"God Bless the Dream, the Dreamer and the Result." 

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Holy daring proposal Batman!

Written by: Robert O'Connor
Edited by: Kate Kliner
Joboja Staff Writers

This past week I was at my local dollar store, buying a cheap pair of headphones because I’m too thrifty to buy a pair at radio shack. I noticed off to the side of the front counter there was a shelf of books for sale. I wasn’t interested in any of them; they were all romance novels or airport novels. But it got me thinking about mass market fiction.

Bill Cosby, in his comedy album When I was a Kid, describes going to a movie serial every Saturday to watch his hero Buck Jones. He says kids don’t watch movie serials anymore because they have TV. Indeed, there are many kinds of media that have been supplanted by newer forms of media. But that shelf of books reminded me of one kind of entertainment that doesn’t really have a modern form today: Pulp magazines. They’re one of my odd obsessions.

I can imagine back in the 30’s when kids would go to their local general store and buy the latest issue of their favorite magazine for 15 cents. Adventure, Argosy, Action Stories, Western Stories, Black Mask, Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, all of them came out once a month or so. Inside were tales of action, horror and adventure, complemented by artwork and the promise of more in the next issue.

It’s arguable that comic books were the pulp magazine’s successor, but I’m skeptical of this. Comic books deal with the adventures of one character, like Spider Man or Batman. With pulp magazines, characters sometimes reappeared, but not always. Also, comic book publishers have had some rules as to what can and cannot appear in comics since the 1950's, while pulp magazines were much looser. Some of the original Conan the Barbarian stories feature graphic violence and nudity.

Imagine today if there were still pulp magazines; If graphic stories were still being published by the masses and sold to kids in supermarkets. On the one hand, concerned organizations might pressure the magazines to tone down, but on the other hand lots of kids would be reading. They’d be reading material written for them, sharing their fascinations and treating them like intelligent human beings.

One of the things that irritates me about children’s literature is how careful it is. How authors must subtly educate their readers about important things and how authors skip over potentially risky topics. And when they deal with risky topics, it’s almost like they are writing in order to say to the parents “see? I’ve done the right thing.” Maybe all of us could talk to kids like they were intelligent and they’d become intelligent.

Everyone gripes and complains about how kids today don’t read as much as they used to, with TV, movies, video games and the internet entertaining them instead. Maybe one reason that kids don’t read as much is because stories written today for them don’t speak to them. Help! There are Liberals under My Bed!, despite its labeling as a “children’s book” is not written for children. Neither is Why Mommy is a Democrat, Kids are Americans Too or The Hot House Flowers. No, these books are written for parents who are worried that their kids might think for themselves and not agree with them when they are old enough to understand politics. That and the authors want money.

So, I propose an experiment. Let’s bring back pulp magazines. Let’s bring back exciting stories every month. Let’s bring back the day when novels were published one chapter a month, with people waiting in anticipation to buy the next issue to see what happened (it worked with Harry Potter). Let’s bring back books for children that speak to them intelligently and see what happens to the literacy rate.

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