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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The hat/elephant problem

This will be about teh behbies. I know you're, like, so tired of my thoughts on teh behbies. It will only get worse though. This is a warning.

There is a tradition within children's literature exemplified by writers like Roald Dahl* and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that is based on the idea that the worlds of childhood and adulthood are diametrically opposed and unable to comprehend one another. Unlike the realist writers, these writers view growing up not as a process of imbibing ("confronting") the adult world bit by bit, but as a moment in which the child betrays the secrets and customs of the child world in order to enter the adult world, thereby closing it off from an entire worldview forever. For example, he looks at the picture of the elephant inside a boa and sees in its place a hat. These books usually revolve around the persistent, usually despotic efforts of adults to superimpose the rules and restrictions of their world onto children. We call this raising them, but the authors insist that children already have a complete (and implicitly better) kind of understanding of the world, it's just not one that adults can appreciate or live by because it involves things like evading witches who turn children into mice.

(Interestingly, these books also suggest that leaving the world of childhood by growing up is neither necessary nor inevitable--a topic for another discussion, perhaps. As is the way that this group of writers sets itself up as allies of children against other adults--usually the child's parents--who it says want to oppress children with their burdensome realities, whereas realist writers demonize parents by suggesting that their failing lies in not telling children enough about reality.)

This tradition is often fascinating, sometimes evil, and, in certain situations, an accurate portrayal of disconnect between childhood and adulthood. Take the internet, for example. Adults are concerned with the possible ill-effects of internet social media on children. But what are those ill-effects? As I've said before, adults focus on the prospect of the "online predator" who will disguise his appearance to lure unsuspecting children away from home and do horrible things to them. But this actually happens so rarely that it barely registers for children, though the few sensational incidents when it did happen understandably instill a burning terror in adults about the possibility. Of course, it doesn't hurt to be wary of these things, but to become pre-occupied by them is to miss what children are really doing on the internet, which is not primarily accepting IMs from strangers asking if they are h0rny2nite.

The same error of mistaking the elephant-in-boa for a hat seems to afflict this view of school violence:
So lesson number one: remind your children that everything online is serious. Threats made not online are serious too. To quote the signs at the airports nowadays, “if you see something, say something.”
This would seem like a really clear bright line if it were enforceable. Unfortunately, not everything online and off is actually serious. (In fact, the chat room conversation was later found to be a hoax.) Children make these threats all the time. Reporting them all would be impossible, and, if possible, would become meaningless. My students threaten each other with violence constantly, and even the impeccably scrupulous Miss Self-Important, who we know has always made such excellent judgments about what does and does not belong on teh internets, once had her and her friend's online "hit lists" discovered by their high school teachers. Needless to say, they were not serious.

Again, you might say that being wary of possible seriousness in such threats can't hurt, and that's true, but Belkin's post suggests a kind of easy, rule of thumb solution to the complicated problem of school shootings. Since we know that in many such instances, the child previously mentioned his plans to someone else, we should just instruct our children to report every such mention they overhear, and this way, we will keep the killing under control. But this is a solution from hindsight--the only thing it will ever help us do is implicate some hapless child who failed to report what he assumed was a joke after it turns out that it was not. Because, again, every child hears this all the time. Adults can try to root out these modes of speech among children (in the same way that people advocate restricting violent video games because they supposedly make children violent), but unless the mode of speech is itself the impetus for the violence, banning the phrase "I'm gonna kill you" is unlikely to prevent it.

Neither does the opposite view--that children who commit such acts of violence are obvious psychopaths whose behavior is organically deranged--work except in hindsight. There are many strange and disturbing children out there (remember? there were at least three in every grade) who, after they kill someone, seem like exactly the kind of person who would obviously have killed someone, but before then, are equally likely to be non-violently crazy or turn out just fine after a period of bizarreness. Here too, adults prefer to see a hat--an uncomplicated type of person who just needs to be identified early (and can be, presumably, since he is clearly deranged)--where children see the elephant-in-boa--a more complicated mix of he-said, she-saids and wrong looks and social errors that sets off violence (including mundane kinds of violence like hallway fights) or keeps it at bay.

