Is Twilight Sucking The Life Out Of Students' Politics?


This Sunday’s Washington Post featured an article about the anemic state of the average college student’s book shelves and it is pretty depressing.

While there is nothing wrong with enjoying a little Twilight or Harry Potter here and there, Ron Charles argues that this is all college students are reading. Instead of reaching for well-thumbed copies of Sylvia Plath or Allen Ginsberg, our nations undergrads are buying “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” or even worse, Tucker Max’s terrifyingly popular “book” “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell”.

This latest iteration of the old “kids today!” gripe is mostly based on anecdotal evidence, but Charles does have some numbers to back up his claims. Charles relies on data from the Chronicle of Higher Education about the best selling books on college campuses, which are “mostly about hunky vampires or Barack Obama.” He connects this trend to the recent upswing in conservative students:

A new survey of the attitudes of American college students published by the University of California at Los Angeles found that two-thirds of freshmen identify themselves as “middle of the road” or “conservative.” Such people aren’t likely to stay up late at night arguing about Mary Daly’s “Gyn/Ecology” or even Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

According to Charles, the decline of card-carrying liberals has led to a generation of “vampire-loving boneheads” (because being politically moderate and enjoying Stephanie Meyer automatically makes someone an idiot). It seems that even literature students are rejecting Melville in favor of escapist fantasy. Professor Eric Williamson says, “There is nary a student in the classroom — and this goes for English majors, too — who wouldn’t pronounce Stephen King a better author than Donald Barthelme or William Vollmann.”

Full disclosure: I am currently an undergrad, working toward my BA in American Literature, and I am not entirely unfamiliar with the situation described by Charles. His fears that students are no longer getting their politics from contemporary books may very well may be true. However, like Mike Connery, writer for Future Majority, I’m not sure that this means students are entirely rejecting either great books or progressive politics. Connery says: “I don’t know that there is a fiction writer out there right now who speaks to this generation’s political ambitions. We’re still waiting for our Kerouac.” Could it be that there just hasn’t been a great novel that speaks to our generation in the way that Hemingway and Kerouac once spoke to theirs? I certainly hope that this is the case, because if it turns out that Tucker Max is the true voice of America’s youth, then we might as well give up and wait for the coming apocalypse.

On Campus, Vampires Are Besting The Beats [Washington Post]

Related: Students Pretty Much Expect B’s For Breathing, Twilight‘s Stephanie Meyer Admits Her Writing Sorta Sucks

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