Stoneybrookite

the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in Snark

Lately, I’m finding that I’m less inclined to read BSC Snark than I used to be. I’ve never been the biggest fan of snark, and it’s never been the focus of my interest in discussing the BSC. But recently, I’ve found that the snark has taken a quite virtriolic turn, and often ends up reading like long personal attacks against Ann herself. I don’t find it amusing or pleasant to read, the way I do a funny snark by my personal favorite snarkers, 3-foot-6 and alula-auburn.

I do think that Ann could have done a better job in the series with, say, her portrayal of overweight people–Ethel Tines, Norman Hill–and she could have had a class of people in Stoneybrook besides “lawyers.” Reading Ann’s newer books, however, I think she has gotten a lot better with all of issues that people complain about in the books, and from the readalong I did of her earlier books, I’d say the BSC books are an improvement.

This also came to my mind this week because I recently reread, for the 100th or so time, Beverly Cleary’s two memoirs, which are favorites of mine. As I am wont to do, after I read them, I was googling around, and came across this article from People in 1988.

It included this quote, which stuck out to me:

Unlike many other writers, she has resisted the idea that children’s books should be politically relevant. “I write about people, not problems,” she says. She has, on occasion, been criticized for this, particularly by those who wonder why her books include no minority characters. “I write about middle-class America—which, in my experience, is pretty much the same no matter what one’s color may be,” she says. “I like to think that the children in my books are the color of the reader.”

I think that recent events, such as Ferguson, have really brought to the forefront for people who may have been otherwise unaware that the experience of being middle class and white in America is not going to be universal for everyone who would be considered “middle class.” But Beverly Cleary is of a different generation, where it was a family scandal that she married a Catholic, and her first book came out four years before Brown vs. Board of Education.

Now, of course, I don’t think you could continuously publish books without non-white characters without getting some pretty heavy criticism. When I was younger, however, I don’t recall there being controversies like the one that erupted over Girls‘ all-white NYC. I got a comment on my most recent Link Roundup post from tintin lachance, who shared a quote from this article with me (titled, coincidentally, “Where’s Ramona Quimby, Black and Pretty?”):

When I worked in publishing back in the early ’90s, I had a friend who brought me along to sort publisher book donations at a well-known author’s NYC apartment. On our way, my friend told me that the author, who had quietly and modestly started an admirable literacy foundation, had also broken the color barrier in series book covers. She had had to fight to get a black main character on the cover of a book, against marketing resistance fearing the book wouldn’t sell to the series’ great white readership. She won the battle, and that book sold more copies than any of its prior series-mates. This is anecdotal, but I have no reason to doubt its veracity.

While this is, as it says in the article, anecdotal, I have to agree with tintin that it sounds like they’re referring to Ann and Jessi’s Secret Language. I also can’t think of another children’s book series from my childhood of a similar size to the BSC that had a black main character except for Saddle Club‘s Carole, who, as I remember, was not black in the earlier books.

My point with these two quotes it that Beverly Cleary is of our grandmother’s generation. Ann was born in 1955, which makes her the same age as Cleary’s twins. She is also a couple of years younger than my own mother, and I was born a month before Kristy’s Great Idea came out. So generationally, we’re dealing with grandmother/mother/current generation of people who are having kids and beginning our reign of dominating the discourse. I think we have to remember that the BSC books were written between 28 and 14 years ago, and some things are going to be out of date. It is the same as when you talk to your parents, and they say something that you find offensive. Should you start a dialogue about it? Yes. Will the result perhaps be, “Well, that’s what I’ve always said, so I’m just going to keep saying it”? Maybe. Society is evolving constantly, and while I think we should always read critically, I don’t think we should expect writers of the past to have the same views as writers of the present.

I think it’s important to look at the books in their context of their time period. If Ann wrote something egregious in Family Tree or any of her other newer books, then yes, let’s criticize the hell out of it. But for snarks of BSC books, I’d like a return to fun and lightheartedness, and less what comes off as hatred for Ann.

Now, of course, what Ann has against people who chew gum and watch TV, I’ll never know.