The point is not that the elephant is actually the more accurate view of things--certainly in adult social relations, the hat prevails--death threats and fist fights are more infrequent and more alarming events, and people get arrested for them. The point is that there is a hat/elephant problem, and according to the people who describe hat/elephant problems, the nature of the hat/elephant problem is that truthful communication across the hat/elephant divide is impossible, so we are doomed to tell children vapid things like, "Tell me if you ever hear a death threat!" and go unheeded.**

*Ok, I know you are all groaning that it is ridiculous to expend effort contemplating the deeper meaning of Dr. Seuss or whatever, and this is probably true, but I will defend at least Roald Dahl as a serious writer, and also the second-best autobiographer I have ever read. (But then, I have not read very many.)

**I don't actually think this. Mass school shootings are a relatively recent phenomenon, although school violence is not. I suspect the latter is probably a permanent fixture of childhood, though the former is the result of more mutable aspects of culture.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fashion dilemmas of insignificant proportions

I am looking for a new summer dress because Nigel destroyed my old one. As with most of my shopping, I have the Platonic ideal of the intended garment in mind, and browsing is just a matter of matching the ideal with a pre-existing garment at one of roughly five stores that sells such garments for under $50. In this case, the Platonic idea of the summer dress happens to be exactly the same dress that Nigel destroyed, except unfortunately that dress was acquired from H&M three years ago, and as any regular H&M shopper knows, every decent thing they stock disappears in two weeks, and every hideous monstrosity will stay on the rack for years to come, so the chances that it still exists anywhere on the planet are approximately nil.

I've looked for shirt dresses everywhere (even outside my five affordable stores!), and I've only found three suitable candidates. Unfortunately, two of them are from Delia's and Alloy, where I have not shopped since I was, like, 12. Actually, I did not shop there when I was 12 because I had no money and thought denim overalls were the very height of coutoure when I was 12. But if I had had any money and any fashion sense, I would've shopped there. And yes, both the models for these dresses appear also to be about 12. Now, some might conclude that I should not purchase these dresses because I am not 12, and they are clearly intended to be worn by 12-year-olds. This is a fair point. But, length-wise, I am short enough that I probably share the height proportions of an average 12-year-old (but not small enough to fit into Gap Kids). So the real question is, should I buy one of these dresses (and immediately cut off the label), or should I give up the ghost and buy this clearly adult thing for $20 more?

A related dilemma is, which of these would go best with these sandals?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Penguins in togas

About a year ago, while I was in some kind of flight delay limbo en route to Chicago, Beckus and I decided to start a webcomic. It was going to be called Penguins in Togas, and Beckus would draw cartoons about penguins and I would draw cartoons involving togas, but not really. This was a very good plan. Unfortunately, I was the only one who actually drew the cartoons, and only two of them at that, so the plan failed. However, I think it would be a waste to let those two cartoons wither in the anonymity of teh interwebs when they were obviously so brilliant, so I will reproduce them here.




This project had so much potential.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Technological coming of age

One of the important lessons that came out of applying to grad school this year is how urgent the need to change my email address is. People at every school commented on how "cute" and "clever" dorkyglasses was. I understand that these are not insults per se, but I think they are undermining my effort to (appear to) be a mature, adult person. So from now on, my email address is my first name dot my last name at gmail dot com. You can still email me at dorkyglasses though and it will forward and I will reply from my new, adult email until you have been weaned off this habit.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Vacay

Left Indiana, now in Chicago until Wednesday. Woo!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

For a good time, call James I

While reading the book below that stole my ideas, I came across a discussion of The Trew Law of Free Monarchies, of which I have very fond memories. The Trew Law (full title: The Trew Law of Free Monarchies: The Reciprock and mutuall duetie betwixt a free King and his naturall Subiects) was assigned in my first quarter American Civ class during my first year of college, which was a time when, as I've discussed before, everything seemed to happen in caps lock. Chronologically, it's pretty much the first thing you could reasonably assign in an American history class, so it also happened to be one of the first things I had to read in college. Needless to say, I was pretty fuzzy at the time about everything that occurred in England between about the Cenozoic era and WWII, I had no idea how to read 17th century print, and I could not fathom how someone could seriously argue that, not only was monarchy totally legitimate, but kings receive their authority from God. In sum, I spent many hours at the Reg trying hopelessly to understand how such a document could exist and trembling to think that The Trew Law was the first of four years of such assignments. This strongly contributed to my collegiate terror and sense of DOOM.

