Friday, August 21, 2009

Special Guest Blog: Five Pet Peeves by Allison Burnett

The blog returns full-time on September 1, with the theme "Five a Day." My friend Allison Burnett, author of UNDISCOVERED GYRL, kicks off the theme today with Five Pet Peeves.


1) When people praise the resiliency of New Yorkers.

New Yorkers are continually praised because they went on with their lives after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Pardon my irreverence, but did they have some other option? Might they very well have stayed in bed weeping for years? Filed like lemmings off the George Washington Bridge? Or, worse, moved, en masse, to Newark? You know who else is pretty resilient? New Orleansians. After they were submerged by Katrina, very few of them stopped existing. They got out of bed and everything. That took real New York spunk. And how about those Dresdenites? Talk about rising from the ashes. And let’s not forget those Nagasakians and Hiroshimans. Man, were they scrappy. In case you missed my point: New Yorkers aren’t resilient; human beings are.

2) When people tell anecdotes in real time.

It’s an epidemic, especially among Americans under 40. Here’s how stories used to be told: “So I walked into the kitchen and saw her standing by the stove, frying a steak. When she saw my smirk, she was confused. I reminded her that she’s a vegan and hates to cook. She had no choice but to laugh.” This is how the same story would be told today: “I walked in, and I was, like, “hi.” And she was like “You’re back.” And I was, like, “Yeah.” And she was like, “What’s so funny?” “You. You’re totally vegan and you totally don’t cook.” And she was like “So?” And I was like “So what’s up?” And on and on.

I have an ex-girlfriend once who told me a story that was so excruciatingly slow that I started to count the likes. I stopped her at 27. She was only three minutes in. That’s roughly one every 6.6 seconds. And this was no Valley girl. She majored in journalism at Duke. You see, speaking this way is not a symptom of being stupid. It’s a symptom of being a stranger to prose narrative. It’s an entire generation weaned on comic books, TV, and movies. Dialogue is all they know. Maybe the millennials will be more articulate. They at least read Harry Potter and iPod instruction manuals.

3) Yankee fans.

Let them go ahead and love their creepy team, but they should at least have the humility and grace to tell the truth about the unfair advantages it enjoys. With no salary cap and no revenue sharing, the Yankees often spend five times as much as the smaller market teams. They even spend 80 million more than Boston. One year, during the play-offs, they had more salary sitting on the bench than then entire opposing team had on the field. Think about what this means. Not only can the Yankees buy any free agent they want, but they never lose a player that they want to keep. In just the past two years, Cleveland lost two Cy Young winners they could not afford to keep. If there were a level playing field, as there is in the NFL, this would not be the case. Given their advantages, the fact that the Yankees do not win the World Series every year ought to make any self-respecting fan hide his face in shame. But if the average Yankee fan is anything, it is shameless. Oh, yeah, and resilient. There are only two times each year when I want to hug strangers: Christmas and the day the Yankees are eliminated from the play-offs.

4) The phrase “It is what it is.

When I hear it, I like to frown thoughtfully and reply, “You know, I disagree. I think it is what it isn’t. I’m sort of surprised you can’t see that.” Truth be told, I hate every idiom that spreads like wildfire across the country. Who can forget: ”At the end of the day....” “Talk to the hand.” “Don’t go there.” “Blah, blah, blah.” And then of course there is the contagion of “so.” As in “I am so not going to that party.” Or “I so can’t believe you just said that!” Or the rhetorical: “How so not into her are you?” Patients Zero of this contagion were the writers of "Friends." What amazes me is that perfectly intelligent people use these empty phrases without the slightest awareness, it seems, that everyone else is using them. And that anyone who loves language or original thinking is struggling not to judge them.

5) Adults who discuss juvenile entertainment as though it were for adults.

Can you imagine an educated adult in the 1960s, say, going to see a kid’s movie and then being eager to discuss it with friends? Imagine the characters in "Mad Men" discussing with total seriousness Mary Poppins or The Sword in the Stone. My parents wouldn’t have been caught dead watching juvenile entertainment. In fact, they considered the best of adult Hollywood fare to be pretty juvenile. It wasn’t until the great movies of the 1970s that they began to take Hollywood seriously. But these days, educated grown-ups stand in line to see Harry Potter, Star Wars, Batman, Transformers, Star Trek, etc. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with these movies. If you’re twelve years old. For an adult to feel nourished by them is sad and ludicrous. Our culture has been infantilized and it doesn’t seem to have noticed.

Thanks, Answer Girl, I feel so much better! In fact, I will add a bonus peeve:

6) When people tell me that they love my new novel and, then, in the next breath, mention that they have lent it to a friend.

My ears ring with the opposite of “ka-ching!”

