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Archive for February, 2010

Transformative works, such as fan fiction and fanvids are a sticky subject for librarians.  Should librarians provide access to and market these resources the way we market other library resources?  If fair use can be confirmed, there’s no problem, but what of resources in the gray area?  Certainly comsumer demand for transformative works exists—look at the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Yet some brilliant transformative works sample proprietary works that are not in the public domain.  What do we do about these?  Case in point: Here’s a transformative work that reimagines The Big Lebowski, if it had been written by Shakespeare.

Brilliant?  Clearly.  Hilarious?  Obviously!  Cultural value?  I think so! 

Legal?  …ummm…

What’s an ethical librarian to do?

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Here is my analysis of Francesca Lia Block’s novel Weetzie Bat.  This is an excerpt of an assignment I completed for my Books & Materials for Young Adults class. 

Caveat Lector: SPOILER ALERT!

Weetzie Bat Analysis

            Francesca Lia Block styled her novel Weetzie Bat in the form of an urban fairy tale, but the challenges her teen protagonists face are very real.  Weetzie’s traditional family is broken, but she takes action to create a nontraditional family that can withstand the shocks and jolts of life.  In spite of the playful language, funny names and magical setting, Block explores a number of thorny issues, including divorce, substance abuse and death.  Nonetheless, Weetzie and her friends face these challenges with the stoic bravery of fairy tale heroes and fight for their happy ending.

            Block’s novel tells the story of Weetzie Bat, her friend Dirk, his significant other Duck, and Weetzie’s significant other My Secret Agent Lover Man.  The novel begins with friends Weetzie and Dirk, who want happy, lasting relationships but seem to be dating all the wrong boys.  Dirk’s grandmother Fifi gives Weetzie a golden lamp that happens to contain a genie (1998, 17-18).  Weetzie wishes for a Duck for Dirk, My Secret Agent Lover Man for herself, and a house in which they can live happily ever after (19).  One by one, Weetzie’s wishes begin to come true.  Dirk falls in love with a man named Duck (22), Weetzie falls in love with a man named My Secret Agent Lover Man (26), and Fifi dies and leaves her house to Dirk and Weetzie (20).  They all move in together, but everyone does not live happily ever, at least not immediately.  Weetzie wants a baby, but My Secret Agent Lover Man does not (33).  Weetzie, Dirk and Duck decide to have a baby together, but when My Secret Agent Lover Man finds out Weetzie is pregnant, he gets angry and leaves (38).  My Secret Agent Lover Man comes back after the baby is born, but Weetzie’s nontraditional family faces a series of other crises: a witch’s curse, a witch baby, Weetzie’s father’s death, and Duck’s disappearance.  By the end of the book, the witch’s curse is broken, the witch baby is integrated into the family, and Duck is found again.  Block implies that this family may not live happily ever after, but that they can choose to live happily, nonetheless.

            The plot and style of Block’s novel present the story in the form of a fairy tale.  The characters face a series of challenges and conflicts that become steadily more difficult to manage, some of which are magical and some of which are realistic.  Nilsen and Donelson categorize Weetzie Bat as a realistic spoof (2009, 24), while Block describes her books as “urban fairy tales” (2009, 82).  The magical elements of the story, the genie (1998, 18) and the witch’s curse (43), provide a lens of whimsy and fantasy through which to view real problems.  Finding and maintaining healthy relationships, finding a place to live, coping with the death of caregivers, and coping with the repercussions of infidelity all represent real problems that young adults face.  The adults are largely absent from the plot, leaving the young adults to struggle through these challenges with only their friends for support.  Weetzie’s father Charlie and Dirk’s grandmother Fifi make brief appearances, like fairy godparents, to leave the youth a house or drop a word of advice.  Block does not allow her characters to dwell on the deaths of Fifi and Charles for long, but keeps the action of the story moving at a steady clip.  This stylistic feature reflects the perspective of many young adults, who live in the now and maintain a forward-looking focus.  Ultimately, Weetzie and her friends must make their own choices and be the architects of their own happiness.