The following year, I attempted to take a second class on early America which also started with readings on the English Civil War and the Restoration. I dropped it after being unable to determine who these mysterious but clearly pivotal "Stuarts" were. As far as I could tell, there was no one named "Stuart" in any of the assigned texts--Oliver's last name was Cromwell, there were a bunch of Dukes and Earls of Such-and-such (who, to my great consternation, were also indistinguishable from their predecessors and descendants), all the political writers had other surnames, and the Jameses and Charleses were either "Thefirst" and "Thesecond" or, like Jesus, too important to need surnames. But no Stuarts to be found.

Finally, in my fourth year, I took a class on Burke whose professor spent most of the quarter lamenting the difficulty of teaching early modern British thought to twenty-first century American college students, who simply could not understand or imagine ideas that most Englishmen took absolutely for granted at the time, like that entail meant that your family land was not a commodity. By this time, I could kind of see his point.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

On the futility of novelty

Arendt says in The Human Condition that there are no new ideas--someone, somewhere has already imagined everything you imagine, only he never managed to get it off the ground, so to speak. "In the realm of ideas there are only originality and depth, but no absolute, objectively novelty...ideas, moreover, as distinguished from events, are never unprecedented..." Her example was atomic theory--Democritus had an idea, some people discussed it, but it "had no consequences in the factual world." John Dalton had an idea, some people discussed it, and it resulted in nuclear weapons.

For Arendt, this emphasizes the primacy and complexity of action. But for Miss Self-Important, it renders futile her ongoing efforts to come up with a new thought. Every time I discover that all of my ideas have already been articulated in great detail in someone else's book, I take comfort in the fate of Democritus' atomic theory and think about how everyone is probably an idea usurper. First, there was all the fruit of my two years of thinking about B. Franky. Now, this book.

This book is my entire plan for grad school. From the introduction: "Questions about childhood and authority permeated the political and religious debates of early modern Britain and its colonies." Do you see this--childhood, authority, politics, religion, early modern Britain, colonies? That is exactly what I wanted to study--every aspect of it. Except it's already been done. Even worse, I didn't even have a chance to start in on it. Unlike the B. Franky letdown, I can't even claim that I also had these thoughts, because I didn't yet, and now it turns out that I can't. Sadness! What now? What is left for me to do?

(Don't say, "read it." Already on that.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On ideal uses of Facebook: more babies!

The 34-45 set's infiltration of Facebook has brought little positive change to my user experience, unless one considers increased instances of "So and so threw a sheep at so and so" and "25 things about me" on the friend feed an improvement. They are weirdly earnest in their organization of profile information, and they're into passe stuff (sheep throwing, above). But. They have brought with them one great, compensatory thing--an incredible proliferation of old baby photos, which they, thanks to internet incompetence, have failed to make inaccessible to me. One instance of excellent consequences for oversharing.

I love old baby photos. Actually, I don't love baby photos per se since they typically focus too much on the babies (who all look kind of alike) at the expense of the lives of their families, but I love photos of childhood generally, which are generally better contextualized in some family setting. In addition to the weird '80s sitcom fascination, I have now logged at least as many hours looking through the family photo albums of distant acquaintances and complete strangers, and noting their paneled basements, their disheveled, toy-strewn backyards, and their massive, face-swallowing eyeglasses. Particularly interesting are the photos of people I know and people who grew up in places I know, but I've branched out to childhoods everywhere. They are--or were in the 1970s, '80s, and early '90s, when most of these photos seem to have been taken--marvelously messy, mismatched, and unhealthy. People who appear to be very dignified and put together have all been caught either running around in their underpants with marshmallow goo in their hair, or supervising such escapades by their children from the vantage point of dented and torn lounge chairs in their backyards. This is endlessly fascinating! I know it's an obvious fact about both the nature of family photos and oversharing on teh internets, but before the great Facebook Emporium of Baby Photos, you could only know this by extrapolation from your own family photo album since you had very limited access to other people's.

