The Outsiders at 50
March 13, 2017 7:08 AM   Subscribe

A look into the museum and the author as "The Outsiders" turns 50, and Coppola's movie version is 35. (SLNYT)
posted by k5.user (26 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
This caught my interest: When Ms. Hinton was 16, after failing creative writing in her junior year of high school, she wrote “The Outsiders.” The teacher who failed her was not happy that Ms. Hinton liked to mention this in every interview.

I wonder what that teacher was like. Were they the dull bean-counter that this anecdote implies? Were they a hard-working professional who was frustrated at a gifted student who wouldn't concentrate on the work at hand, and then infinitely more frustrated at how the universe rewarded her? A little of both?

I remember that I was assigned The Outsiders in eighth grade, which seemed a remarkably self-aware choice for the school at the time. I liked it, especially compared to the option of choking down Steinbeck, which I had just had to do. Still, I thought "Socs" was an odd name, and couldn't figure out how to pronounce it. That, and the catchphrase, remains the sum of my memory of the book. I wonder if I should revisit it.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:33 AM on March 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


"Socs" was still the accepted name for kids in that kind of clique at my high school in the late 80s. Honestly, I think that was how I actually learned to pronounce it--I was never quite sure from reading, either.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:38 AM on March 13, 2017


I'm not sure which is weirder for me: that the movie is thirty-five, or that the book is only fifteen years older than the movie. It was one of those books that seemed oddly ageless when I picked it up for the first time in the small-time junior high library, both in terms of its story and setting and in the physical condition of the book itself: obviously not new and having passed through a number of hands previously. (This would have been the mid-late seventies when I came across it.) It seemed like not just a good book but a somehow necessary one, portraying members of a social class that was largely ignored in the rush of the boomers' self-portrayal as basically being all middle-class kids who went to college and became hippies.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:45 AM on March 13, 2017 [5 favorites]


Honestly, I think that was how I actually learned to pronounce it--I was never quite sure from reading, either.

So how was it pronounced? Hard C or soft C? Long O or short O? One syllable or two? "Socks" or "Sew-shez"?

At my junior high we just had Hoods and Preps, which basically just described if your dad worked at the paper mill or the insurance company, those being the two industries that existed in my town.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:51 AM on March 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


I recently read that when the book came out, adult reviewers condemned it for being pretentious and self-consciously literary. They said it was unrealistic that a working-class teenager like Ponyboy would be as literate and book-obsessed as the character was, which is kind of funny given that the author was a sixteen-year-old from Tulsa. So who knows what was going on with the creative-writing teacher, but apparently some grownups didn't appreciate Hinton's writing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:52 AM on March 13, 2017


It seemed like not just a good book but a somehow necessary one, portraying members of a social class that was largely ignored in the rush of the boomers' self-portrayal as basically being all middle-class kids who went to college and became hippies.

Yeah, I can kind of see Two-Bit, Steve and Darryl winding up in Vietnam, if not Ponyboy.
posted by jonmc at 7:57 AM on March 13, 2017 [5 favorites]


Still, I thought "Socs" was an odd name,

I pronounced the word in my head as "the Socks." I read the Outsiders in Grade 8, in 1984 or 1985. I went to a rough school in an upper middle-class suburban neighborhood, so the violence described in the book seemed very real. Indeed, when I watch the River's Edge I am very much reminded of my junior high school back then.

Townie, by Andre Dubus III, has a real Outsiders feel.
posted by My Dad at 8:11 AM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I pronounced the word in my head as "the Socks."

Hahaha, I did too. I was actually kind of disappointed when I learned it was "Soshes" with a long o, since I thought a gang called "the Socks" was the best thing ever. (It was, in fact, "soshes," because, as Ponyboy notes, it's short for "the Socials.")
posted by holborne at 8:20 AM on March 13, 2017 [5 favorites]


Next on his search list, he told Ms. Hinton, 68, was a claw-foot tub like the one 18-year-old Rob Lowe (Sodapop Curtis in the movie) stepped out of with just a towel wrapped around his waist. “All the girls love that scene,” Mr. O’Connor said.

So the book is 50 years old, but heteronormativity is ageless.

Between that and the link to Hinton's ignorant rejection of homoerotic feelings between Johnny and Dallas, the article makes me feel a lot less enthusiastic about The Outsiders than I've been since reading it within two or three years of its initial publication.

