The Cancer Trend
The main character is Hazel – who is sixteen and has…wait for it…multiple tumors in her lungs. She’s stage four – originally diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 13 and now, at sixteen, her lungs barely function so she wears supplementary oxygen throughout the entire movie/book. Her love interest is Gus, an osteosarcoma survivor who has lost the bottom half of his leg to the disease.
For some reason, this book is REVERED by teenage girls. The theater was literally filled with them (sobbing loudly). Ana and I read the book together a few months ago – fully aware of the emotional tsunami we were getting ourselves into. And I did cry – mainly because the story is expertly crafted to mess with my emotions and wring out every last tear possible (the book was even worse – I sobbed from start to finish). Shailene Woodley, the actress who played Hazel, was phenomenal. I cried along with her at the lowest moments in the movie.
I bet you’re wondering why I would possibly subject myself to first the book, then the movie. Well…I originally read the book because I learned about it while I was writing Doorways To Arkomo, and I panicked that there was a book out there about a girl with cancer that might be like my book (it’s nothing like mine). Also, Ana wanted to read it. She was in remission – no lung tumors present at all. After a couple of months of her begging me to let her read it, I finally agreed but insisted on reading it with her (she read it on my Kindle while I read it on my Kindle app on my tablet). We talked about it while we read it. My first impression was that it was a beautifully written book that brought some awareness of cancer – and what it means to be a teenager with this disease.
However, in retrospect (and after watching the movie), I’m a little worried. I think it was the sobbing teenagers. Or maybe it was that when I saw it on screen – the story unraveling like some tragic Hollywood version of Romeo and Juliet (doomed lovers and all that), I realized that it skimmed over the reality of cancer and even made it seem…a little exotic and exciting. It occurred to me that the book didn’t successfully generate awareness about cancer. I only thought that it did because I was already aware of the gory details. The book used cancer to create the conflict which set the stage for the world’s most tragic love story (since Romeo and Juliet).
Here they are – these two crazy kids – time is against them, but they are wildly in love. They go on an adventure (which would be unlikely given how sick they both are)! They laugh! They get cancer perks and they’re beautiful! Did I mention they’re beautiful? No bald heads. Even the kid with one eye wears dark sunglasses throughout the movie and looks cool.
I do realize that I’m not John Greene’s target audience (he’s the author of the book). I mean, I’m guessing he didn’t write the book and think to himself, “I hope I don’t piss off the mothers of children with lung tumors. How many of them can there be out there anyway? Will they even READ my book?”
Also, just to clarify – I’m not precisely pissed off, but I’m just a little…I don’t know…concerned. I think that this movie (more so than the book) had an opportunity to show cancer the way it truly is and generate some awareness about the struggle that kids (and families) live with each and every day. But instead they just made it look cool. I know Ana had a similar reaction (even though she did love the movie). Of course she’s the ultimate critic and she’s particularly affronted with the idea that teenage girls think it would cool to be Hazel and have this “amazing” experience.
Cancer isn’t a fairy tale. It’s not an exciting adventure. For teenagers battling this disease, it’s lonely, embarrassing and painful. The movie didn’t talk about scars (beyond showing Gus’s missing leg for about three seconds – otherwise he wore jeans and sneakers and looked entirely whole). It felt so…Hollywood and I left feeling kind of offended (I know that makes me sound like a curmudgeon). It further worries me that they were handing out red bracelets to people who bought tickets to this movie promoting a new show about teens stuck in the hospital called The Red Band Society (the “red band” is the hospital bracelet). Here’s a snippet of what this show is about from Fox’s web site:
“What if a hospital was your high school, boarding school and summer camp rolled into one? What if it was the place where you fell in love for the first time and made friendships that lasted a lifetime? And what if it was all weirdly hilarious and the most fun you ever had in your entire life? This is the world of RED BAND SOCIETY.”
Wait, what? HILARIOUS? Are you fucking kidding me? What if you came up with a crappy premise for an offensive show and decided not to do any research at all about what actually happens to children stuck in hospitals? What if you gave it a trite title that you assumed was totally meaningful but was completely lacking in imagination? What if it was all weirdly incorrect and offensive, but you don’t give a shit because it’s just TV folks? This is the world of BAD TELEVISION.
I bet everyone of the kids they cast in this show is beautiful – as are the doctors, nurses and parents (if there are even any parents that make an appearance). What is going on here? Is cancer suddenly a trend? I also saw a preview for a show about a (gorgeous) young woman with leukemia.
I guess this turned into a rant (sorry). I’m glad I’m writing books about a child with cancer. I think it’s possible to be authentic but also tell a good story. And now that I’ve ranted…I encourage everyone to see this movie. It really is very good and I’m curious what other people think (I just happen to be very opinionated about the topic of teenagers with lung tumors).