Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Very Disturbing Coincidence

On occasion I read novels by Jodi Picoult. She fancies herself an author unafraid to tackle controversial subjects. Most of her works do indeed deal with dangerous ground. Unfortunately many of these books end with a lackluster, noncommital conclusion (Don't even bother with My Sister's Keeper).

Last week I finished reading her latest: Nineteen Minutes. The subject, if you can believe it, is a school shooting. The victim of bullying fights back with guns in a terrible incident that has some disturbing parallels to the Virginia Tech incident in the news this week. I am not intimating that Ms. Picoult's book has anything to do with Virginia Tech at all... My concern lies in what the author, publisher, and media might do with this coincidence.

Often when tragedy strikes, anyone and everyone is called by the media to comment. So-called experts can be anyone the media feels can extend their coverage and ratings. Here's my concern... Ms. Picoult's book was released in March and is on the NY Times Bestseller List. How long will it take the media to glom onto the parallels and try to thrust the author into the spotlight? That much is expected, but it is her response and the response of her publisher that most worries me. If Simon and Schuster and Jodi Picoult in any way promote her book by riding the coattails of this disaster, I will be seriously pissed off.

I hope that the publisher and author will show integrity and decline to exploit the events in Virginia to hype Nineteen Minutes. We have seen authors take advantage of the celebrity afforded to them as CNN, MSNBC, and others scramble for knowledgeable guests to fill the time between investigation revelations and other "real news". Should Jodi Picoult show the poor taste to presume herself an expert and show up on my screen with her book in hand... well, I guess it will be a Boycott from the Verge. She will lose me as a reader, as well as anyone else I can reach personally and through this blog.

I truly hope that all of my concern is in vain and that no one is even considering the similarities as far as personal gain but, call me a cynic, I can hear Jodi's phone ringing right now.



TomCat said...

Lucy, I hope your fears are unfounded.

Bart said...

I have no faith in the media of today to treat this with dignity and respect. None at all. But I think my own feelings on this are clear after I went off twice on the media for their knee-jerk sensationalistic coverage of the tragedy. Not once, but twice.

The media, the big guns anyway, sicken me.

Marva said...

Picoult would be strangled by her agent if she didn't comment if asked. She could take the high-road and I'd be surprised if she didn't.

Writers who manage to touch on current events, even inadvertently, should be commended for their foresight. As a writer myself, I understand the whoring one is required to do to market their product.

On the media's side, if they didn't go after every possible POV, I'd think they weren't doing their job.

It's all a matter of perspective. Should the media leave George Bush alone because they should treat the President with respect? When they don't do their job, I'd see a reason to complain.

A tragedy, yes. But it's also a news event. Of course, put the 33 killed at Virginia Tech against the 150+ innocent civilians who died in Iraq on the same day. What was secondary on the news items?

Perspective, people! It's not like people aren't murdered every single day in the US! Probably a lot more than were killed at V Tech, but they were killed one-by-one.

two crows said...

Unfortunately, the only way you or anyone else will know if she was even approached by the media is if she panders.
'Ms. Picoult was not available for comment,' is not news--and won't be reported.
So, in this case, no news would be the best news you could get.

aamof--that little axiom is becoming more and more true in more and more areas, these days.

Flimsy Sanity said...

I would value her opinion as much as Dr. Phil's - that is if I listened to any of them. She probably was inspired by all the other high school shootings that were reactions to bullies.

Catmoves said...

Lucy, I agree with all these comments and your editorial. But when I consider the amounts of ink and blather that accompanied the death of gal who sold herself to a millionaire, I don't feel secure about it at all. Let's all cross our fingers.

Mrs. Long's Best Student said...

Jodi Picoult probably based the premise of her book on Columbine, thinking it was enough years in the past that people wouldn't be so sensitized anymore to its immediacy. She may be as horrified as anyone at the coincidence of the timing. I like her books, find them very readable but somewhat unrealistic. For instance, I really didn't like the one about the woman who kills the priest she thinks molested her son. It just didn't seem in character for someone of the intelligence and professionalism the mother in the book seemed to have in the beginning. All of her books show a rather extreme solution for these situations. That said, perhaps Nineteen Minutes (which I haven't read yet) may be the most realistic of all since kids at Columbine really did have that extreme a solution to their problems.

Steve said...

I know Ms. Picoult personally and she turned down some 20+ requests for interviews shortly after the VT tragedy. She let a statement on her web site do her talking to her. Recently, though, there were some quotes from her on the BBC News site. (She is currently in the UK on tour.)

Nineteen Minutes was based in part on Columbine, but Jodi also interviewed survivors not only from Columbine but also from a shooting in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Say what you will about her novels, but she is very thorough and also very thoughtful with her research.

Given that Nineteen Minutes debuted at number 1 on the N.Y. Times best-seller list, why would Jodi and/or Atria Publishing would use the VT shootings to drum up extra publicity? Is it needed? Apparently not - as we have seen, neither Jodi nor Atria / Simon and Schuster have been brazen enough to exploit this tragedy. So sleep easy tonight, Lucy. There's still some credibility left in this world.

Women on the Verge said...

Thank you, Steve, and thank Ms. Picoult for me. There are many authors who would use tragedy for publicity despite being #1. I have renewed faith in her. I will have to check out her web site.

And if you chat with Jodi, tell her that Lucy really loved the TLC she obviously put into the heartwrenching story, Nineteen Minutes. It's just too bad the timing wasn't better...