Adults, Teen Books, Important Conversations, and Our Responsibilities

I’ve been reading a lot about John Green and the accusations of sexual abuse and since I’m already on record as saying I don’t like John Green (the persona, mind, not his writing) I’m thrilled to itty bitty pieces that the authors of twitter have already stepped up to defend John Green and I dont’ have to. But, the original tumblr poster made non-sexual abuse claims and they need to be addressed.

First, in case you missed it, tumblr user virjn posted on tumblr that they thought John Green was a creep. Then, a bunch of people reblogged it, someone added something about John Green being a pedophile. John Green was tagged in a reblog. And, then John Green responded by saying that he does not sexually abuse children. Which was a libelous claim and I’m willing to believe that he’s telling the truth. And, it’s totally not the thing I want to talk about. I want to talk about the original post, the post that was hijacked by people who are in love with the outrage cycle or are just trolls or are just terrible people. (The hijacking itself is probably its own post but I don’t want to talk about that, either.) I want to talk about how the original poster and their feelings that John Green is creepy. John Green’s online persona squicked this person out enough that they posted about on tumblr. And, it is probably a fair bet that other men, young and old are doing the same thing and don’t understand why women find them off-putting.

Everyone who saw the original post missed an opportunity to explore why John Green sometimes comes off as creepy. And, before you say, “If you don’t like it, just unfollow John Green.” And, you’re right. On the internet, that’s an easy option. If John Green is making you uncomfortable, don’t read what he posts. But, people are going to creep you out and you can’t always ‘unfollow’ them. So, exploring why people creep you out and what other things that can be done about it is invaluable.

Sometimes people make us feel uncomfortable and we should trust those feelings. We might even want to try to figure out why we have those feelings and what can be done about it. Art, literature, and the media we consume give us opportunities to explore situations and life experiences that we might have an interest in. They also give us an opportunity to explore feelings that we might have. An important part of creating and consuming art, literature and media is the need to critique it(and John Green’s internet persona is something that is different from him as a person and so I’m considering it worthy of critique). We need to thoughtfully engage not only in the creation of things but in considering the pros and cons of things after they’ve been created.

As Teresa Jusino of The Mary Sue noted, John Green could have read the comment and said, “right, okay. I didn’t intend for you to feel this way. Your feelings are valid. Let’s talk about this.” John Green, as an adult who writes books for teens, had a tremendous opportunity to start a meaningful conversation about unequal power dynamics, feeling uncomfortable, and how to deal with it. He missed it. The other authors who came to his defense and shamed people for making light of actual rapes and sexual assault missed an opportunity As Camryn Garrett HuffPo noted, we may have just told a young woman not to trust her feelings which might lead to terrible future consequences. (That HuffPo piece is a great read, by the way). This isn’t necessarily on the authors to do this work. They aren’t responsible for always being their to listen and direct their fans. We, as adult readers of teen books, need to make sure that we are not missing these opportunities to have meaningful conversations when they come our way. We might not create the art, but we consume it and our lives create the contexts that the art exists in. As adults who read teen books if we do anything, we should be doing what we can to make space for teens in our conversations so that they can thoughtfully explore art, literature and media and have good examples of how to respond when something is problematic or makes them uncomfortable.

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2 thoughts on “Adults, Teen Books, Important Conversations, and Our Responsibilities

  1. It seems like what happened is that the original poster was just voicing her opinion without intending to tag Green but then someone else went ahead and reblogged their post tagging Green and then Green addressed it as if the original poster intended the post as a personal attack on him when it was probably some teenager venting her opinion of him in what she thought was her own private space with her own followers.

    You’re right that the more important issue to explore is this missed opportunity for the conversation to be more about exploring the discomfort illicited in this young woman rather than feed into the drama of defending Green from this perceived accusation of sexual abuse which it wasn’t. It just looks like it was a series of knee-jerk reactions instead of stepping back, analyzing, and determining what the actual conflict is and what response if any should be appropriate. Of course the internet and social media aren’t the best places for thoughtful meaningful analysis and social discourse. People read a post / comment once, jump to the conclusion that they completely understand that person’s intentions, and then spout their own response while being misled by their own self-righteous indignation.

    In this case, the original poster wasn’t even looking to provoke Green but that got completely lost in all of it. She her feelings of finding John Green creepy are her feelings and she spelled out why. The fact that she made a public post about it was her right and but then the hijacking of the post and all the reactions to it was something beyond her control. So many young people use social media as a journal for their thoughts which is something they have the freedom to do, but then there’s this aspect of social media being a platform where anything anyone says counts as some sort of official public record. Perhaps if the original poster had not wanted the post to get hijacked there may have been privacy settings on tumblr to prevent that from happening but then that doesn’t address the actual problem nor does it solve the need to have an actual space where young people could freely and candidly discuss their feelings. It would have been great if the post encourage a thoughtful and meaningful discussion about what might make young women uncomfortable about certain men like Green, but unfortunately it would appear as if thoughful and meaningful discussions aren’t what happens when mostly everyone has a knee-jerk reaction as John Green clearly illustrated.

    • I don’t know all of the details about how tumblr privacy settings work but it doesn’t seem like a platform that encourages privacy or necessarily reflection in posts or reblogs. And, it’s interesting how the Internet has created all of these spaces where we really see the intersection of public and private. I think you’ve pointed out a lot of important things that could have had mitigated some of the drama. Thanks!

      It just happened that the OP is at the intersection of public and private and also the intersection of terrible-people-with-tagging-knowledge and public-figures-needing-to-defend-their-brand. But, privacy settings may have stopped this incident from snowballing but it wouldn’t have solved the problem that created the creepy feels. Finding a more private place to write on their feelings wouldn’t have necessarily led to a conversation about what to do when you have those feelings (Granted, this didn’t either.) The Internet and places like tumblr are still new enough that we’re all working out how to use the space and what it is for, so it’s important that we talk about these things when they happen.

      And, that’s what brought us here, I guess. I’ve got a metaphor here and I’m on a roll, so bear with me. I happen to be at the intersection of deeply-committed-creating-spaces-for-uncomfortable-conversations and absolutely-uninterested-in-defending-other-adults-unwilling-to-step-up. I get it, John Green has to protect himself. And, I get it, trolls gonna troll. And that is exactly why if we can foster meaningful conversations and the spaces where they can take place we really need to.

      😉

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