She's certainly entitled to explain that she didn't conceive of either character as gay when writing the book, but someone who's a "longtime support of LGBT rights" should have figured out by now that just because none of her friends was out at their Tulsa highschool in the mid-sixties doesn't mean none of them were gay.
posted by layceepee at 9:04 AM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't think that she's saying that nobody was gay in the 1960s. I think she's saying that she created the characters, and she didn't write them as being gay, because that wasn't a possibility that she considered as a teenager in Tulsa in the 1960s. The quote is:
“I have no problem with anyone interpreting my books anyway they want,” Ms. Hinton said. “But I’m getting these letters that are, ‘Just say you wrote it gay and I’ll be satisfied.’ Well, your satisfaction isn’t at the top of my priorities. Fifteen years old in Tulsa, Okla? The word was not even in common use. So, no.”
There was an article a while back about how she writes fanfiction for other fandoms and has even written some Outsiders fanfiction anonymously, so I don't think she has a problem with fans' interpretations of her work. She's just saying that she didn't put that subtext there intentionally.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:12 AM on March 13, 2017 [11 favorites]


ETA: and when she says "fifteen years old in Tulsa, Okla," I think she's referring to herself, the author, not to the characters.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:14 AM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


Richard Price's The Wanderers (and the movie it inspired) is a similar look at an alternate 1960's.
posted by jonmc at 9:24 AM on March 13, 2017


I don't think that she's saying that nobody was gay in the 1960s. I think she's saying that she created the characters, and she didn't write them as being gay, because that wasn't a possibility that she considered as a teenager in Tulsa in the 1960s.

Yes, she did say that, and she also said:

I wrote The Outsiders when I was in high school in 1965. I did not know any LGBT people. I did know plenty of guys.

There's a difference between saying "I didn't realize any of the guys I knew in 1965 were gay" and saying "I knew plenty of guys in 1965, and none of them were gay."

While she may not have intentionally created gay characters, if she based Johnny and Dallas on some boys she knew who loved each other, she might well have created gay characters without even knowing it.

I don't think she's in any way malicious, but I think my characterization of her as ignorant is fair.
posted by layceepee at 9:42 AM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't think she has a problem with fans' interpretations of her work

If you click through on one of the links in the story, it kind of seems like she does, but then she realizes how she's sounding to young fans, so she softens her language.

I think that's part of what makes it such a great story, that the Ponyboy-Johnny storyline can read as a straight friendship, or a straight friendship where one of the guys is secretly gay. (I mean, I've never read the book, but that was my impression of their relationship from multiple views of the movie.)
posted by 23skidoo at 10:07 AM on March 13, 2017


As a teen I did find the Outsiders to be more emotionally nuanced when describing relationships among young men than anything else I had ever read.
posted by My Dad at 10:56 AM on March 13, 2017


I remember hearing good things about the book as a landmark of US literature. Yet when I read it I honestly found it juvenile and corny. None of it rung true, though no doubt part of that is being from outside the culture. I admit to finding it ridiculous.
posted by Emma May Smith at 11:02 AM on March 13, 2017


From the context I think it's pretty clear that "I did not know any LGBT people. I did know plenty of guys" she means being an out LGBT person is not an option for a person whom she would be exposed to as a 15 year old girl in Tulsa Oklahoma but the closeness of the characters was a thing that exists among straight-identifying boys. I think some are too quick to assume she believes homosexuality didn't exist before 1970 because language is an imprecise tool when it comes to describing the realities of much less accepting time of the past from the perspective of a much more experience person of the present.

Were any of the boys that inspired her writing closeted or repressed? Who knows, she has her 50th HS reunion this summer, I don't think she'll attend but you could ask her on twitter if anyone she knew in high school is out now. But what does it matter? The story was inspired by her experiences, all stories are, but the point of the Outsiders was not to write characters who are direct facsimiles of individual students of Will Roger's HS c/o 1967. The point is the closeness of male friendship comes in all different shapes and sizes and the closeness demonstrated by Johnny and Dallas was not so unusual to be thought of outside the bounds of heteronormativity of 1960's Oklahoma. It's certainly not much more intense, intimate or unusual compared to the male relationships I've seen in the last 15 years since I graduated HS.

Can you ship Johnny and Dallas all you want? Sure! Go ahead, you're free to ship whomever you want. But if you ask S.E. Hinton if that was her authorial intent, the only honest answer she can give you is "no."
posted by midmarch snowman at 11:22 AM on March 13, 2017 [4 favorites]


Nothing Gold Can Stay
Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

This wonderful poem is in our 9th grade English textbook (actually a college freshman lit book), and it is a pleasure to see everybody light up when we read it, as they had all read The Outsiders two years earlier.
posted by kozad at 12:29 PM on March 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


Can you ship Johnny and Dallas all you want? Sure! Go ahead, you're free to ship whomever you want. But if you ask S.E. Hinton if that was her authorial intent, the only honest answer she can give you is "no."