I realize this interest is both a form of voyeurism and a surrender to misguided, possibly totalitarian nostalgia, but the photos--they're so charming! Some people, in their equally creepy enthusiasm to display these things to all the world, have even scanned and uploaded ancient photos of their grandparents as children, which I also LOVE. More photos, people--I want to know as much about your family as you do, even if I don't even know you. The history of even very recent private life is hard to pin down, as it should be, and even where knowing it is of no real use to anyone, seeing glimpses of it still makes me happy. Why is this? Just standard voyeurism and weakness for kitsch? What if we could establish a national online family photo album repository purely for its potential to get closer to completing the great, completely totalitarian project of reconstructing every minute of every life everywhere in America? If we could, I would be content, but unable to ever tear myself away from the internet again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Department of Bad Ideas: Holden Caulfield for the college crowd

A copy of Walter Kirn's Lost in the Meritocracy (a reiteration of the article with little to justify the extra 150 pages, as it turned out) came through my office yesterday, and I read it. Two things:
1. David Samuels already wrote this book.
2. I am sympathetic to skeptics of the academic meritocracy and those who question the practice of drawing America's governing and opinion elite from its peaks. I am also sympathetic to people who are themselves products of this meritocracy raising these questions. But what exactly is the purpose of writing a Catcher in the Rye-esque personal lament about all the phonies at Princeton and how their corrupt system of reward and approval drove you--a poor, impressionable, sensitive-souled writer from the boonies--into a self-defeating spiral of intellectual self-betrayal and sycophantic imposture?

Ok, the purpose is to demonstrate that the system is corrupt. But Holden Caulfield is about 16 and at the mercy of adults when he discovers the "phoniness" of the adult world. Walter Kirn is 21 when he's strung out on ground up painkiller smoked through a crackpipe and BSing his Rhodes application. I find this victimhood harder to pity. He also describes himself as a child with a freakishly precocious grasp of his own pathetic sycophantism beginning at age six, so if he knows it all along why is he still behaving this way 15 years later? Why doesn't he do something about himself? He is pretty much his own man at this point. No one is forcing him to go to Princeton and be a noxious suck-up, even if some people do pat him on the head for it.

He wants to point a finger at Princeton and the whole meritocratic machine that made him prime material for Princeton, but he can't do it without comparing himself to the kids who never became sycophantic frauds, who, as he says, were steady and studious (one of them is even an actual Asian). But to acknowledge such students in Minnesota and at Princeton is to undermine his own claim that the system kills souls. Obviously, it leaves some survivors. What makes them different? Why not cleave to the virtuous if you can identify them? It's harder to sympathize with Kirn's addled plight when he notes every single good professor he had whom he ignored and every serious student he knew whom he dismissed as just a tool. Even where he could win me over--when he discovers that most of theory is unreadable nonsense, for example--it doesn't work. Is theory unreadable nonsense really, or is he just too lazy, stoned, and dissembling to read it?

After reading The Runner and this book, I'm willing to be convinced that maybe Princeton is an especially evil, decadent, and rotten place. I don't know; I went to school in the Midwest, where people wear jeans with elastic waistbands. But Kirn's ability to coast through school by gaming the system and then write a book exposing the rottenness of school because it allowed him to coast by gaming does not impress me. It's like badass training for dweebs. You really cheated on your Spanish exam and got away with it? Then it's true; Princeton must really be a con! Imposters exist everywhere and all the time, especially when the stakes are high; it doesn't particularly diminish Princeton that it, too, hosts its share of them.

And this is his final conclusion: "A pure meritocracy, we'd discovered, can only promote; it can't legitimize. It can confer success but can't grant knighthood. For that it needs a class beyond itself: the high-born genealogical peerage that aptitude testing was created to overthrow." Right, ok. That can be arrived at without enduring a drug- and status-induced breakdown, I think. And some of his criticism is true--usually moreso when it's general observations rather than personal recollection. The educational system rewards "aptitude for having aptitude." Think of how few prizes there are for producing something tangibly great and how many are for demonstrating the potential to maybe produce something great in the future, or for succeeding at the minor tasks designed as practice for maybe producing great things (think of the honor rolls, dean's lists, and Phi Beta Kappas of school life). Is that a problem? Maybe, though it's hard to turn away and refuse anyone recognition in school unless they write the Great American Novel for their English lit final.