            Weetzie’s story unfolds in the integral setting of Los Angeles, with punk culture and Hollywood lending a surreal and magical element to the atmosphere.  Weetzie finds L.A. and Venice exciting, colorful and larger than life, which supports the fairy tale atmosphere of the story.  She hated high school because none of her peers seemed to appreciate the magic of L.A., except for Dirk (3).  To Weetzie, the fantasy land of L.A. seems like an ideal place to build her fantasy family.  But Charlie cannot embrace the fantasy of L.A., because it reminds him of Weetzie’s mother, Brandy-Lynn.  Charlie says that everything in L.A. is “illusion, imitation, a mirage.  Pagodas and palaces and skies, blondes and stars…  It’s like having a good dream.  You know you are going to wake up” (58).  Weetzie and Charlie’s different perceptions of L.A. highlight the idealism of teens and the jaded pragmatism of adults.  Weetzie and her friends learn that darkness sometimes lurks beneath the brightly-colored façade of life, but Weetzie accepts the darkness with the light and does not allow herself to feel cheated by appearances.

            As is typical in young adult literature, the primary protagonists are all young adults, although we are never given definite ages.  Weetzie and Dirk are in high school at the opening of the book (3), but Block does not clearly state how much time passes in the course of the story.  This detail also supports the dreamlike, fairy tale quality of the story.  Weetzie makes her own clothes, and Dirk and Weetzie both experiment with outfits, accessories and make-up (4-5) because they are still trying to invent themselves.  Duck is “a small, blonde surfer” with freckles on his nose, and Duck and Dirk fall in love at first sight (22).  Duck’s character is less developed at the beginning of the story: Block only explains that he goes to the beach everyday, and sometimes sleeps at the beach in order to catch the “most radical waves” at dawn (22).  However, Duck’s character is revealed more at the end of the story when Duck runs away.  Duck is frightened by his friend’s illness (63) and tries to hide from his fear among the distractions of the San Francisco club scene (67).  But Dirk finds Duck and helps him recommit to life despite his fear (67-69).  My Secret Agent Lover Man wears “a slouchy hat and a trench coat” (27), and makes movies like Weetzie’s father.  Weetzie’s love for her father is mirrored in her love for My Secret Agent Lover Man.  Weetzie’s parents are supporting characters who actually provide very little support or guidance in Weetzie’s life.  Charlie and Brandy-Lynn have been broken by their relationship, and they serve as foils for Weetzie and My Secret Agent Lover Man, and for Dirk and Duck.  Weetzie and her friends refuse to give up on their love for each other.

            Weetzie Bat is written in a romantic mode, with instances of irony and comedy thrown into the mix.  Protagonists Weetzie and Dirk must run the gauntlet of looking for love in L.A.’s punk scene, but divine intervention in the form of a genie rewards their efforts with true love.  Yet, while traditional romances ended with the hero finding true love, Block’s characters find love early in the story and must struggle to hold onto it.  Weetzie and her friends support each other through relationship problems, grief and fear of death, and their compassion and loyalty helps them hold their unique family together.  Elements of comedy include Weetzie’s reaction to the genie (18) and the rubber chicken incident (6).  Irony is embodied in the character of Weetzie’s mother, who is incapable of fulfilling her parental role and must instead be mothered by Weetzie (61).  Brandy-Lynn and Charlie love each other, but they seem unable or unwilling to make their relationship work.  But irony cannot suppress the power of love in this story.  According to the romantic model, Weetzie and her friends are rewarded with happiness and love at the end of the story. 

            Block’s tone evidences sincere affection for her characters and a desire for them to be happy and hopeful.  Block’s use of unusual names for her characters and their pets contributes to the sense of humor and whimsy in the story.  Her characters are unlike any characters in any other book, and their names reflect their unique identities.  Weetzie and her friends face serious difficulties in the course of the story, including divorce, death, infidelity, substance abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases.  Yet Block arms her characters with unquenchable optimism, and demonstrates that life can go on in spite of tragedy if the characters hold fast to their loved ones.

           The primary themes in Weetzie Bat include families and empowering the disenfranchised, with secondary themes of substance abuse and death.  Weetzie dresses in a feathered headdress and fringed clothing, explaining that she empathizes with the plight of the Native Americans (4).  As a young adult, Weetzie identifies with the Native Americans because of their disenfranchisement.  Teens do not possess the power and respect that adults command, although Weetzie seems mostly unfettered by her parents and left to her own devices.  At least, Block provides no evidence that Weetzie’s parents try to stop her from drinking and sleeping around.  Weetzie wishes that her parents’ romance had lasted (14), and feels powerless to reunite her broken family.  Therefore, Weetzie tries to take command of her happiness by making her magic wishes for true love, a home and a happily ever after (19).  While her parents wallow in passive regret, Weetzie rejects feelings of powerlessness and takes an active role in building a happy family for herself.

