#yasaves: the numers

Okay. So the WSJ article blew up Twitter. People (myself included) got emotional and responded. Teens and former teens talked about YA meant to them, how it saved them-- from boredom, from feeling alone in the world, from fear, from less "relevant" reading-- you get the idea.

But one thing I've been stuck on is the author's supposition that there is MORE "bad, edgy, dark" stuff in literature today.

Okay: I live in Baltimore where we love us some EA Poe. And let me tell you, that mofo was nothing if not dark. Look up "Macabre" as a term and you'll likely see his face. Or a Raven. Maybe both. And he lived (and died) over 150 years ago.

So I wondered-- has our storytelling really changed *that* much in the last ten or so years?

Gee. Wouldn't it be great if there was like, a way to tell if certain "pathologies" are cropping up more? If "Profanity that would get a song or movie branded with a parental warning is, in young-adult novels, so commonplace...?"

Like, wouldn't it be cool if Google had this way of tracking terms in books and whether those terms have increased, decreased or held constant? (And wouldn't it be great if a certain journalist had already done this? As any J-school grad worth her salt should?)

Hold. The. Phone. Google DOES have such capabilities. Enter: Ngram.

Now, caveat #1: there is no way to differentiate between ALL THE BOOKS and just those meant for young adults but we'll suppose that if the Pregnant in Heels is to MTV's 16 and Pregnant, as goes one arm of commercial media, so goes another. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Or vice versa.

At the very least, charted over time, even if all increases in say the f-bomb came ONLY from literature meant for young adults, (Allen Ginsberg tells me it probably doesn't, but I digress) we'd still be able to account for that rise and see if truly the last ten years or so have changed.

Caveat #2: there are a lot of slang that didn't exist back in the day (to "hook-up," for example, has only recently become a way of describing... well, you know). In fact, I imagine that comparing the use of the word "screw" in 1900 to today would skew the results for obvious reasons. 

So no, this won't be fool-proof. But at the very least it would give us an idea, right? Just a small glimpse at what the numbers *might* be doing.

I created two graphs one that focuses solely on the three most common curse words and one that focuses on some of the terms relevant to "dark" YA. Ngram combed through ALL THE BOOKS on Google Books to show us this:

"Edgy" words in ALL THE Books 1950- 2008

Curse Words in ALL THE Books: 1900 - 2008


So there they are. The facts. The figures. The numbers.

I had this professor in journalism school once who DRILLED this into our heads: Perception is reality. In advertising/PR it means what people think is true becomes true even if it isn't. Because it feels true. Even if it isn't.

Which can be a scary thing.

So let's see: middle-aged adults are telling teens what they should and shouldn't think, what they can or cannot read, how they should or shouldn't act, what they can or cannot feel. For their safety.

And most of that fear-mongering is based on... nothing.

Like I said before, I just can't IMAGINE why teens are so attracted to the themes and sub-genre of dystopians.

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