And for me at least, the descriptions of such intense status-envy ring hollow. Kirn has a scene in which some rich kid blindfolds him and drives him out to a castle in the middle of nowhere, only to ditch him there after saying "My family's estate. Behold, poor serf! Behold a power you will never know!" Does that really happen anywhere? Really? Again, maybe it's the elastic waistbands talking here, but it seemed like the opportunities for class war in college went largely untaken. No one seemed to form their friendships based on mutual possession of wealth, nor did they particularly exclude those without it. Everyone knew who on campus was fabulously wealthy or descended from Important People and this was a recurring subject of gossip, but it never seemed to make anyone unapproachable, and I was impressed by the general obliviousness to family wealth in casual relationships. No one ever asked me what my parents did or who they were. Such obliviousness could cause resentment too, since it doesn't typically result in much tact or "sensitivity" to the non-wealthy, but it's a different kind of resentment than Kirn's against the self-consciously exclusive and cruel rich. And this line of attack, as UD has pointed out, is susceptible to the conclusion that places like Princeton only corrupt the virtuous poor, but are fantastic experiences for the rich, so maybe rural Minnesota boys should just keep out of the club for everyone's sake.

What undermines all these laments about the soul-crushing evil of the Ivy League--Kirn's, Samuels's, Gessen's--is their tedious bitterness. What reader outside of the tiny circle of equally resentful fellow-HYP grads can sympathize? I read this and think, fine, you screwed up, but if you'd let me take your spot, I would've appreciated the opportunity, so why should I feel sorry for you? (This might, paradoxically, be the source of the sense of one's imposture--there are so many people who were denied admission when you were granted it. Are you really that much more worthy than them? Conveniently, not an issue at Chicago thanks to its high acceptance rates.) It's all entitlement (a great education must fall into my lap, for I am a great genius!), no gratitude. The average person would, I think, express at least a little gratitude for such an opportunity, even if it meant putting up with some obnoxious rich kids and some meaningless theory classes that reward students for creative misuses of terms no one can define. Add some gratitude, some sincerity, and some plausibility that you could actually know how rotten your path was and never do a thing to change it for 18 years, and I will totally sympathize with the rest of your frustration with the meritocracy.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The NYT clearly doesn't get thrift

Will their children mock them for reusing tea bags and counting pennies as if this paycheck were the last?
And what, may I ask, is wrong with reusing tea bags? They're good for at least two cups when used immediately. Why is waste exciting and thrift necessarily boring? Thrift is a lot more challenging than waste. It requires more creativity. In this particular moment, it is even more revolutionary. Thrift wins. Pass the used tea bag.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Athens in Dixie, part 2

It has been a while since I last saw shades of ancient Greece in country music, but I have another candidate--Montgomery Gentry's "Back When I Knew It All" as a vindication of Socratic ignorance.

And, though this is neither new nor of the Greek/country genre, it's possible that Sam Cooke's "She Was Only Sixteen" concisely summarizes most of the romantic subplots involving Natasha in War and Peace.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Doublethink quarterly is out

Doublethink has been rolling out the print quarterly (which is no longer in print) online this week and last. This issue is inadvertently very feminine--in theme and authorship--and also includes articles by Phoebe and Julia, both of which have evidently elicited reaction by their targets (and also the usual nonsensical comments).

Sunday, March 01, 2009

"The facts of life are all about you, you-oo-oo"

Ok, so, bad news, Mary Tyler Moore is actually kind of a boring show. I think I just can't get into adult TV. I liked The Wire, and I prefer movies to be be adult (but not, you know, adult), but TV is itself something I stopped being that excited about after about the age of 16, and perhaps my sensibilities are still attuned to that age. I'm with Phoebe on this:
But in general, my favorite shows are the ones set in real American high schools, ones with universally-recognized popular kids (who are also the rich kids, as well as the ones wearing visibly expensive clothing, because any other way would require too much explanation), sports teams, parking lots, and house parties held in actual, detached houses, in parts of the country where 16-year-olds actually have trouble obtaining liquor. Thanks to glorious American cultural hegemony, young people the world over grow up with a shared experience of suburban American high school. The lockers, the cheerleaders, the prom, we've all been there, even if we haven't. Perhaps for this reason, the more interesting the high school show ("Freaks and Geeks" and "Strangers With Candy" come to mind), the more generic and clichéd the school environment.
I think this is right, though it's not specifically suburbia that's so appealing, but the generic--and therefore primarily social--experience of American school. Urban schools can work, and I think more often than not, representations of suburbs bleed into small towns in terms of their self-containment and isolation more than they would in reality (for example, no one leaves Sunnydale in Buffy and goes to LA, although it should be nearby, and when Buffy runs away to LA, it's so distant that no one goes after her).