          Weetzie comes from a broken family with divorced parents, and Dirk’s parents are dead before the story begins.  Dirk lives with his grandmother, Fifi, who also dies early in the story (20).  Weetzie’s mother is emotionally absent, and while Weetzie’s father is emotionally invested in Weetzie, he lives on the opposite coast in New York City (15).  When Charlie dies of a drug overdose (59), Weetzie loses the parent who had the most positive influence on her life.  Weetzie and Dirk seek to create their own family, which, though nontraditional, appears to succeed where Weetzie’s traditional family has failed.  When Weetzie, Dirk and Duck decide to have a baby together, they plan to love the baby “more than any of their parents had ever loved them” (35).  Charlie admits that Weetzie was an accident (14).  Weetzie and her friends set out to prove that families that are made and nurtured with love and care can be successful, no matter what the components of that family may be.  The recurring movie making motif underlines the way in which Weetzie and her friends begin by role-playing in life, trying to find happiness by assuming roles in a reinvented family.

          The theme of the destructive nature of substance abuse is played out in the lives of Weetzie’s parents.  Brandy-Lynn criticizes Charlie for abusing substances while she downs cocktails and says she needs a Valium (15).  The irony of Brandy-Lynn’s behavior implies that some adults do not behave in a logical manner, and their interpretation of reality is skewed.  Block frequently uses the word “fake” to describe elements of Brandy-Lynn’s appearance.  When Charlie first saw her, she had bleach-blonde hair and was “sparkling with fake jewels” (14).  She wears mules with “fake fruit over the toes” (14) and paints her fingernails (15, 58).  These details reinforce the perception that some adults, especially substance abusers, are not trustworthy.

          The lives of Weetzie and her friends are touched repeatedly by death, yet the characters remain remarkably untouched by death at the same time.  Dirk’s grandmother Fifi dies (20), but she leaves Dirk and Weetzie her house, allowing them to start building a family.  Charlie dies of a drug overdose, but Weetzie’s friends support her in her grief (59).  Weetzie responds by trying to mother her mother, and Weetzie and her friends dedicate their latest movie to her father’s memory (61).  Duck is frightened by his friend’s illness, presumably AIDS, and runs away (63).  But Dirk finds him and refuses to let him hide from life or death.  Weetzie and her friends manage to find a happy ending because they respond to each visitation of death by embracing and celebrating life.

          Although some literary critics might identify homosexuality as a theme because of Dirk and Duck’s relationship, I believe that Block treats homosexuality as a nonissue.  Other than Dirk’s initial hesitance to tell Weetzie he is gay (7), the characters do not appear to worry about or struggle with the notion of homosexuality.  Weetzie says Dirk’s sexual orientation “doesn’t matter one bit” (7).  Block does not mention any instances in which Duck or Dirk are persecuted for their orientation.  Homosexual relationships are simply represented as another kind of love, no greater or lesser than heterosexual relationships.

          Weetzie Bat is told from a third-person point of view, but not an omniscient point of view.  The point of view primarily follows Weetzie’s actions, and the reader is granted access to her thoughts.  When Duck runs away, the point of view shifts briefly to follow Dirk’s thoughts and actions, although maintaining the distance of a third-person perspective.  When Dirk and Duck return home, the point of view returns to focus on Weetzie.  This perspective reinforces that Block is telling Weetzie’s story, but Weetzie’s family is not whole unless Dirk, Duck, My Secret Agent Lover Man, Cherokee, Witch Baby, and all the dogs are present and accounted for.  Weetzie Bat is about how Weetzie rejected her powerless role and fought for and won her happy family.

Bibliography

Block, Francesca Lia.  1998.  Weetzie Bat, in Dangerous Angels.  New York: HarperCollins.

Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Kenneth L. Donelson.  2009.  Literature for Today’s Young Adults. 8th ed.  Boston: Pearson Education.

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Cover Art by Edward Gorey

And now, comics about judging books by their covers!

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