Thursday, May 24, 2007

Misery memoirs? No thanks!

According to this week's The Bookseller, 17,856 copies of of Stuart Howarth's Please, Daddy, No were bought in the week ending 12 May, bringing this Harper Element title from No 15 on the Top 50 list to No 7.

Who are the readers who want to wallow in an account of a wretchedly unhappy childhood?

People who've have the same experience themselves?

Surely, if you've had a rotten upbringing, the thing to do is to get out from under ASAP and put it behind you?

At the Spiked Review of Books I found an article headed "An emotional striptease" by Frank Furedi, [see photo] Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, and author of Politics of Fear, Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, Therapy Culture, Paranoid Parenting and Culture of Fear.

"Ignore those publishers who claim ‘misery memoirs’ are popular because they tell life-affirming stories of survival. In truth, these books are a voyeur’s wet dream."

Furedi goes on, "These days, if you pop in to your local bookshop you are far more likely to pick up yet another autobiography revealing the sordid details of a despondent childhood than to leaf through an uplifting story of human endeavour. Welcome to the ever-expanding misery memoir market. The titles weighing down the shelves of bookshops throughout Britain, and on the other side of the Atlantic too, tell their own story. Behind Closed Doors, Don’t Ever Tell, God’s Call Girl, A Child Called It, Don’t Tell Mummy, Sickened - they all point to the dark and menacing secrets of a childhood dominated by toxic parents and other assorted paedophiles. This is human degradation on display."

Later he asks, "So, why is the market in misery books booming? Over the past three decades, traditional views of childhood, the family and private life have been constantly challenged. As a social scientist I am continually amazed to find that there are hardly any positive accounts of family life in academic literature these days. Instead the family is vilified as a site of child abuse and domestic violence. Rather than treating such dreadful episodes as tragic but thankfully rare occurrences, numerous ‘experts’ insist that they are the norm. One such expert has argued that the American home is ‘more violent than any other single institution’. "

"Family life, once idealised as a haven from a heartless world, is now widely depicted as a vile and abusive institution. Child protection professionals and media commentators seem to issue endless warnings about the dangers children face from their parents. This normalisation of child abuse has given rise to the idea that all those who live in families – which is almost everyone – is ‘at risk’. In academic literature on family violence, it is frequently argued that every child is potentially at risk of harm and every man is a latent wife-beater."

Towards the end of his article, Furedi writes, "As a social scientist, I am uncomfortable with the trend for intelligent adults to present themselves as debased victims. And as a father of an 11-year-old boy, I am deeply disturbed by the ideas that he is already picking up about childhood and family life. Like his friends, he knows too much about child abuse and seems to assume that family instability and even violence are the norm. Cruelty to children is no longer confined to dramatic fairytales; instead it is a daily theme in today’s ‘Real Life’ stories. Children growing up in our misery-saturated era are encouraged to interpret their lives through the prism of abuse and failure. By the time they are adults, many of them, too, will have learned to blame their shortcomings and problems on the bad stuff that happened to them in childhood.
This is where we can see the real damage caused by misery memoirs. In line with today’s prevailing cultural outlook, people are more and more expected to blame their personal failings on their parents or siblings."

Do read the whole article.


At 29 May, 2007, Blogger Richard Havers said...

Misery memoirs are much like our news broadcasts, they paint a picture of a world that most of us have no connection with. While I think that the reasons behind the way our news is presented are very different from why the MMs are such a success. I find myself agreeing with just about everything Mr Furedi says

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