Writing historical fiction is the easiest way to escape the Now; to avoid dealing with the internet, you only have to step back a decade or two. If you’d prefer to write about characters entirely innocent of TV, you’d need to retreat as far as the 1940s; then you get the second world war and the Holocaust, subjects that, despite their historical specificity, are understood by everyone to be unimpeachably Timeless.
Four out of five of this year’s Newbery honorees are historical fiction. I’m curious — is it indeed easier to go back in time as Laura Miller suggests in today’s Guardian rather than grapple with contemporary circumstances like the Internet? While she’s writing about adult literary fiction, it seems to me the problem is true for writers of children’s and YA literature as well.
In the case of child beauty pageants, Orenstein offers a shrewd critique of why media exposés of the phenomenon are so perennially popular. They “give viewers license, under the pretext of disapproval, to be titillated by the spectacle, to indulge in guilty-pleasure voyeurism,” she observes. “They also reassure parents of their own comparative superiority by smugly ignoring the harder questions: even if you agree that pageant moms are over the line in their sexualization of little girls — way over the line — where, exactly, is that line, and who draws it and how?”
That’s from today’s NYTimes review of Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter. And while I’m definitely interested in the book, I’m even more interested in this bigger issue that she has hit upon here — the way we watch and read this and similar material (be it child pagents or something else) and both disapprove of what we are viewing/reading while being entertained at the same time. Something worth reflecting on, I say.