Pop Culture and Stereotypes: Vodnik Chapter Seven

The tour of the town in chapter seven is also the first time we really get in to any of the racism plot line of the novel. The Bigot Gang is something that came into the book very late in the revision process. In the first run through I did when I was changing the book to incorporate Roma elements, Tomas pretty much just had to deal with general feelings of distrust from the people in the city. He didn’t have anything specific to fight against. That didn’t work out well, and I think I’ve noted that before in these commentaries. (Of course, I’d never inserted something into a book on the same scale as changing Tomas’s race had been. That affected a whole lot of interactions in many different scenes. Although since in the original draft, Tomas was kind of an outcast and didn’t fit in well, it didn’t change as much as it would have to if he’d been a football jock and really popular in Slovakia, for example.)

Another issue the book had been having was that Tomas’s character was inconsistent. Sometimes he was really into pop culture, and sometimes the references seemed to subside. I had to either fish or cut bait with him–go for more pop culture, or dial it down. I went for broke.
Pop culture and I have a pretty deep relationship, to say the least. I watch movies and tv shows. A lot of movies and tv shows. Much of the way I think about the world is through pop culture. I use it to illustrate points I’m trying to make. I quote it in my everyday conversations. I memorize things pretty easily, and so it just sort of enters my brain and stays there. As I’ve been writing different characters over the years, they all end up having some sort of connection to pop culture, although I try to use different aspects of my addiction to feed each one. Tomas ended up getting a whole bunch of popular movies, while other characters in the past have had everything from TV shows to film noir to horror. (One area I haven’t done much with yet is music. I’m thinking that’s time for a change, although I need to find the right character.)
Of course, anytime you’re writing a YA book, it becomes tricky to use pop culture well. I’m out of the loop in many ways when it comes to the movies and shows that teens love today. I may watch them, but I interact with those shows differently. I had to make a conscious effort in writing Vodnik to include as much of a wide range of movies as I could–drawing on different time periods. It was interesting to watch test readers respond to the references I included. People responded to the ones they understood, but the ones they didn’t flew right past them–enough that at the end of the book, I’d have people warning me that I needed more pop culture references from times other than [whichever time period they were familiar with]. The references are there, trust me.
Anyway–this is all to say that I used the Bigot Gang for two purposes–to up the pop culture quotient, and to become the embodiment of the prejudice Tomas faces in Trencin. Jabba, Gollum, and Draco–easy enough to decide which film series to draw from. I went for as universal as possible. They’re a nasty group, or at least they are in this book. If/when I ever get to write a sequel, they’ll of course still be present–that’s a conflict I look forward to exploring. They’re in the same grade as Tomas, but he hasn’t yet had to interact with them as fellow students.
It’s interesting (to me, at least) that Tomas reduces other people to stereotypes just as they reduce him to stereotypes. I think it’s a hard thing for people to break free of. We all interact with people on a limited basis, and we tend to pigeon hole people into categories. Stereotypes. Teen. Grandpa. Professor. Librarian. And we get used to seeing and talking to that person in that role–so much so that we stop thinking about them as anything but that role. Then we see them in a different capacity, or they do something that surprises us, and we have to reevaluate the categories we’ve placed them into.
This is getting a bit too philosophical for a Monday. I’ll just leave it by saying that it would be interesting to study the ways racism and preconceived notions play out in this book. But maybe it’s a bit pompous of me to try and think a book of mine could be analyzed on that level. I don’t mean to say I’m a genius and put everything in it on purpose. The subconscious takes care of an awful lot . . . 
Have a good one, folks. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Leave a comment