I did not mean this to be a hiatus. I just got through the first weekend of Kurosawa Fest, which is the latest installment of this thing my boyfriend does wherein he collects a director’s complete works and then watches them all according to a rigid schedule in a multi-weekend endurance event. So far it’s been exhausting and life-altering at the same time. I really do not recommend watching Kurosawa’s earliest works on bootleg Chinese DVDs that have subtitles translated from Japanese to Chinese to English by way of Babelfish, because all the philosophical dialogue about Judo mastery is at best hilarious (“Doing this stupid could make the karate down“) and at worst incomprehensible. But even those movies were great to watch in their own way, and we made it to the seriously awesome stuff like Ikiru and Seven Samurai. Six-word-summaries of all the films so far can be found here. We also have a Twitter for even more vicarious real-time action in case you care (and, I know, you probably don’t).
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Speaking of translations (sort of!) I heard yesterday that Random House is reissuing the Sweet Valley High books with a few strategic updates from their 80s incarnation. The Wakefield Twins are a “perfect size 4″ now, instead of the “perfect size 6″ that they were in 1983. It’s not clear whether they’re actually skinnier or whether vanity sizing is in effect, because of course medical science has yet to invent a reliable scale for fictional characters, but still, it’s kind of a big deal.
I definitely see Mo’s point about how the change attempts to remain faithful to the books. The fact that the girls are “perfect” remains the same; the only real difference is in the number that denotes perfection. Of course, it’s a stunningly barfy notion that perfection should be a size at all, and that’s a whole other can of worms that I’ll let someone else open, but at any rate, one can argue that really, the girls’ sizes were changed so that the girls could remain the sameâ€”perfectly perfect according to whatever standard currently applies.
And actually, that’s what I find even more insulting than the standards themselvesâ€”this blind stubborn quest to make the books feel precisely the same to a 12-year-old girl in 2008 as they did to a 12 year-old-girl in the 80s. What, exactly, is wrong with having some 2008 preteen figure out, by way of reading Sweet Valley High, that the idea of perfection was two sizes bigger twenty-five years ago than it is now? Is Random House afraid that if she’s allowed to thinkâ€”just for a momentâ€”about what that means, that she won’t be able to enjoy the book on its own terms? Or do they assume she can’t think at all? Does the current blatant non-perfection of “Size 6″ totally preclude this kid from understanding how Jessica and Elizabeth are envied, just because Size 6 may not be particularly enviable to her? Did she also read Little House on the Prairie and just have no freaking idea why someone would be jealous of Mary Ingalls, who only had “golden curls” and not a sweet rack or awesome clavicles? Just how many middle-grade and YA books published before 2005 are presumably now utterly confusing and unreadable to her because they’re about these so-called pretty pudgy girls who lumber around wearing culottes and listening to “Walkmans” and using pay phones?
I know how codgery this makes me sound, but, ahem, back in my day I found my way around all manner of inexplicable details in Judy Blume books (who “sets” their hair? why does everyone wear hats and live in New Jersey?) while still managing to relate to the characters and the stories. As an editor, I try to have a pretty good sense of what kids can figure out for themselves, and I suspect the people behind SVH ’08 do, too. I bet they know better, in other words.
Of course, they also know how to get people to give a shit about Sweet Valley High 25 years later, which is to update the books just enough to push a few buttons about body image issues, send out some press releases to fan the flames, and then watch the fun and indignation that ensues. But what do you expect? It’s so Jessica of them! Ugh.
For extra credit, feel free to speculate about the standards by which the Wakefield Twins will be “perfect” in the 2033 reissue of Sweet Valley High. “As Elizabeth twirled her size 2 figure, the sun gleamed off her flawless Brazilian.” Because isn’t that where they’re headed at this rate? Sweet Valley indeed!