Six Degrees of Pittsburgh
The news that “The Fault In Our Stars”, a book based on an author named John Green, is filming in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, means different things to different people. But if you happen to be the father of a 14 year old daughter, for whom "Fault" is her favorite all time book, this is a sacred time. And if you have read the book, you will understand why this is a novel that speaks to a generation in the same way “Catcher In the Rye” spoke to mine growing up. But what is interesting, and which has obsessed me of late, is the oddness that this movie is filming here at the same time the documentary on J.D. Salinger is coming out—a film I, like many Salinger fans, has deep ambivalence about. For Salinger of all people, seemed to guard the space between the reader and the writer as something holy—and that should exist apart from media and critics and external trappings.
There is something meta-textual about the timing of the Salinger documentary “revealing” private details the author had tried so hard to protect and “Fault In Our Stars” filming here—for in “Fault”, the teenage protagonist, Hazel Grace, a sixteen year old cancer patient and the object of her affection, seventeen year old Augustus Waters, are obsessed with the reclusive author of a book, “The Imperial Affliction”, that speaks so deeply to these young people that, as their sort of “Make A Wish” dream, they travel to Amsterdam to meet the author himself. Shades of J.D. Salinger naturally appear, and if you happen to be an adult who picks up this novel, as millions have, you will see that this is not just a “young person’s book”, but a book about young people which speaks to all of us who long for meaning in this crazy world. And then there is the aspect here, of what many of us might have fantasized about, of meeting J.D. Salinger.
But John Green is an author of a different age, one with millions of twitter followers and who also has a quite active vblog (video blog) with his brother Hank which produces an astonishing amount of content and which communicates quite intimately with his readership. And, one wonders if had Mister Salinger come up in this age, he might have been less reclusive—he was, according to the recent doc—which I have still not yet seen—an aspiring actor, who apparently longed to play “Holden” should he have been able to pull it off.
Last year, my daughter read “Catcher” as part of her eighth grade English class and I was shocked to hear she was the only one in thr class who connected to the novel—as others found Holden a “whiny, spoiled rich kid.” I was proud of her for having her own convictions, and didn’t mind if she was a bit alienated from her peers by this, as that of course how Holden would have been. What has been a bit more confusing as to whether we should try to take her to get a glimpse of the filming of the movie, "Fault", and perhaps catch a glimpse of her Salinger, a somewhat less reclusive John Green. Though it would be exciting, anyone who has actually spent time on a film set, knows that it is remarkably boring and that that experience—like when Hazel meets the author, Peter Van Houten-- is destined to be a bit of a let down.
“Fault” is set in Indianapolis Indiana (Green’s hometown), and the fact that it is filming in Pittsburgh at all may be a bit disappointing to those from that region. But Pittsburgh is the home of Fred Rogers, who in some ways, might be described as an early video blogger, one who used the new technology of his day, to communicate directly with his audience. Both John Green and Mister Rogers studied to become ministers, and Fred felt that place between the camera and the young people he was talking to was sacred-- something which I believe Mr. Green and Mr. Salinger would agree with.
To make this all even more metatexual (I like that as a blanket word even if I am not certain I am using this correctly), I invite you to watch one of John Green’s video blogs, here, to have him explain more about Fred Rogers and some parallels between them.
You can also watch him talk about J.D Salinger here.
So the bottom line, I have not seen the Salinger doc and I have refrained from taking my daughter to the set of "Fault", but I am teaching a freshman composition class at the University of Pittsburgh titled “Pittsburgh, Film, and You” and on the first day, when I asked my class if anyone had ever been on a film set, one of the students quietly raised his hand, and said he had just been on the set of “Fault In Our Stars.” Apparently, he had deduced from various media reports where the film was shooting, and used GPS to find the location. And while observing the set, he spotted none other than the author himself, John Green. He had met John once before at a book reading and apparently said something like how great it was to see him, and John replied something kind back. (Certainly a better experience than Hazel got with Peter Van Houton.)
But how wonderful it is that in this super-tech, media saturated age, that books can still inspire the wonder of a new generation. Thanks, John Green. And J.D. And all who still worship the page and respect young people.