Oh, Stephen. You Hurt My Heart.
Stephen King and his wife Tabitha recently spoke in front of some high school kids at the Library of Congress, and ole Steve really stepped in some doo doo. In an attempt to emphasize the importance of reading skills and education, he said:
“I don’t want to sound like an ad, a public service ad on TV, but the fact is if you can read, you can walk into a job later on. If you don’t, then you’ve got, the Army, Iraq, I don’t know, something like that. It’s, it’s not as bright. So, that’s my little commercial for that.”
Let me say at the get-go that I actually saw the speech/discussion that started this whole kerfuffle: it was on C-Span or some public channel this weekend, and I watched while I worked on a hideously boring pleading. I heard Steve utter the controversial comment, and it actually did hurt me.
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a proud, lifelong fan of Stephen King and a fierce defender of his work. My mom never approved of “those horror books,” so since the age of oh, 9, I surreptitiously bought his books and just devoured them. It was the beginning of my kinky love affair with all things dark and wild, all things mysterious or inexplicable. I had an advanced vocabulary and understanding of syntax for my age, and Stephen King was 100% responsible for that. More importantly (to me, at least), his books fed my imagination and inspired me (if you notice, almost all of King’s stories celebrate courage, loyalty, and triumph over the nastiest things imaginable). Oh, I could go on and on: suffice it to say that I have always loved, loved, loved Stephen King, and have always considered him one of the finest writers I’ve ever read. I’m currently in the process of re-re-re-reading his Dark Tower series, which I think he would be gratified to hear is his best work to date. I fancifully consider myself the “Dear Reader” he addresses in the forewords to his books. Etc., etc.
So when I heard him casually imply that the military is the refuge of illiterate, dropout losers, it really, really sucked and made me feel feelings I never wanted to feel. Not right!
I’m not in the military, but my brother and cousin are, and a number of other members of my family have proudly served (and each of them has a genius IQ). So on a personal level, what he said was like a slap in the face. As we say down here in Arkansas, it hurt my heart.
On an objective level, I was disappointed in Mr. King’s remarks because I expect more out of him. He is more intelligent than I will ever be in my wildest dreams, and from everything I have read or seen, he is a thoughtful, fair, and compassionate person. So, I would’ve expected him to do his research before insulting disciplined and courageous people.
Mr. King is wrong on the facts: all but the tiniest fraction of our enlisted servicemen and -women hold high school diplomas, and one is required to earn at least a college degree before becoming an officer. And with regard to that miniscule percentage of enlisted soldiers who do not have high school diplomas: would they be better off working a fry machine at McDonald’s? Perhaps–just perhaps–those people joined the armed forces because they are patriots and believe that serving in the military is a noble undertaking, or at the very least recognized that service in the military would catapult them out of the “unhireable” category of job applicants. At any rate, I am extremely disappointed that Stephen King took the lazy, John Kerryesque route and assumed that all those kids in Iraq are only there because they didn’t learn to read and The Man denied them any other options. Inexcusable for someone of Mr. King’s caliber.
I am even more disappointed that he chose to react to the valid criticisms of his remarks by posting this on his website:
That a right-wing-blog would impugn my patriotism because I said children should learn to read, and could get better jobs by doing so, is beneath contempt. Noel Sheppard says, “Nice sentiment when the nation is at war, Stephen.” I guess he feels ignorance and illiteracy are OK when the country needs cannon-fodder. I guess he also feels that the war in Iraq has nationwide approval. Well, it doesn’t have mine. It is a waste of national resources. . . and that includes the youth and blood of the 4,000 American troops who have lost their lives there and for the tens of thousands who have been wounded. I live in a national guard town, and I support our troops, but I don’t support either the war or educational policies that limit the options of young men and women to any one career—military or otherwise. If you agree, find Sheppard on the internet, and send him an email:
“Hi, Noel—Stephen King says to shut up and I agree.”
Oh, that’s just great. How dare you criticize me? Shut up! Sorry, Steve. You weren’t making a broad comment about the Iraq war: you insulted the troops you claim to support, even as they are fighting for our country. Believe it or not, they are not sad sacks hopelessly toiling away as “cannon fodder” in Iraq. You must not know many soldiers. I do, and they’re badasses. Gunslingers, may it do ya.
I would also ask Mr. King if he has the same condescending pity for the brave American soldiers who saved the world’s bacon in World War II. Because if not, well then, there’s a little logic problem here. Because the GED was actually created for World War II veterans whose lack of a high school diploma might’ve hindered them from getting jobs. What does that tell us about the educational level of the Greatest Generation when they stormed the beaches and kicked Hitler’s ass? At the very least, it means that this nation’s defenders are above the pity usually reserved for the utterly weak and helpless.
I will never stop reading Stephen King’s books, and I still lurv him: one opinion/statement does not a man or writer make. But dude, I wish he would step back from the battle and realize that he was wrong to say what he said.
Well, thank goodness this blog is tucked into a quiet little corner of the Internet. If Stephen King told me to shut up or blasted me, I think I would curl into a ball and cry like a little bitch. Probably while clutching “Wizard and Glass” or “Salem’s Lot” to my chest. I admit it. Mr. King has the power to crush my ornery heart.