Our Masterpieces...Err, Our Novels

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for...Outdated Pop Culture References

Controversial Song of the Day:  "You're So Last Summer" by Taking Back Sunday

For the entire month of April, we'll be participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge Our theme for the month? CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS IN YA. Check out the link above for other awesome blogs participating.

Taken from mariashriver.com
Dang! Sike! That's the bomb! These are just a few of the gems that Quita and I would say when we were in middle and high school. I recently told one of my students that something they did was the bomb, and they just blinked at me. It was the same confused look I received when I mentioned Freddy Kruger and the Cabbage Patch Dolls to them. And that's when I realized:

I'm old.

So slang and pop culture isn't necessarily controversial--but it is something we have to be careful when writing our own YA novels. For example, I started writing Project J almost 2 summers ago, and my lead character mentioned the Wii Fit Board. When I started revising it again a few months ago, I paused at that reference. Um, don't people use Kinect now? And don't get me started with how often I mentioned Facebook in stories. Sure, it's still "hot" now--but we all know what happened to MySpace (RIP).

I think what's more frustrating is when I go through great details to remove these references from my own manuscripts, and then see them pop up in published books (albeit, GOOD books). What's this? Teens REALLY still listen to Death Cab for Cutie and think that James McAvoy is hot?

Yet, there are some novels that stand the test of time by not mentioning any pop culture or creating their own slang. Here's a few:
Can you all think of any other "timeless" YA novels? How do you all feel about pop culture references in your writing?


Meredith said...

Yep to everything you just said. That's the exact reason I don't do pop culture references in my book (save maybe one or two already outdated/common knowledge ones).

Daisy Carter said...

I try not to reference any pop culture, but since I write contemporaries, sometimes they get in there in my drafting. It's not easy - you want your characters to seem real, and what teen doesn't have a favorite tv show or song or movie or band or... Not mentioning them by name takes a lot of creativity! Good post!

Rachel said...

I think pop culture is such a toughie. I originally used YouTube, Facebook, etc. in my novel but took it out due to a beta's suggestion that it would possibly age my novel. However sometimes, pop culture can MAKE the book. See- The Future of Us by Jay Asher&Carolyn Mackler. I loved recognizing all the 90s stuff (though I was between ages of 1-11 during the 90s, but I still remember dial-up LOL).

I think if done well, pop culture references aren't terrible.

Jolie du Pre said...

My novella focuses on the actions of an 18-year-old. Pop culture references have to be in there, because teens are all about it. You just have to make sure that your references are current for the time that you're writing the book. Using a 1980 reference in a 2012 book is a no/no.

Jolie du Pre
Precious Monsters

Rebecca B said...

Oh, those dreaded pop-culture anachronisms. I am so guilty of them!

Susan Oloier said...

You are so right. I recently finished a YA novel chock full of cultural references (today). Probably when I return to edit it, they will be so outdated.
Excellent post. It helps us all be aware of these faux pas.

Jaime Morrow said...

This is a tough one. I'm writing a sci-fi story right now, so I have to completely avoid any references to pop culture. It's funny because even the ways we'll word something can seem dated. Here's an example:

"She's all kinds of clever."

That 'all kinds of' segment is kind of linked to the ways people say things today. That might not be the best example, but you get what I mean. I also made mention of the Amish in my WiP, and my sister picked up on it. Will the Amish still be around so far into the future? Who knows. Definitely something to consider, though.

I think the odd pop culture reference in writing is okay, but sometimes it goes way overboard. If a book sets out to do this (THE FUTURE OF US), then it can be really great too. Verdict: Proceed with caution. :)

Rae said...

The novel I'm working on now has my character competing in a dance reality show. I've battled with whether or not I should take it out, but it's an important part of my character's journey, I'm keeping it in.

Carrie-Anne said...

My handwritten magnum opus has now advanced so far in the timeline that it's in late contemporary historical territory. Since it's intended as historical fiction, in spite of creeping ever closer to the present day, it wouldn't make sense not to include references to technology and pop culture for historical flavor. For example, people in 1998 will be using AOL Instant Messenger and getting excited over new-fangled stuff like digital cameras and GPS systems for the car.

I wasn't the only one upset when the early books in The Babysitters' Club were reissued a few years ago and rewritten as though they were products of the 21st century. Those books came out in the Eighties and Nineties, and are products of that era. It seems all kinds of wrong for references to things like VCRs, Walkmans, cassette tapes, and popular actors of the era to be replaced with their 21st century counterparts. If a young person reading the books today genuinely doesn't know what a cassette tape or VCR is, s/he can always look it up or ask someone. That's part of the fun of reading a book written in another era, references to bygone things.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Guilty as charged.

Margo Berendsen said...

Oh my, I LOVE YOUR A-Z Theme!!! So glad to have discovered this - I looked back over five or six of your posts, loved them all.

fortunately I write YA historical and also YA SF so I'm safely stuck in the past where you can research lingo and the future where you can make it up. This is tough for contemporary!!! Makes me want to re-read Lola and the Boy Next Door to see how it was handled there.

Laura Marcella said...

Hello, Pam and Quita! I like Judy Blume's YA and S.E. Hinton's YA but I haven't re-read them recently enough to recall any pop culture references. Nowadays, publishers update middle-grade and YA books to fit the times which is SO annoying. They really need to keep it how it is because that's one of the ways we learn about the past.

Have an awesome week and happy A to Z!!

Mrs. Silverstein said...

I was just talking about this with my students today--we were watching a Simpsons episode in my TV Writing class and it started with a visual gag of Homer chasing Bart in the style of Roadrunner/Coyote cartoons. Most of my kids knew RR/Coyote when I explained it, but I pointed out how some things stand the test of time (like that) and others will probably not (if they pepper their scripts with references to Rebecca Black's "Friday" or Keyboard Cat, which are already dated.) Bee-tee-dubs: the episode I showed them was a good 2-5 years older than my high school students. And it wasn't even from the first season. When did kids get so young?

Ro @ Eat Live Move said...

While I'm not a writer, I think I'm still stuck in the 90's! Damn, Gina!

Eat Live Move: Intuitive Eating from A to Z!

Jessica Love said...

Oh, this is so tough. Especially with contemp.

I hate it when books try to get around technology by having their character be the one person with the strict parents who won't let their kids have a cell phone or something. But at the same time, oh man, things can get dated. I LOVE the book Two Way Street by Lauren Barnholdt, but the entire premise of the book revolves around MySpace! And it's not even that old!

My husband was watching The Departed the other day and what is probably a pretty timeless movie in every other way was completely dated by the cell phones the characters use. And I'm writing a book where characters talk online...but will that change by the time when/if it gets published? But if I have them just talk on the phone...is that too unrealistic? I should just have it set in the past and not worry about it. Haha.

Pam Harris said...

Whoa...you all had such AWESOME comments. And Jessica, I forgot all about pop culture references in movies. I LOVE The Departed (one of my fave movies, actually), but now I'm going to be on the look-out for the cell phones.

Stephsco said...

The thing with The Future of Us is it's technically historical - it just only goes 15 years back. In historical writing, the timely details add to the setting. I'm reading it now and loving the references to Seinfeld, Wayne's World, AOL discs and how DVDs are brand new. In the same way a novel from Victorian times might references popular books of the age, I think in that aspect it adds to the story.

Also, glad to hear "the bomb" is outdated. I did a double take when I heard an 60 year old guy say it on the radio. I thought, if that was cool when I was in high school in the '90s, there's no way it's still cool. Yup.

Also: tight. Remember that? "Yo girl, that's tight." haha