Sunday, June 21, 2009

Kids hating Holden? Blasphemy!

In Sunday's New York Times, "Get a Life, Holden Caulfield" looks at whether Catcher in the Rye is no longer connecting with its audience.

"Even as Mr. Salinger, who is 90 and in ailing health, seeks to keep control of his most famous creation, there are signs that Holden may be losing his grip on the kids.

“The Catcher in the Rye,” published in 1951, is still a staple of the high school curriculum, beloved by many teachers who read and reread it in their own youth. The trouble is today’s teenagers. Teachers say young readers just don’t like Holden as much as they used to. What once seemed like courageous truth-telling now strikes many of them as “weird,” “whiny” and “immature.”

...But Holden won over the young, especially the 1960s generation who saw themselves in the disaffected preppy, according to the cultural critic Morris Dickstein. “The skepticism, the belief in the purity of the soul against the tawdry, trashy culture plays very well in the counterculture and post-counterculture generation,” said Mr. Dickstein, who teaches at the Graduate Center of the University of the City of New York. Today, “I wouldn’t say we have a more gullible youth culture, but it may be more of a joining or togetherness culture.”

The culture is also more competitive. These days, teenagers seem more interested in getting into Harvard than in flunking out of Pencey Prep. Young people, with their compulsive text-messaging and hyperactive pop culture metabolism, are more enchanted by wide-eyed, quidditch-playing Harry Potter of Hogwarts than by the smirking manager of Pencey’s fencing team (who was lame enough to lose the team’s equipment on the subway, after all). Today’s pop culture heroes, it seems, are the nerds who conquer the world — like Harry — not the beautiful losers who reject it."

...Some critics say that if Holden is less popular these days, the fault lies with our own impatience with the idea of a lifelong quest for identity and meaning that Holden represents."

Read Get a Life, Holden Caulfied here.

Thoughts? Has Holden lost his anti-hero status in this generation? Did you find him whiny and/or immature or did you connect with his voice and quest for identity?


Anonymous said...

What a fantastic post. I'm always writing about identity so this really struck a chord with me. This is such a difficult question because this generation is so unique. Teenagers today have been brought up in one of the most tumultuous decades in a long time. They have lived through the 9/11 attacks, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now the largest global financial crisis since the Great Depression. Despite all of this, these teenagers have also seen the inspirational election of the first African-American President Barack Obama. So it is extremely difficult to get a firm grip on what their perception of the world really is.

My gut instinct tells me that you will see a resurgence of counter-culture attitudes among young people as they have less access to credit cards and money due to the recession.

There are two films that I hope you've seen and if you haven't I highly recommend that you do. The first is the documentary, "Kids and Money" directed by Lauren Greenfield. The second is the film, "Igby Goes Down" directed by Burr Steers.

Again, thank you for such an excellent post and wondeful blog.

Rebecca Snavely said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments Des -- I hope it was clear I was quoting the NYT writer the entire time, I only wish that I had written that article! Identity is something I'm interested in as well, especially as I'm beginning to explore more Eastern philosophy and Eckhart Tolle's concept of the ego.

Thanks for the film recommendations, I haven't seen either and both are now on my list.

Happy to have found your blog through this, I'm looking forward to reading it.