Juvenile Delinquents and John Le Carré: books read

A CYCLE OF OUTRAGE: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s by James Burkhart Gilbert looks at the conviction American society was under siege by youth running wild (teen sex! teen crime!) and that the cause of it was found in popular culture: movies, comic books and rock-and-roll were corrupting America’s youth (part of the issue for intelligentsia taking this line was that national popular culture erased regional, local culture, and didn’t embrace Social Realism the way they thought it should). Gilbert looks at the various movers and shakers from the FBI to anti-comics activist Fredric Wertham and their various efforts to figure out a solution. However as they were frequently at odds with each other (was government censorship the answer?) nothing really developed.

This is very inside baseball in spots, though Gilbert does a good job showing how the crisis was perceived and whether there really was a crisis (statistics aren’t reliable enough to be sure). A brief discussion of Teenagers From Outer Space makes me think the juvenile-delinquent stereotype is the reason for making the ETs teens (whose ruthlessness comes from Bad Upbringing).

TEENAGE CONFIDENTIAL: An Illustrated History of the American Teen by Michael Barson and Steven Heller focuses more on the pop culture side, showing how teens went from cute and wholesome (Andy Hardy, Archie) to Wild And Dangerous, as captured in multiple films, comics and paperbacks. More entertaining than Cycle of Outrage, and I don’t think less deep. Between them they should give me some useful thoughts about how teens are portrayed in movies such as The Blob.John Le Carré’s SILVERVIEW has a businessman turned bookstore owner strike up friendship with Edward, a local gent who has some good advice on how to boost store traffic — and by the way, could I use your computers to do some relevant online research? Unfortunately it turns out Edward has a mysterious past, connections with MI5 and a current project that’s of great concern to the heads of national security … In the introduction, the late novelist’s son says his father charged him with finishing and publishing any leftover material at the time of Le Carré’s death; to his surprise, this novel was finished and polished so he just had to get it to the publisher. I wonder if the issue might have been that his father wanted to add some material: 200 pages is relatively short these days and Edward’s project could have used some explaining. As is, it’s not great but it is good.

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