Two people have passed away: Zelda Rubinstein and J.D. Salinger.
1. Zelda Rubinstein played on the movie Poltergeist, though I knew her more as the mischievous secretary on Picket Fences. My family didn’t watch Poltergeist, probably because we felt that it was flirting with evil, and some of the people who played on the movie died shortly thereafter (see Poltergeist (film)). I’m not sure if that was a curse or just plain coincidence. I mean, tragic things happen!
But I watched Poltergeist at some point in my adult life. It had Craig T. Nelson from Coach, so I figured it couldn’t be too bad! It was okay. Plus, many people still use the catchphrases “He’s baaaack!” or “They’re heeeere!”, and that movie is, what, twenty-eight years old?
2. J.D. Salinger wrote Catcher in the Rye. I didn’t read it in high school, but I just now read the plot of it here. I first heard of the book when I was reading about the religious right taking on the public schools. One of its favorite targets was Catcher in the Rye, a big reason being that it had a lot of cuss words. And, sure enough, when I looked at the first page of the book, it did! But, when I read the wikipedia summary, I saw other objections that the religious right had to it: it undermines family values, encourages promiscuity, etc.
Ironically, a New York Times article on the controversy surrounding the book quoted someone who compared the religious right to Catcher‘s provocative protagonist, Holden Caufield. Holden hoped as an older kid to protect the younger children and their innocence, to catch them in the rye as they fell. And that’s what the religious right tried to do in banning Catcher in the Rye (see “In a Small Town, a Battle Over a Book”).
The book covers the sordid side of life, but it also speaks about alienation and the belief of the protagonist that others are “phony.” I don’t think wrestling with those issues is wrong. Personally, I don’t like being judged as phony, but there have been Christians (i.e., Francis Schaeffer) who’ve offered similar critiques of American culture. I once had a conversation with a guy, and he asked me if I’d seen The Bridges of Madison County and Six Feet Under. I replied “no,” for the former has an affair, and the latter depicts homosexual activity. He then replied that I don’t have to approve of those things, but I should still listen to what the stories are trying to say.
Maybe Catcher in the Rye is the same way. There are people who prefer stories with heroes we can admire, and they may shy away from an anti-hero like Holden Caufield. For them, stories should depict how things should be, not how they are. And they can easily point out the negative effects of bad stories. I once heard a sermon that said some women have affairs after seeing The Bridges of Madison County. The wikipedia article on Catcher states that some have blamed the shootings of John Lennon and Ronald Reagan on the book.
But life is a struggle, a hard path with a clearly sordid side. And we ourselves, like Holden Caufield, are a mixture of good and bad. I’m not sure if everything in Catcher is age-appropriate for certain levels of school, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading about a person who struggles with himself and others, while learning lessons along the way.