Friday, January 18, 2008

Parochial school

The New Yorker story about the Myspace teen suicide was hard to put down, upsetting, and... frustrating. Something about the tone of Lauren Collins's article reminded me of how kids from the Midwest at UChicago would often imagine the kids from NYC perceived of them. Sometimes, unfortunately, they were correct. The juxtaposition of New Yorker-language and Myspace-middle-school-ese doesn't help, but the anthropological descriptions of what a town in the Midwest is like, what Victoria's Secret sells, these almost feel like exotic travel writing. In some places, you see, middle-class families live in these things called houses, near but not flush up against other houses. The houses aren't just for the weekend and summer, but all year long. Neighbors are not just random furniture-moving sounds from the apartment above. In some places, you actually socialize with them!

Collins refutes the idea that the story has much relevance to those, say, who read the New Yorker: "But Channelview and Dardenne Prairie, where teen-agers still have after-school jobs, are not type-A parent/overscheduled kid kinds of towns. Like Wanda Holloway, Lori Drew may not have represented a helicopter parent so much as a more ancient archetype: the resentful neighbor." I don't know the author's background--perhaps she herself grew up in a town like this and is trying to make it comprehensible to Manhattanites, and what reads as condescending is meant as straightforward explanation--but leaving aside the motivation, there's something NYC-parochial about this article. Which I'm sort of OK with--it's in a magazine calling itself the New Yorker after all--but I have yet to figure out how a NYC-centric magazine (or individual) can discuss the Heartland without sounding either patronizing or self-hatingly convinced of its own insufficient Americanness. So perhaps this article, which cannot possibly be the latter given the subject matter, is the best that can be hoped for.

But the more obvious question is why Collins doesn't mention that perhaps use of antidepressants starting in elementary school put Megan Meier over the edge.

"In the third grade, Megan told Tina that she wanted to kill herself. The Meiers took her to see a psychiatrist. Megan was prescribed Celexa (an antidepression drug), Concerta (for A.D.D.), and Geodon (a mood stabilizer)."

Hasn't it been shown that these drugs can drive the young to suicide? Being thirteen is horrible, whether the bullies are online or off-, your age or middle aged, or even if you are the bully. But of all the self-destructive acts and thoughts, hanging herself is a very strange thing for a thirteen-year-old girl to do. It could be that blaming the Internet, blurred parent-child boundaries, and stuffy towns is missing the point, missing what took an everyday crappy situation and made it a tragedy. Sort of like blaming insufficiently examined creative writing rather than gun availability for the Virginia Tech massacre. But what do I know, I'm a pro-gun-control New Yorker and thus elitist until proven otherwise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You nailed it with the observation about the "guide to the exotic mid west suburbs" tone.