Author Ted Bell has a new YA adventure story out now, Nick of Time. He was on Glenn Beck's show talking about books for teenage boys and Beck makes a point of saying that all books out there for teen boys today are emasculating. He is particularly impressed with Bell's book because the boy gets to be the hero (he goes up against pirates, Nazis, etc.) and - here's the kicker - at one point the hero's little sister is in trouble and she tells the bad guys to just wait, her brother is going to come and get her and they will be sorry. (I've embedded the interview behind the cut.)
In Beck's words, it is wonderful that the girl gets saved by the boy and specifically, that she doesn't save him or herself.
That's what he says - how great for boys that the girl does not do any saving.
There are a couple of things that bother me about this discussion (between two adult men without a teenager in sight by the way). First it is that for a boy to feel heroic he must rescue a girl - and the girl also needs to be rescued. I'm sure the sociologists would have a field day over all this but I can't believe that anyone in the 21st century would believe that such antiquated notions of what it means to be a hero have any place in a worthwhile discussion. Save the world - yes! Save the animals, save the environment, save whatever needs saving in your books. But the girl MUST be saved by the boy for the boy to feel powerful? How do these gentlemen think it makes the girl feel to have to wait to be saved? Have they ever thought about that at all?
Here's the problem that Misters Bell and Beck don't give a moment's thought to - sometimes the boy doesn't show up and the girl is all alone. As I wrote last year, remember Dua Khalil, the victim of a so-called "honor killing". This is part of what Joss Whedon had to say about her death:
Because as the girl was on the ground trying to get up, her face nothing but red, the few in the group of more than twenty men who were not busy kicking her and hurling stones at her were filming the event with their camera-phones.
Sometimes the girl is not going to be rescued, sometimes there just aren't any heroes around, and that's why it is so important that we all - male and female - know how to rescue ourselves. That's why no one should have to wait, ever.
Beyond this issuing of rescuing though, I am completely stunned by Beck's assertion that all current books for teenage boys are inferior to those in the past and - I can't believe I'm writing this - emasculating. I am second to none in my hope that more adventurous books for teens will be published (and more mysteries!) but I have read a lot of adventure type books that I am quite confident include strong and heroic boy characters. Just off the top of my head:
Darkside by Tom Becker - werewolves, vamps etc. (sequel due out shortly)
Operation Red Jericho & Operation Typhoon Shore by Joshua Mowll - pirates, mad inventors, etc.
Corbenic by Catherine Fisher - a fight to save the Fisher King
London Calling by Edward Bloor - time travel back to WWII in London
The New Policeman by Kate Thompson - travel to Faerie to save time itself
The Seiki & Judge Ooka series by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler - a series of murder mysteries set in early 18th century Japan where the hero goes up against all sorts of greedy devious bad guys
And then there are all the wonderful realistic dramas in which boys do some heroic things not in the grand adventure model, but very significant in many other ways:
King of the Pygmies by Jonathon Scott Fuqua
No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer
The Blue Helmet by William Bell
Into the Ravine by Richard Scrimger
At the Firefly Gate by Linda Newberry
Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharp
I have not read the Percy Jackson series although it seems like it would fit in here as a big adventure and I'm still reading Little Brother by Cory Doctorow and Sunrise in Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers, but in both those cases young men seem to be making heroic decisions. It could be that these two books do not fit into Glenn Beck's moral framework however, as they challenge issues of freedom and patriotism in ways that are beyond the classic vision of unquestioning loyalty to "king and country".
But then again, part of the point of the 21st century is just what it means to be a patriot and beyond that, what it means to be a hero.
Does the boy have to rescue the girl and follow the traditional path to be a true hero in fiction? You tell me - please. I want to know what you think.
EDITED ON JUNE 22nd TO ADD: I want to make clear that this larger discussion is about the interview itself and not the contents of Bell's book. In his book it is a little girl who is saved and he is making a big brother/little sister plot point. It could all be fine for this book but that is not what the two men were discussing in this video. Watch it, and you will see that it is generalizations they were making about being a boy, what it takes to be a man, and why weak female characters are a good thing for boys. Their points, not mine.