So, in my search for vintage sitcom depictions of school life, I found The Facts of Life. Actually, I've seen it before at some point, but never in an entire-season-in-one-sitting kind of way (probably a good thing). And it is great! But also awful! Most importantly, it is totally a product of the Judy Blume phenomenon.

What is weird and interesting about the Facts of Life (and Judy Blume, and the entire genre of young adult entertainment that starts in the late '60s) is the depiction of 'growing up' as a series of 'issues' to be confronted. There is the first period, the loss of virginity, homosexuality, alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, racism, divorce, child abuse, teen pregnancy, rape, crime, gangs, and so on and on. These are portrayed as the pathologies of the "real world" that all children must come to know as a pre-requisite for passage into adulthood. In reality, most of these "issues" are restricted entirely to childhood (for example, teen pregnancy: pretty normal once you're no longer a teenager), and a more nuanced analysis would examine the issue-ization of universal pubertal events like menstruation and sexual awakening separately from actual pathologies like date rape.

The impulse for constructing adolescence this way comes, I think, from an idea that Judy Blume helped to create--that the experience of pathology is the authentic and "real" content of coming of age, and all the more so because adults are hesitant to discuss it. Parental prudery--the unwillingness to be "frank" about sex and violence, primarily--condemns children to isolation, ignorance, and shame. In swoops the YA author (with the school librarian in tow) to rescue the benighted child from its misguided parents, and to help it, as Judy Blume often said in interviews, feel less alone and find role models with whom to identify. (This view is extremely weird when applied to an issue like menstruation, which is neither a pathology nor a scourge of modernity, and there is no obvious reason it needs to be an "issue" or a major social turning point in a girl's life, but recall that Are You There God? It's Me Margaret was Judy Blume's first great success and probably the first such YA book.)

Compare this view of coming of age to the view promulgated by girls' books like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. They may have been insipid in their own ways (which is part of what made the Judy Blume variation so popular), but they took growing up to be a process of character formation rather than encounter with external phenomena. The major development in Anne of Green Gables is the project of civilizing the impetuous, irreligious, proud, and vain Anne into what we might consider virtue, or a kind of Puritan sensibility about what makes virtue. Jo March has a very similar character arc. In the end, both characters are asked to sacrifice--Anne gives up her secondary education to stay home with her aunt, and Jo cuts off her hair to help her mother visit her father (which, objectively, does sound kind of absurd)--but the story is about what they do to become adults, not what happens to them. The YA configuration features characters who must learn to cope with the cruel and arbitrary pathologies of "reality" and to accept other people's drama.

The Facts of Life is like the Cliff's Notes of Judy Blume, or maybe just a glorified series of after-school specials connected only by the convenience of a constant cast. Once you account for the roughly 25 percent of the episodes that are about the girl's literature standbys--love, friendship, and gossip--what you have left is episode after episode of issue confrontation. I thought Seventh Heaven was egregious in this regard, but at least it had 40 minutes to develop each crisis. In The Facts of Life, a character lapses into and out of alcoholism in about 20 minutes, and the span of two TV-time days. With this, we are to conclude that the issue has been faced and conquered, and the girls have reached an important development milestone.

Which is all too bad, because the show has such potential. The actors all look like normal human beings who are the age of their characters and re-wear their clothes. (Phoebe disagrees, but I think the fat girl is a surprisingly likable and natural character. Especially for a show that clearly wants to make an issue out of everything, it has done well by not making an issue out of Natalie's weight, or at least not in the episodes I've seen.) Edna Garrett is awesome. The school is recognizable enough to be all-American, and exotic enough (boarding school!) to be compelling (if only they would ever leave its dining room). It could've been a great show if it weren't so intent on teaching lessons about so-called real life. Not that this has stopped me from watching the available season on Hulu and all the minisodes, too.

Why? Because the pathology stuff (later variants have been named "bleak lit" but Facts of Life is too optimistic and the bleakness too external to the main characters to qualify, though it's clearly on the same road) is incredibly appealing to adolescent girls. Weirdly, both the Victorian/Edwardian Little Women and Anne of Green Gables virtue stories and the Judy Blume and Melvin Burgess issue confrontation work on girls, and contemporary girls, at least those who read, have almost all read both. Why is that? Both are, notably, kinds of morality tales. Children discriminate less between high and low literature, but I'm not sure that explains the appeal of what appear to me to be two radically different approaches to the question of how to become an adult.

Plus, it has a great theme song. (Not the first season version.)