Over at The Billfold, Nicole Dieker has started a series called “How the Baby-Sitters Club Does Money.” So it’s basically BSC fanfiction, only she’s probably getting paid for it. She is imagining what the BSC will be like as adults, and what their financial/work situations will be like.

Now, as you might imagine, and as you probably do too, since you’re reading this blog, I always get a little protective whenever I see things written about the BSC outside of the fandom. Most of the BSC articles on BuzzFeed or Jezebel are going to be written by people who, at one point, “grew out of” the BSC, and probably haven’t thought about it in fifteen years or so. These articles frequently spell “Mary Anne” with a hyphen and “Jessi” as “Jessie.”

So far, this series contains no such mistakes. I can see that the author at least has a lot of BSC info floating around in her brain, although perhaps she has devoted less real estate to this information than the average Stoneybrookite reader. After two parts of this series have been published, I can say that she is batting 500, in Krusher parlance.

Her Mallory is enjoyable. Mallory has gained some prominence as a writer, even if she is self-publishing. I like any vision of Mallory in the future where she is not a loser. I bet that most of us relate way more to Mallory than we would ever admit. Also, she has Mallory be a part of a poly triad, and while it had never crossed my mind before, I can see that happening.

The Kristy one, though, I was not so fond of. Kristy is a mommyblogger after having a bunch of kids and a bunch of failed businesses. I don’t see Kristy as the mommyblogging type. Starting something like Babble and then somehow convincing Disney to buy it? Sure. But blogging, and just sitting there and not bossing anyone around, just typing her thoughts and dealing with photographs and design? Take a look at her first journal entry from Friends Forever:

First day with this new journal. Am inspired by Mary Anne and all she’s been through. Can’t imagine losing nearly everything I own in a fire. Can’t imagine losing nearly everything I own no matter how it happened. MA is being very brave. She managed to rescue her current diary (the little leather one with the lined, dated pages and the lock and key), which is about her only source of memories these days. Am going to start keeping journals and saving them somewhat fireproof. Think I’ll ask Watson if I can put them in his safe.

Kristy never writes her journal entires in complete sentences. She doesn’t want to spend the time. And working part time in a bank? No way. I also can’t see her ever accepting handouts from Watson. Kristy has always been a hardworker and very ambitious.

Now, I can see Dawn becoming a mommyblogger in the healthy living niche easily. She could use her blog as a platform to make herself feel better than everyone else, and her Vista diaries have been good practice for blogging. Mary Anne could get in with the Mormon mommybloggers with perfect houses and children, since she is so domestically inclined. But Kristy? Not enough power in just having a mommyblog.

There are certain things which happen with regularity in children’s series about middle schoolers aimed at young girls that do not really happen in real life all that often. Here is a but a short list, culled from readings of The Baby-Sitters Club and GirlTalk. Other tropes or other series/tv shows in which these things happen are welcome and encouraged in the comments.

Modeling.
Since there is usually at least one main character who breathtakingly beautiful (while also being intelligent and modest), modeling is a good, exciting plot to turn to. Because what young girl doesn’t want to be judged solely on her looks? GirlTalk blew this wad early, in the third book of the series, The New You. Allison Cloud models after being selected in a Belle modeling search. She could have gone on to have a real modeling career, but the she wouldn’t have time to read 100 books over summer vacation.

Stacey was so pretty that Scholastic felt justified in using this plot twice. The first was in the tv show, where Stacey was selected to model for Bellair’s and also could have gone on to have a big career, but chose baby-sitting instead. Much more glamorous. Then in Stacey and the Fashion Victim, she participates in Stoneybrook’s Fashion Week. Yeah.

Another important plot point is that the only other girl in the modeling group that your modeling character knows is the sworn enemy of the series’ main clique. Stacy Hansen in GT, Cokie Mason in BSC. They’re bitches, and they’re beautiful.

A fun twist to this plot is that in Stacey and the Bad Girls, Stacey is rejected as a model, for being “too commercial.” What, perms aren’t edgy?!

