If you haven't heard this one: a Swedish writer calling himself J.D. California wrote an unauthorized sequel to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, called 60 Years Later: Coming Through The Rye, prompting Salinger to sue his ass for pirating his master creation.
This prompted a recent New York Times article about how the current generation of young people no longer find Catcher relevant and think that Holden is too "whiny," titling the article "Get a Life, Holden Caulfield". Teens today are impatient and unsympathetic to Holden's passivity and cynicism.
The article proposes a few reasons for this:
1. Teens today are more competitive with each other to be accepted into society's institutions (elite universities, jobs, etc.), rather than trying to rebel against them.
2. Salinger wrote in the generation of the disaffected, when teen culture was counter-culture. Now we are all about fitting in to convention.
3. Catcher was written at a time when there was no real teen culture, leaving a vacuum between childhood and adult life that we no longer have to flounder in. Because we are blessed with Gossip Girl and Facebook, the search for self is no longer a concern!
4. We are done with asking the question "what does it all mean?", not because we've answered it, but because we don't really care anymore.
I have a problem with these explanations, especially the first two. The journalist writes that "These days, teenagers seem more interested in getting into Harvard than in flunking out of Pencey Prep." I definitely agree that as a generation, we are more conformist than our parents. But even so, the dichotomy that Catcher sets up, between the middle-class suck-ups with inflated egos who want to go to Harvard and the rebellious, disillusioned counter-culture Holden represents still exists. Holden's whole MO was not fitting in to a role that was expected of him. He describes the prattish prep school kids that were and still are the Norm, which he alone grows disgusted with and rejects. Not really different than adolescent society today.
Explanation #3 is an interesting one. Perhaps the evolution of teen culture has given us a space for us to move, lessening the appeal of roaming the streets of New York City in search of some unnameable truth. It does seem that these days, there is a community or a group for just about every type of young person that in some way fits into larger society. Every large university has its preps, its hipsters, its wierdos. We've splintered off into so many neat subgroups that me vs. the world doesn't really exist anymore. Hmmm. Perhaps.
As for Explanation #4, one student is quoted as saying, “Oh, we all hated Holden in my class. We just wanted to tell him, ‘Shut up and take your Prozac.’ ”
The typical response of our generation. If someone is not quietly conforming to everyone else's rules, they should be medicated. After shutting up.
As for the sentiment that the book is outdated and irrelevant, I have a little something to say to those students.
Let me introduce you whiny motherfuckers to an age-old practice called picking up a book.
You complain that the vocabulary and expressions- "phony" and "lousy" and "grand" -are outdated. Does that mean you can't read Pride and Prejudice because NO ONE TALKS LIKE THAT ANYMORE?? That's the WHOLE FUCKING POINT of reading a book. To put it in terms you can understand, it's like suspending your disbelief when you watch a movie. You're supposed to agree to the characters, the plot, the setting, on its own terms, be taken in by it, and get something out of it that applies to you and your life.
Leading me to the crucial possibility that the article doesn't acknowledge: that Kids These Days have forgotten how to read. That they- the royal "they"- are (figuratively) illiterate.
Of course we are all allowed our opinions on books. I accept that not everyone has an affinity for Holden Caulfield and thinks The Catcher in the Rye is a work of genius. Fine. But the idea that whole classrooms full of teenagers can so easily dismiss a character who is not Harry Potter is what makes me want to drop out of school in a disenchanted search for meaning.
Get a Life, Holden Caulfield [New York Times]
60 Years Later Coming Through the Rye [Huff Po]
The Copycat-cher In The Rye [Jezebel]
Has The Catcher In The Rye Lost Its Importance? [Fifth State]