I can't read her reactions to all of this as anything but that she does not, emphatically does not, think that people should be allowed to ship the characters however they like. She didn't just say that she didn't write them that way; she got defensive in a way that is not in any way in keeping with her being comfortable with fans having their own interpretations. She was actively attacking a high school kid on Twitter. She's a grown woman. When you're an adult and you find yourself fighting online with a teenager, you shouldn't need other adults to tell you to stop before you figure out that you've handled something very, very badly.

For contrast, this is how Justin McElroy handled the idea of whether people should interpret his Adventure Zone character in a way contrary to what was established as canon. Not that he's perfect--he's absolutely not, which is why I would suggest that this much grace should be considered the baseline. Note that he still establishes in that post what the intent is--but he doesn't have to personally argue anybody out of any contrary ideas.
posted by Sequence at 12:49 PM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


Hinton wrote fanfic? Wow. I like to see that published writers are known to do or have done this. I'd like to see it become a more respectable hobby, especially since so many fandoms are female-oriented spaces.

As a writer, if I ever hear that fans are shipping my characters, you will not hear me complaining, because I will have died and gone to heaven. Actually having fans that devoted -- actually having fans -- would be a crowning life achievement. If such a ship weren't morally wrong somehow, I would not be inclined to say a word about it.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:54 PM on March 13, 2017


Hinton wrote fanfic?
Yes!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:04 PM on March 13, 2017


Our 7th grade daughter just read The Outsiders in her English class a couple of weeks ago. Her take on the novel was not quite what I expected. I thought she'd find it a refreshing change from some of the older and stuffier works they had been reading, but she was largely indifferent to it - she felt the characters were well constructed and suitably complex, but she took issue with the lack of meaningful female characters and the story's very male POV. (To be fair, she had similar criticisms of Tolkien and LOTR, so this is part of the framework she brings to literary criticism.)
posted by mosk at 2:41 PM on March 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


When I was about 13, I interned at Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios, which was across the street from my junior high school in Hollywood. I was assigned to the secretarial pool, where my task was to write a report on letters from little kids in Fresno who wanted Coppola to make a film of The Outsiders. I thought these letters were stupid and being stuck inside with the secretaries was lame, so I snuck off into the working studio and watched Nastassja Kinski practicing walking on a wire and neon artists bending tiny tubes no thicker than a Q-tip for the tabletop Las Vegas sets for One From The Heart. When I turned in my very brief report on the Fresno correspondence to producer Fred Roos, I lied that all the interns were big Tom Waits fans and would love to learn about his work on the OFTH soundtrack, and soon Waits was sitting at a piano in a tiny bungalow singing and talking to us for a couple of hours. But the powers that be kept telling me to go back to the secretarial pool, even as the one other kid in the program whose ambition was "writer/director" got to be Coppola's assistant. I knew then why she called herself "S.E." and not Susan.
posted by Scram at 6:49 PM on March 13, 2017 [9 favorites]


I remember once signing out The Outsiders from the library when I was a kid. I'd seen the paperback on the shelves and was curious but the back cover didn't say anything about what the book was about, just that it had been written by a teenager.

So eventually, I signed it out, took it home and read the first twenty or so pages. That was enough to tell me that it wasn't science fiction or fantasy, so I stopped reading and returned it.

</NERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRD>
posted by suetanvil at 8:14 AM on March 14, 2017


Yet when I read it I honestly found it juvenile and corny.

I loved the movie and the book when I read/saw it in the 80s, and I liked the book That Was Then...This is Now, but the movie of the latter was, as you say, juvenile and corny, as was Rumblefish (I can't remember if I read that one). I wonder if I read any of them now what I'd think, but I don't really know how to judge YA novels as a 42 year-old.
posted by Pax at 5:05 PM on March 14, 2017


I wonder if I read any of them now what I'd think, but I don't really know how to judge YA novels as a 42 year-old.

I re-read Rumble Fish within the last year or so (when I was in my late 40s) when the publisher offered it for 99 cents or something as an eBook. It's really a very fine book -- far more mature and much better than The Outsiders, actually (which is hardly surprising considering how old she was when she wrote The Outsiders).
posted by holborne at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


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