Friday, September 19, 2008

Sarah Palin To The Rescue!

I believe everyone has a superpower.  My friend Polly can name the designer, season, and price of any garment on any person (knockoffs too) with flawless accuracy.  Roxy can eat more food faster than anyone I've ever seen, has a perfect sense of direction, and over one spring break she built a working TV out of an old toaster.  And her twin brother Tom can imitate anyone's voice and pick any kind of lock. (1)

Maybe its just me, but I hear a lot of similarities in the voices of Sarah Palin and Jasmine, the lead character in Michele Jaffe's fun YA read Bad Kitty.  

Part of the connection, I think, has to do with embracing contraries.  I mean,  both of these females take great pride in showing off their credentials as both "traditional" and "untraditional" women.  Sarah Palin runs a state government, but idolizes her family.   She has won a beauty contest, but also is a lifetime NRA member.  She is committed to the Republican party (and the men who lead it), but is eager to shake things up in Washington.

Jasmine, too, embraces contradictions.  She loves to sun bathe, but loves more solving crimes and mysteries.  She is intimidated by her father, but fearless in the face of evil.  She surrounds herself with friends like Polly and Roxy who are fellow fashionistas, but as interested in intellectual challenges as she is.

Another connection is that both Sarah Palin and Jasmine are unrelenting in their optimism about the future and their ability to meet any challenge.  Both women have a can-do spirit that fits neatly with the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" ideology of American culture.

Even though these similarities exist, there are differences.  Most important, Sarah Palin draws a line at embracing contraries that Jasmine does not.  Subjects such as God, devotion to country, and free enterprise are NOT ones that Sarah Palin examines from different perspectives (although her track record suggests that she does say two different things, from time to time, about certain sensitive issues, such as pork barrel spending and teaching creationism in schools).  Because Sarah Palin is running for elective office, she is much more calculating (and arguably superficial) in her choice of contraries to embrace.  

So what might we learn from this comparison?  One reasonable conclusion  is that maybe John McCain is as aware as Michele Jaffe, the creator of Jasmine and Bad Kitty, that today's youth and the larger public are hungry for heroes who do not fit neatly into traditional categories.  In a sense, his choice of Sarah Palin shows that he has learned the core lesson at the heart of Barack Obama's emergence as a player on the national stage: that people who do not look or behave like the figures on the American dollar bill are likely to play larger and larger roles in the social and political life of this nation in the future.

The other lesson is that we Americans need to be careful about accepting without question the labeling of John McCain as "maverick" and Sarah Palin as "bad kitty."  Yes, there are some appealing qualities and backgrounds to each, and some positive efforts toward political change. But ultimately, this ticket is all about imitation.  Imitating the idea of change at the core of the Obama campaign, and more importantly, imitating President Bush and the Republican party on the war in Iraq, oversight of Wall Street, and drilling for oil.  If there is one thing that Michele Jaffe's book teaches, it's that we should beware of imitations.   As Jasmine's friend Polly might advise, buy the real thing whenever possible.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Back In The Saddle Again

"So in Macbeth, when [Shakespeare] wasn't trying to find names that sound alike, what did he want to express in words more beautiful than had ever yet been written?"

Mrs. Baker looked at me for a long moment. Then she went and sat back down at her desk. "That we are made for more than power," she said softly. "That we are made for more than our desires. That pride combined with stubbornness can be disaster.  And that compared with love, malice is a small and petty thing."

The above words, from The Wednesday Wars, by Gary Schmidt, are as powerful a commentary on the current age, on the last eight years of the Bush administration, on Wall Street and the current presidential campaign, as I have read in the last year and a half or so that I have been reading young adult literature and making connections to the contemporary world.  If you haven't read The Wednesday Wars, I highly recommend it--it's perfect for middle school history and language arts courses, or bedside reading by any parent with a child age 10-14.

The argument I have been making on this blog is that young adult literature--of which The Wednesday Wars is a terrific example--provides adults and teens and even tweens with useful perspective on the contemporary world.  It's not just about the foibles of teen romance, parental relationships, and school culture.  It's also about the world we live in today, its flaws and potential, the core principles and concerns we need to pay attention to if we are to move forward as a culture, a society.

In the coming months, I'm going to do my best to stay regular with this blog, writing at least once a week. Now that my research project is done, this blog is going to become a more open-ended site for writing about current events and the ways in which young adult literature can help all of us--adults and kids--to think better about contemporary politics and other aspects of human affairs.  In particular, I'll give special attention to the ways in which insights derived from young adult literature and the contemporary world might help educators to meet new challenges and create new opportunities for teaching and learning.  

So stay tuned for more about the current age.   Starting tomorrow.