The Rainbow Party's End Leads to a Slag Heap

Some thought-provoking stuff shared by a.fortis with our writing circle:

I got this item in an SCBWI newsletter some time ago and just rediscovered it–still timely, apparently, since there were a few references to Rainbow Party at the recent conference. -a.fortis
5. NY TIMES covers Rainbow Party

The NEW YORK TIMES today [July 1] has a story about Paul Ruditis’s RAINBOW PARTY, a new YA novel from the Simon Pulse imprint that revolves around the idea of an oral sex party:

Reporter Tamar Lewin starts with parents, as well as “bloggers and conservative columnists,” being shocked by this book. Which is, of course, part of its appeal. The article then goes on to reveal:

a) No oral sex party ever actually takes place in the novel, despite many pages of talk about it. That may be one of its realistic aspects because…

b) None of the sex-ed and adolescent-psych experts interviewed for the article said they know teens who have actually participated in oral sex parties as described in the book. For example, Dr. Deborah Tolman, director of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State, says, “girls, particularly early adolescents, are still getting labeled as sluts and suffering painful consequences. The double standard is remarkably intact. So what could be girls’ motivations for participating in such parties? And I can’t quite imagine, even for a moment, teenage boys comparing their lipstick rings.” There’s a lot of talk, but the rumors of “rainbow parties” seem to be distorting what most adolescents’ true sexual activity.

c) This book was actually commissioned by Simon Pulse Editorial Director Bethany Buck after hearing the phrase “rainbow party” on an OPRAH episode. She took the idea to Ruditis, author of other YA novels and such pop fare as THE BRADY BUNCH GUIDE TO LIFE. Together they developed a spectrum of characters to cover a range of situations, attitudes, and/or recognizable types. So we’re not talking about a book arising from an author’s personal or parental experience, but one step in a spiral of media attention: OPRAH begets RAINBOW PARTY, which begets newspaper columns, which begets this message…

(Thanks to John Bell, RA Central New England, MA. Email: [email protected])

I was…confused by this. Okay, no, not all YA fiction is going to come from an entirely personal place — it’s not called ‘fiction’ for nothing. But this seemed a very wag-the-dog type of marketing ploy, and dishonest manipulation. This piece prompted a mini-rant from fellow-writer Jennifer S:

Oh Oprah, how will you next enlighten us with the dastardly ways of the world according to the latest suburban myth?

I have a bunch of preconceived notions about this book, having read the Ann Brashares NY Times Op-Ed piece as well as several reviews, but I suppose I should read the actual book before I pass judgment. It sounds like yet another overly moralistic, don’t-do-it, look-what-could-happen-to-you-a-la-Go-Ask-Alice, a-very-important-after-school-special piece that puts down girls and their budding sexuality, lumping them either into the virgin camp or the slut camp, implying there is no other alternative. In fact, I’ve been surprised with some of the recently published teen lit books I’ve read this summer that still offer up these two camps as the only perceptions of female sexuality. Perhaps the one exception is “Looking for Alaska,” (c. 2005, Dutton) which is–ironically (or not, when I really think about it)–written by a man.

Are we still really doomed to be either a virgin or a slut? How about neither? Haven’t we progressed beyond Madonna/Whore in the 21st Century?

Okay, okay, I’ll crawl back down from my podium and read the book before I say more.

Has anyone else read it yet?

I haven’t– and whomever gets to it first, please review on our sister site! Meanwhile, I’m not sure the blame rests solely with Oprah for the furor over a *perceived trend in teen sexuality. First and foremost, she’s a talk show hostess, not a psychologist, not a teacher, not anyone who gets anywhere near children unless it’s for a photo op. How is she really going to know anything? A talk show hostess’ main job is to… talk. And give others something to talk about. Does being a multi-millionaire automatically beget talking about things that make sense? Obviously no. To me this is another example of the public’s gullibility, and of an omnipresent media ever ready to swoop in and manipulate and capitalize on people’s ever multiplying fears. Need we be surprised that this time the media outlet is the book publishing industry?

Until people insist on thinking for themselves, especially in the formation of issues close to their hearts (and if they’re parents, that means their kids), this is what we end up with — hysteria over imaginary sexual trends in order to manufacture A Solemn Warning about sex – for no real reason at all.

I have to admit that I’m disappointed that it’s an STD Story – I read Melvin Burgess’ Doing It and saw how a frank discussion of sexuality could happen without all the panic. However, as this book was debuted in the U.S., I’m not sure (until I read it) if it could have been broached any other way and gotten published. Are people more conservative in truth in this country than they like to say? I’d certainly like to revisit this once I read the book…

*And you notice no one ever names the ‘guests’ on the Oprah show who came up with this? Ostensibly the show’s Michelle Burford found her “facts” from interviewing parents and their teens. Which parents? Which teens? I think THAT bears more research.

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