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Chronic Youth

Chronic Youth: Disability, Sexuality, and U.S. Media Cultures of Rehabilitation

Julie Passanante Elman
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Chronic Youth
    Book Description:

    The teenager has often appeared in culture as an anxious figure, the repository for American dreams and worst nightmares, at once on the brink of success and imminent failure. Spotlighting the "troubled teen" as a site of pop cultural, medical, and governmental intervention, Chronic Youth traces the teenager as a figure through which broad threats to the normative order have been negotiated and contained.

    Examining television, popular novels, science journalism, new media, and public policy, Julie Passanante Elman shows how the teenager became a cultural touchstone for shifting notions of able-bodiedness, heteronormativity, and neoliberalism in the late twentieth century. By the late 1970s, media industries as well as policymakers began developing new problem-driven 'edutainment' prominently featuring narratives of disability-from the immunocompromisedThe Boy in the Plastic Bubbleto ABC'sAfter School Specialsand teen sick-lit. Although this conjoining of disability and adolescence began as a storytelling convention, disability became much more than a metaphor as the process of medicalizing adolescence intensified by the 1990s, with parenting books containing neuro-scientific warnings about the incomplete and volatile "teen brain." Undertaking a cultural history of youth that combines disability, queer, feminist, and comparative media studies, Elman offers a provocative new account of how American cultural producers, policymakers, and medical professionals have mobilized discourses of disability to cast adolescence as a treatable "condition." By tracing the teen's uneven passage from postwar rebel to 21st century patient, Chronic Youth shows how teenagers became a lynchpin for a culture of perpetual rehabilitation and neoliberal governmentality.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-0629-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: From Rebel to Patient
    (pp. 1-28)

    A dark-haired teenaged boy prepares to attend a Fourth of July beach party to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial and to pursue the pretty girl next door. After packing the essentials, his sunglasses and shorts, he makes sure there is enough oxygen in his air tanks for the voyage. As the boy shields his eyes from the sun, his parents carefully navigate his plastic-enclosed stretcher’s wheels through the deep sand and toward the other teenagers, who gleefully dance to rock music or dive for errant volleyballs. Later in the evening, as fireworks streak across the darkened sky, the girl of his...

  5. 1 Medicine Is Magical and Magical Is Art: Liberation and Overcoming in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
    (pp. 29-62)

    In 1986, Paul Simon released his Grammy Award–winningGraceland, an album that blended American rock and roll with the unique vocal and rhythmic stylings of the South African musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the era of apartheid. An international success, the album’s first track sardonically declared medicine “magical” and the cultural moment of its release, “the days of miracle and wonder.”¹ In this song, Simon gave voice to countercultural anxieties about rapid technological change in an era characterized by the death of American manufacturing and the unflagging upward redistribution of wealth and power into the hands of “a...

  6. 2 After School Special Education: Sex, Tolerance, and Rehabilitative Television
    (pp. 63-92)

    In an era when ABC’sHappy Days(1974–1984) and its nostalgic vision of 1950s life reigned supreme on prime time, there was little television programming that acknowledged the not-so-happy elements of teen existence. Although young adult “problem novels” such asThe Outsiders(1967) had become a thriving market by the 1970s, the bulk of the era’s network programming seldom “acknowledged that there was more to adolescence than sock hops.”¹ ABC’sAfter School Specials(1972–1995) were a significant exception. Engaging difficult topics such as teen and adult alcoholism, homosexuality, teen pregnancy, racism, drug abuse, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases,...

  7. 3 Cryin’ and Dyin’ in the Age of Aliteracy: Romancing Teen Sick-Lit
    (pp. 93-130)

    In 1989 a literary time capsule was buried in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, a treasure to be unearthed in the year 2089. In partnership with Pizza Hut’s “Reading Is FUN-damental” program and the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book invited schoolchildren to participate in an essay contest and nominate their favorite books and authors for inclusion in the capsule, which was meant to be a repository of the nation’s youth reading heritage.¹ Among its other selections, the capsule housed the most-nominated book in the competition,Six Months to Live...

  8. 4 Crazy by Design: Neuroparenting and Crisis in the Decade of the Brain
    (pp. 131-166)

    In his award-winning 2003 book,Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy! Loving Your Kid without Losing Your Mind, Michael Bradley joked about the difficulty of raising teens in the twenty-first century. The joke begins with a concerned parent’s arrival at a psychologist’s office to ask that the psychologist evaluate his moody thirteen-year-old son.¹ Prior to meeting the young patient, the doctor offers the following diagnosis: “He’s suffering from a transient psychosis with an intermittent rage disorder, punctuated by episodic radical mood swings, but his prognosis is good for a full recovery.” The shocked parent asks, “How can you say all that...

  9. Conclusion: Susceptible Citizens in the Age of Wiihabilitation
    (pp. 167-176)

    In 1999 Martin Newell, a British rock musician and poet, penned the above poem for theIndependent’s “Weekly Muse” that poked fun at a new disorder and the problems it posed for doctors. He jokes that exhaustive self-diagnosis not only leads to unnecessarily overfull waiting rooms but also unproductively challenges doctors’ authority over diagnosis and treatment. The neologism “cyberchondria” began circulating in the late 1990s to describe a new variation of hypochondria for the information age: an anxiety concerning one’s wellness that is triggered by the obsessive visiting of health and medical websites. As the poem illustrates, cyberchondria is an...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 177-204)
    (pp. 205-230)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 231-242)
    (pp. 243-243)