Beauty Pageants.
When I think of beauty pageants, I think of Delta Burke and Bravo’s series Toddlers and Tiaras. And the South. But in middle grade girls’ fiction, geography knows no bounds. Every town has a beauty pageant, and every girl wants to enter. Now, since sometimes the BSC takes on a feminist slant, in the BSC beauty pageant plot, it’s clients who are entering, and Mal and Jessi form the beauty pageant opposition.

But in the GirlTalk book Beauty Queens, Allison and Sabrina both enter and it’s a big fucking deal and stuff. I don’t remember what Allison’s talent was–reading? I think Sabrina gets Miss Congeniality. Whatever. I haven’t read that book in ten years.

Synchronized Swimming.
Have you ever done synchronized swimming? No? Well, in middle school book girl world, schools have synchronized swimming teams. Wtih costumes. And underwater stereo systems. Perhaps there were editors out there with Esther Williams fantasies. Again, it’s our Allison who does this sport, in Allison, Shape Up!. Jessi, our ballerina, gets this plot in Jessi’s Gold Medal. Of course, these girls take to “synchro” (that’s what the cool kids call it) and win medals and shit. But because it’d be too boring a plot to include in chapter 2s, no matter how good at synchro-ing your heroine is, it’s always a one-book deal.

Horseback Riding.
According to movies and tv shows and books, before girls love boys, they love horses. Randy, because she likes to be surprising, had this plot in GirlTalk. Surprisingly, it was a multi-book arc for her. The other girls tried it, but sucked. Mallory also tried it, and naturally sucked. Mallory and the Dream Horse is easily one of the most snarkable books of the series. Who can forget Mallory, dressed like she is from the 1965 Sears and Roebuck catalog, hanging out at a cool rich kid’s birthday party where everyone else is dressed like they are auditioning for “Kids Incorporated”?

Poor Mom, Rich New Dad.
Is your mom a harried, overworked, lonely single mother? Have no fear, because soon a really rich dude will walk into her life, marry her after like a week of dating, and soon you will all be moving to an awesome mansion, which you will have to share with your new stepsiblings. If you’re a main character in a middle grade book series, at least. Both Katie Campbell and Kristy Thomas watched as their moms were swept off their feet, and soon they had to leave the little houses they had known all their lifes for mansions. Oh noes. Katie’s new stepdad’s mansion is way cooler than Watson’s, if you didn’t read GirlTalk. It has an elevator, an indoor pool, and is fully staffed. I want to go to there.

What is your opinion on snark? This is something which is very popular among BSC fans, especially on the BSC livejournal. There are whole sites based on snark, many of which are linked in my blogroll. I happen to still be on the fence when it comes to BSC snark, however.

I like a good parody once in a while–the series of Karen stories on ff.net are a favorite of mine–but at the same time, sometimes the jokes just devolve into, “Jessi’s black, Claudia’s clothes are ugly, the BSC is soo stupid…” Then why are you reading it? Why are you spending your time writing about the series? Sometimes snark just crosses the line into negativity, and that’s when I lose interest. That’s when it stops being interesting and funny, and stops being an in-joke for fans–something that bonds fans. Then it just seems to be intended to make you feel like a jerk for actually ENJOYING the series.

Sometimes I feel like it’s just “cool” to snark, to be a hater of the series. Whatever, don’t front.

You know you love it.

So a new community just got started on livejournal: BSC Snark. In all honesty, I’m actually not that big on snark. A little snark here and there is fine, but I actually adore these books. Snark with love, perhaps, is the flavor of snark I go for. But anyway, I was reading a post about Karen’s Bunny by Lilysela when I saw this picture:

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Now, I have never been a fan of Susan Tang’s interior artwork for the LS books. It always seems like she got bored after drawing the face of the character and just scribbled the rest. Looking at these illustrations, I get the impression that I, too, could make a living being an illustrator if these drawings are considered good enough to be used throughout a series that lasts for over a hundred books. But just look at this picture! I realize that yes, this scene actually does happen in the book. That does not mean, however, that it is not a weird and disturbing image. The look on Andrew’s face, the fact that he seems to be gripping onto something imaginary, his tiger face, everything… it’s all just… WRONG.