance... we like to go camping at the lake on our vacation."

Posted by: Wednesday at September 25, 2006 08:19 AM

Yeah, Wednesday, I admit I'm mostly in it for the laughs, too.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at September 25, 2006 08:37 AM

It's funny (to me) to think about which people you meet when you are older would have given you a herd time back in school. The people across the street are really nice and seem to think the same about us but I know that if we were in school together.... well have you heard of the dreaded "rear admiral"? anyway I was google-ing MTX song titles and found this.... not that it has anything to do with anything.....

Posted by: MArk at September 25, 2006 10:41 AM

Re: Gail Gauthier... Sour grapes, my friend, only sour grapes.

Posted by: Bottomless Pit at September 25, 2006 03:11 PM

People are always bringing their tormentors on talk shows and confronting them with how hot they've become. It seems like the tormentors do feel legitimately bad just about every time. I mean they were just kids, and we only secumbing to mob mentality. Or maybe they just like Yasmeens new tits and hair extensions.

Posted by: josh at September 25, 2006 03:43 PM

I don't think the so-called psychotic normals realize they are the psychotic normals. And that is all part of their normalcy. I don't think they'd see themselves as the tormenters, as the ones who are being satirized.

Most people who torment don't even give a second thought to it. The people they bully are so insignificant. The wound they leave on the victim is far deeper than any memory about the victim.

I'll always remember Sandra and her stupid Muppet mouth whispering that I was a dyke, and making fun of my electric blue old man pants and white fuzzy jacket. Do you think she'd remember my blue pants? she'd remember that I was a dork if she saw my picture, but she's not going to remember anything she said about me specifically. I know it was all immature kid stuff, but I'm still not going to forget it, whereas she won't even remember.

I'm not bitter or anything. I promise.

Posted by: Megan at September 27, 2006 06:27 AM

Do the Psychotic Normals actually read?

...I guess they watch movies, though, and they're often depicted in that medium as well.

Posted by: Duncan at September 27, 2006 04:52 PM

I always think of Martin on the Simpsons when he starts hanging with bart's friends and pushes some boy into the girls bathroom "what exhilaration! the screams! and the fact it wasn't me!"

Posted by: greg at October 5, 2006 10:35 PM

last winter, i visited my parents around christmastime and, one night, found myself at a poker game with people i hadn't seen since high school. and maybe it's because we're only 25 (which you'd think would be old enough, right?), but they actually do say, "remember when we always used to make the skinny girl/nerdy guy/handicapped kid cry at lunch? Remember how the fat kid tried to kill himself? Good times!"

Posted by: Rrose at October 14, 2006 07:10 AM