Why do I have such a big attraction to teen fictions (like Never Have I Ever)? For a while I’ve been thinking it was the force of a stream, a soak, a wash of saudade made lighter by revisiting that time from a better place; a chance to relive with empathy for myself, to reclaim that time from the incapacitating fear of being vulnerable, navigating coolness in the 80s/90s (a now more mainstreamed cultural topic since all storytellers are approaching their strength ~40). The journeys of these post-modern (mostly young women) protagonists through insecurity, heartbreak, the web of complex material and digital norms and hegemonies; the care they find for themselves and other people, with other people, emerging whole-enough with their collective–family/friend/mentor nexus; learning to survive the patriarchal-colonial system, becoming disloyal, anti-heroes. It’s all a differing sort of story from the “prick tale”, where the Man-hero takes up arms against foe, real or imagined, creates the world in his vision; fealty to a cause which is his own desire-machine; the desire of the First Man he has inherited through callused, painfully tight handshakes through time.
But the feel-good feel goes beyond. I think something bold happens in these stories.
I’m a bit new to Le Guin’s project of composting our myths but you can’t help but feel new sanguine cultural flow from the advanced logo-ero she develops in The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.
If I am allowed a primitive literary-criticism gloss. What is picked up along the way: the misinformation and guidance from elders (both useful to (re)combining a new narrative of self), the wrought learnings from misfired expressions of need (for “boys”, peer acceptance, spiritual stability), the new kinds of love from parents and friends that evolve from changing circumstances. It seems especially apparent in the serials. Each episode there’s a satisfying build, a paced emergence that’s lovely because the wins are not blood-soaked triumphs. Transitions, evolutions, forks, back-tracks, shifting winds, climbs, descents; it’s a kind of Sunday hike through the woods with the Fellowship of the Ring in peacetime. Not the “linear, progressive, Time’s-(killing)-arrow mode of the Techno-Heroic” (Even the fantastical dragon time appropriations of Percy Jackson still fit the prick), but story that describes “what is in fact going on, what people actually do and feel, how people relate to everthing else in this vast sack, this belly of the universe, this womb of things to be and tomb of things that were, this unending story.” Unending…but not Neverending. (Though perhaps a re-reading of Bastian’s adventures is due now that I’m starting to finally put things into this sack (of a blog).)
Motherland: Fort Salem and Cobra Kai kinda fucks with all this too. Prick tales recast and modulated are problematic. They can be awesome and interesting because they don’t totally abandon tete-a-tete action (which, when crafted through martial arts is personally gripping (especially for an amateur artist of the martial myself)); and yet, these imaginative alternate worlds and thoughtful respun contemporaries can still carry out seditious ploys. Maybe we can think about Motherland and Cobra Kai straddling prick tale and carrier bags as tactics and technologies of xenofeminist adaptations, calibrations, speculations that transform through “seeping, directed subsumption”; since there is no pure refuge from patriarchy and eyeballs of grief-stricken viewers, anyway. Liminal bacteria waved through by situated materialist praxis. I couldn’t reject Cobra Kai whole cloth despite much of the character development of the teens is wrought through pugilisms (everyone literally joins a dojo); it’s softenings and care for men feels valuable when toxic masculinity runs rampant in the culture. Also, I wonder about the dojo. The split lips and bruises that result from Johnny’s tough, mangled love create openings; the kids can take more; take in more; become spacious (punching) bags. Face hits could be a technology of transformation when there are limited options for situated emergence in the hyperreal suburban desert of early 21st century SoCal. How big of a purse do we have here??
The immune system, rather than being imagined as a force of protective soldiers made by the host, can be thought of as a group of passport control agents and bouncers. They know who to let in and who to keep out–and they have learned this through millions of years of evolution.
Delighting in teen fiction is not a trifle. “It matters what worlds world worlds,” reminds Haraway. And of course, a most important reminder from Le Guin, lest we believe the prick tales (which, if they are not careful, could cause major issues like exponential inequality, and/or loss of ecological balance): “People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.”