Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Where are you from? You sexy thing!

Exam season’s over, so the red pen's put away for another year. Not at all depressed by the standard of essays this time round. What is depressing is the choice of books that are the stalwarts of the 16- and 18-year old English Lit reading list canon. High school English courses are absolutely at the root of Western society’s nutcase attitudes to sex, because if teenagers had a normal and straightforward approach to it before reading these texts, they’re certainly going to be screwed up for ever afterwards.

Take the Great Gatsby. Daisy is utterly wet and a weed, with a voice that “drips money” and a husband who cheats on her and also does a neat sideline in breaking women’s noses. In A Streetcar Named Desire, meet the wife-beating rapist whose loony-tunes sister-in-law seduces underage boys having previously prompted her gay husband to shoot his brains out. In 1984, the outcome of sex is to be stomped on by rats until you swear you’d rather have them eat your lover alive to spare you the torture. Enter the Quiet American – “you can have her interests, I just want her body”, and the classic good-times game of having a political rival assassinated just because he stole your bird. The Color Purple, please let’s not even; Of Mice, Men and Vaseline gloves; Death of a Salesman and those infernal Symbolic Stockings, the dutiful wife knowing all about the nameless mistress but standing by her man. Sons and Lovers, for crying out loud!! Oh, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Me, me, and thrice me.

Every instance of sex in the whole pack of them is, I’m sorry, but absolutely batshit crazy. Apparently the only way it can be done is by beating each other up, shooting ourselves out of the closet, degrading and hating and objectifying each other.

Could we put on the syllabus one book where people have sex – even, call me crazy, a relationship!!! - because they like each other? One book. It’s not much to ask. Submit your ideas please.

1 comment:

Allison Fairbairn said...

It can't be literature if the characters are well-adjusted and attractive, can it? This is why I read teen lit.

I honestly think more kids would like English if texts were chosen that were relevant in any way to their lives. Maybe that's why Sinclair Ross stood out to me - I could picture very well what horrible dust storms on the prairies were, and none of the characters talked, much like prairie folk. I think there was sexual tension, but it's so hard to say when no one talks.