Saturday, March 13, 2010

All about the unintended messages

Michelle’s response to the last post on this blog reminded me of a memory that had been buried in the back of my brain for a long time.

Back when i was a teenager, i read a lot. (Still do, actually.) Since i was growing up Mormon, a chunk of what i read was the pablum that passes for adolescent literature directed at Mormons (which is not to say that most adolescent literature not directed at Mormons isn’t pablum, but that’s a separate issue). This was particularly the case since my parents ran a Mormon-oriented bookstore for a bit of my growing up.

Anyway, one book in particular (the title and author of which, sadly, are lost in the mists of brainfog) was written to try to steer young Mormons away from four of the Big Vices—alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, and premarital sex.* This book’s particular approach to the de rigueur hamhandedness of the genre was to take the done-without-names third-person narrative common to Mormon lesson manual narratives of the 70s and 80s** and apply it to horror stories about the way things could go terribly, terribly wrong for teenagers who committed sins.

I remember a few of them, but the one i particularly remember was the story of a girl (cleverly named “a young woman”) who started having sex at a very young age (i can’t recall if it was twelve or thirteen) with pretty much any willing guy she could find, and ended up contracting a sexually transmitted disease that left her infertile. This was presented as the most negative of all possible outcomes. I still remember thinking, as a teenager, that if someone was engaging in such high-risk sexual behavior, infertility would probably be a positive outcome for that person, what with having one less thing to worry about and all—and if i, in my early teens and not playing the sexual promiscuity game, had that thought, i can only imagine that there were a few teenagers who were being sexually promiscuous who figured that they’d just been informed of a novel way out of some of their major life stresses.

Like the title says, it’s all about the unintended messages.

* You’ll notice the conspicuous absence of rock and roll from this list. Apparently, the author felt that Lex de Azevedo had already done such a poorly-reasoned approach to the subject with his book Pop Music and Morality that it could never be surpassed.

** Those of you around then will remember this—stuff like “A relief society president decided she needed a better way to reach the newly-married sisters in her ward…” and “A young girl was praying at dinner one night…” I mean, could they have telegraphed that they were made-up stories any more blatantly? Probably, but i can’t think of how.

1 comment:

Heather the Mama Duk said...

But, see, your final analysis is wrong. Yes, you thought that, but most people reading it would not because you think and most, well, don't. And would just read it and go "oh, must obey; no STDs." Or, really, those that needed the message weren't reading the book. They were using the dust jacket to make their parents think they were reading the book while actually reading Flowers in the Attic.