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a tale of two hashtags
soaring and giggling on twitter
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)
pop culture

I woke up late Saturday, hoping to make progress on a boatload of writing assignments (including this one) and took a quick moment to check Twitter.

If you're on Twitter, of course, you understand how "a quick moment on Twitter" oh-so-quickly turns into 15 minutes or a half-hour or more, for a number of reasons. Because it's a conversation. Depending on who you're talking to, and what they have to say, you might close the window and walk away after a moment -- or you might find yourself drawn in, for better or worse. Usually it's for better.

Saturday morning, I found myself drawn in by the hashtag #sitcomnovels.

(Primer for non-tweeps: through these hashtags, you can find yourself in conversation with people you don't follow and who don't follow you. You add the hashtag to the end of each tweet, and the subject becomes the thing that brings you together. Sometimes that subject is silly, and sometimes it's serious. We'll talk about both kinds here.)

Now, when people talk about reasons you should be on Twitter, playing games with the sillier hashtags never really comes up. And if you view Twitter as something you should do for "branding" or "promoting" yourself, it makes absolutely no sense to participate.

But if you're me, you can't resist anyway, so sense doesn't really matter. It is FUN.

So I lost an hour and a half of my day to #sitcomnovels. I mashed 'em up to my heart's content: According to Lord Jim! Lady Chatterley's "Friends"! The New Adventures of Old Yeller! The Women of Punky Brewster Place! I read other people's brilliant contributions: Saved By the Bell Jar! It's Tristram Shandy's Show! And it was goofy, and I loved it, and it was an utterly silly use of my morning, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

After a full day of other stuff -- hugging a library, eating tacos al pastor on the street, buying off-brand Spanx, working on those writing assignments -- I checked Twitter again in the evening, for another quick moment.

And the whole thing unfolded again, but in a totally different, wonderful, and much more meaningful way.

The other kind of hashtag I promised to talk about is the serious one, and that's what the evening turned out to bring: #YAsaves.

It all started with an article on the Wall Street Journal site, claiming that a) nearly all Young Adult novels available today contain scandalous amounts of sex, violence, drugs, and other destructive behaviors, and b) this means that young adults who read these books are more likely to experiment with these destructive behaviors, so c) this is bad.

People on Twitter -- particularly Young Adult authors and young adults themselves -- quickly circulated the link to the article, took exception to the claims, and passionately argued (in 140-character bursts) that Young Adult novels with dark content have done far more good than harm. They tagged each of these tweets with #YAsaves.

And it was nothing short of amazing.

People talked about the YA books that had changed their lives. How reading helped them not feel alone. How reading about scary, horrible things made them realize that the scary, horrible things that had happened to them weren't their fault. How the only things that go away if you ignore them are your teeth. How the world is a better place because YA novels aren't all kittens and rainbows, and besides, there are kitten-and-rainbow books available by the wheelbarrowful if that's what you really want, anyway.

People who needed more room to talk put posts up on their blogs and added the links to Twitter with #YAsaves, and these posts were so honest and heartwrenching they brought tears to my eyes. For serious.

Twitter is the world writ small, and that means a lot of things. It means the good and the bad are both right there. It means sometimes we are silly, sometimes we are angry, sometimes we are shameful, sometimes we are inspiring, and in the end the only thing you can really be sure of is that we are we. We are us.

We're all in this together, and the hashtags, both silly and serious, show us how it's done.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


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michelle von euw
6.6.11 @ 11:38a

The WSJ YA article, I thought, read like a grumpy old "kids these days with their loud music and their heavy shoes" take, rather than the actual scathing condemnation I was expecting from all the Twitter activity. In fact, thanks to the writer's extensive research, I am now more impressed with YA than, say, Twilight had prepared me to be, because darkness and unhappiness is in every good story, and protecting your characters from them = bad writing.

I also found it hilarious that roughly 40% of the recommended YA books that accompanied the article were dusty and dated when I was a young reader.

jael mchenry
6.6.11 @ 1:30p

Yep. It was a very grumpy editorial-type piece, but it didn't seem to know it was editorial. That's what I disliked most.

Reading dark content doesn't doom you to a dark life. Didn't we all read Flowers in the Attic when we were teens (or even pre-teens?) And didn't we turn out OK?

mike julianelle
6.6.11 @ 2:02p

I didn't.

jael mchenry
6.6.11 @ 2:28p

Read Flowers in the Attic, or turn out OK?

adam kraemer
6.6.11 @ 5:13p

A little from column A, a little from column B....

mike julianelle
6.7.11 @ 9:05a

Saw the movie, resulting turn-out remains questionable...

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