Consider this piece by “The Editors of GQ,” 21 Books You Don’t Have to Read. What this is is an attempt at slightly upscaling clickbait. It’s a list of stuff which is always attractive for passing around Facebook. I look at them all the time – “The 20 Most Overpowered Superheroes” – garbage like that. But this is different. First of all, “Gentleman’s Quarterly,” while not exactly a bastion of intellectual greatness, at least on the branding scale is higher up there than “Comic Book Resources.” Secondly this is a swipe at some books that most people have read, books that represent a significant part of how we think and that encapsulate our values. It is not just that it is cynical, but the fact that it is so deeply cynical for the sake of generating traffic that is truly troubling. Taking shots at Superman becasue he is old and tired and cliche’ is one thing – it’s pop culture. But taking shots at Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger and The Bible (yeah, I said The Bible) – well that is a very different sort of thing.
The thing that is most troubling to me about this piece is that while it is anonymous, it is highly and deeply personal. I am going to assume that each editor wrote an entry or two because each entry is first person (something it is very difficult for a panel to pull off.) In being so deeply personal, the entries end up being trivial. For example, one entry dismisses “The Old Man and The Sea” because of how much the author hated it when his or her grandfather made them try fishing as a child. The entries fail to understand the historical, social and culture context in which the works they so readily dismiss appeared – it is all about the authors right here and right now. Apparently, according to this piece, books are only worth reading if they apply to where I am right now and they affirm the way I look at things.
I guess such things are inevitable. Things like this are what attract “readers” in the internet age. Not to mention when the educational system asks not, “What values are being communicated by this book?” but instead, “How do you feel after reading this book?” what are we to expect?
This originally came to my attention because of the shot it takes at the Bible, but after reading it, it is hardly worth refuting. It is the same tired old criticisms I have been hearing about the Bible my whole life. For a piece that dismisses so much literature as cliche’ you would think they would have worked harder to avoid them.
Most of all, when I see something like this I see a failure in the older generations. We assumed the internet generations would outgrow this kind of childishness like we did – that life would come along and teach them the values of these things. We failed in two significant ways. For one we failed to realize the pervasiveness of the internet media; its capability to form a self-reinforcing cocoon that the younger generations use to hold what we think of as “real life” at bay. Nonetheless, I do see young people that have overcome this and they all share one thing in common.
All the young people I know that have overcome the internet cocoon did so because their parents actually let them deal with real life. Too many of us, in an apparently saintly effort, to prevent our kids from having to struggle like we did have prevented them from maturing because the struggle is a big part of the maturing process. For example, I too grew highly frustrated the first time I ever went fishing. But when I threw a tantrum I was not told it was “OK” if I did not like it – I was told about the time, energy and money the adults had invested in giving me the experience and that I better d&^% well give it my best effort at least this one time.
This piece from GQ is sad, terribly, terribly sad. But when I read it I cannot help but reflect on where those of us that know better have gone wrong. I hope it is not too late to get it right.