Allison Burnett is a screenwriter and author whose latest novel, UNDISCOVERED GYRL, is in stores now. You can buy your own copy here.


AnswerGirl said...

Thanks, Allison! On the topic of kids' entertainment pleasing adults, though, I beg to differ.

Good storytelling is good storytelling. The very best books and films for children are good books and films, period. I liked them when I was ten, I like them now, and I feel no need to apologize for that.

The infantilizing of American culture is a different and bigger issue, and both fascinates and appalls me.

Adolescence is a relatively new sociological phenomenon, made possible by industrialization (that is, we don't need to put our kids to work in the fields as soon as they're old enough to steer a plow). Over the past 50 years, the growth of what's considered adolescence is staggering; where it used to be confined to the years 13-18, it now seems to stretch from 10 (early-onset puberty and the Hannah Montana effect) to 30. I have friends who are 40 who don't think of themselves (or behave) as adults, at least not in the sense that our parents were adults.

I blame the baby boomers. Allison, what are you planning to do to fix your generation?

It's paradoxical of you to list that as a pet peeve, though, because you've written a YA novel that I found extraordinarily compelling, although I am 25 years past adolescence. Was I not supposed to read it or enjoy it? Who's the target market for that book? Can YA books make money if they can't reach that crossover market?

Claire said...

I also disagree with #5 on your list. Right now my boyfriend have Spirited Away at home, since he's never seen it. I can't think of a better example of a film intended for a young audience that also speaks to a broad audience, and practically begs to be unpacked. Even something with the relative shallowness and lucidity of a Harry Potter book deserves the attention and discussion devoted to it, because it's engaging and enjoyable, and it doesn't condescend to its audience.

Pixar has made millions by simply acknowledging that children are still people and deserve a good movie, too. I don't see why I shouldn't also gain from that!

Allison Burnett said...

I beg to differ, Answer Girl,

Undiscovered Gyrl is not a YA novel. Random House never considered it one and neither did I. I wrote it for adults.
Only the most sophisticated teenagers who read it seem to understand what they are reading.

AnswerGirl said...

That is interesting, and I apologize for making that assumption -- but I'm sure I've seen it marketed that way. I can't find the cover letter that came with my review copy, but I didn't get that idea from nowhere.

You're right, though; I wouldn't recommend that book to anyone younger than 15.

The YA book market is a topic for discussion on another day. I was reading adult novels before I was 12, and the need for a separate category baffles and depresses me.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to elaborate on peeve number 1. It is also incredibly annoying when something usurious, confounding, frustrating or just plane wrong happens to you in NYC, someone inevitably throws up their hands and says, "that's New York!" The implication being that if you object then you aren't tough enough to hack it in the big city.


JIM LAMB said...

About the time that Harry Truman was deciding not to run again I was sitting in Yankee Stadium with my father,counting the pennants flying in the outfield and comparing them to the list in the program. I asked him why there wasn't one for each year. He said, "Sometimes you have to let the other guys win, otherwise they lose heart!"

This morning, the Red Sox are 6+ games back. Learn to live with it.

As for New Orleans, most of them did not return. You won't learn that from the Obama's census, but you can see it in the streets.

Claire said...

With all due respect, why criticize Obama's census when talking about the problems of New Orleans? Shouldn't we perhaps begin elsewhere?

AnswerGirl said...

Claire, he just says those things to provoke us . . . because of course, President Bush's census was a model of good government, and the 1992 redistricting was democracy in action.

barbie said...

I do so agree :-) with Pet Peeve #1. New Yorkers, while mildly amazing for their ability to not only live in NYC but like it, are only truly amazing in that they can endure the prices, the over-crowding, the smells, the high priced apartments no bigger than an average dog-run, and the loneliness and isolation the average person feels there while surrounded by millions of other human beings who seem to regard no one but themselves. Also resilient are the people who, for generations, have survived Tornado Alley, The Flood Plains, who have earned their bread in the coal mines and steel mills, and have played the roulette wheel of farming for a living Hats off to human beings.

steve said...

For #5, all I can say is:
"The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of
-- Captain James T. Kirk, "Shore Leave", stardate 3025.8

Pete said...

Its the present tense novel that sets my teeth on edge. One or two maybe, but these days it's every other novel, and I can't understand why.

Anonymous said...

I was so upset when I finished reading your book! I wanted to grab you by your neck and basically strangle you to death! Total cop put was my first reaction. But like the lit major that I hope to be I re-read the last 30 pages and sudddenly...I LOVED IT! Shivers ran up and down my spine. Only one thought ran through my mind..."Is this true? Or is Katie Kampemfelt writing this her self?"

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your posts Allison, but your statement on the Yankees has made us instant blood brothers.