Friday, December 19, 2008

How to Talk to Girls

I'll admit, a little part of me is jealous of child authors. Why did no one pluck my creative writing gems from the obscurity of a Langwarrin primary school classroom, send them to HarperCollins and put me on the talk show circuit to exploit my precocity? Perhaps because it would have been an unlikely phenomenon in the '80s to place a child author through the publicity mill and because no such array of marketing opportunities exists in Australia. And also possibly because my writing was not extraordinary. In fact, the writing and ideas of each and every eight-year-old cannot fail to be ordinary, comparatively speaking. Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein at 18, but it's a hard stretch to think of titles of literary note or longevity first begun when the writer was eight. But what the pre-teen writer can be is cute in book publicity. Cue Alex Greven.

His guide to primary school romancing apparently began as a school project, but it has now taken him to the bestseller lists. The book currently sites inside the Top 200 titles sold on Well done to him for his success, but watching the promotional video from the publisher incited a disturbed twinge from my conscience, as he appears rather coached (in the bizarro Bindi Irwin way). I'm sure that he devised most of the book, but I wonder if the unintentionally comedic elements have been inserted by adults during the publication process? Or are we dealing with a special episode of "Kids Says the Darndest Things" dedicated to one child? Did he really offer the bracketed comment about sugar to the following advice?

"The right thing to do when you have a crush is:
Never show off too much
Don’t be silly and goofy
Control your hyperness (cut down on sugar if you need to)
Make sure you have good friends who won’t try to take the girl you like."

While I can only too well remember the awkwardness and pain of first crushes and rejections, the casting of the whole process as boys learning the magical secret to "winning" girls grates a little on this grizzling, overanalytic feminist:

"If you do get a girl to like you, that is victory.
Winning victory is a dream for most boys, but it is very rare.
What does it take to win victory?
Read on and find out!"

Now I know Alex is only eight and hasn't single-handedly propagated this idea, but can we lose the idea that a woman is there to be won? Sure, comb your hair and wear your best size 6 pants to increase your chances in the dating stakes, but is there not an element of medieval village conqeuring to this idea that girls are there to be "won". Will we see a book from a girl author about how to "win" the right guy? Of course, there is a fixation on appearing attractive so as to achieve the same for girls, but I don't know that the language of "victory" would ever come to the fore should a little girl ever submit a school project on the topic.

Alex remarks on the status of gender power: "You also have to be aware that girls win most of the arguments and have most of the power. If you know that now, things might be easier." Best enjoy wielding all that power on the slippery dip and monkey bars now girls, as you'll have disappointment ahead when you learn that the "king of the castle" in political and corporate terms is almost invariably a king.

Alex now has another book title out called "How to Talk to Moms", so he's got the gamut of women in a young boy's life covered. The question is, has HarperCollins got every opportunity to milk this little boy of every inch of his cuteness before, like Macauley Culkin, he starts aging and disturbs the bejesus out of everyone for resembling a malformed version of his former baby-faced self.

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