Welcome to our sixth post from the Museum Studies class as they explore Banned Books Week and censorship. If you want to review their assignment or learn more about Banned Books week, please see Prof. Julie Holcomb’s recent post: Banned Books Week Introduction
by Omar Tena
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
As someone who has always had a deep interest in how literature that has been deemed as a classic impacts pop culture, I was curious how such a controversial book, like Lolita, has permeated our everyday lives. Lolita, follows the story of Dr. Humbert Humbert, a middle aged literature professor obsessed with the idea of nymphets (young girls aged 9 to 14), and his sexual relationship with Dolores Haze, a 12 year old girl and stepdaughter to Dr. Humbert. Since its inception, Lolita has had a tumultuous beginning going so far that Vladimir Nabokov, the author, almost burned his original manuscript (Esquire; Kayes, Elizabeth). What Nabokov did not expect was for his writing to become a widely revered work of art that challenged norms and created cultural trends.
Due to Lolita’s controversial nature and illustrative writing, it quickly gained a classics’ status. Like most, if not all classic pieces of literature, it has greatly impacted the general popular culture and fashion trends. In 1962, Stanley Kubrick directed the first movie rendition of Lolita. The style and aesthetic of the film was so popular and loved that it led to “… a craze among teenage girls for heart-shaped sunglasses…” (Esquire; Kayes, Elizabeth). We can see this trend of heart-shaped glasses and lollipops has stuck with general pop culture as a symbol of youthful promiscuity. While the name Lolita lost its connection to the style, it still had a major impact on the way women were portrayed in the media. That was until the re-emergence of Lolita’s cultural impact in musician Lana Del Ray’s album, Born to Die. Born to Die was strongly inspired by the themes and artistic style of Lolita and its accompanying films, with Del Ray going so far as saying Born to Die’s musical personality is “Lolita lost in the hood” (Rolling Stone; Del Ray, Lana). This pop album led to a 2010s revival of the Lolita style and brought this classic back into the pop culture sphere. This with the coining of “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” a film trope, describing a young woman whose existence is to show the oftentimes male protagonist the wonders of living, has led to a provocatized view of young women in today’s media. In conclusion, while many of us find fundamental issues with the relationship portrayed in Lolita, it is still important that we understand where trends and aspects of pop culture originated from.
Kaye, Elizabeth. “Lolita comes again: the book was banned, its author reviled, the first film version censored. Is there anything more about a lustful twelve-year-old nymphet that can shock American sensibilities? Yes.” Esquire, vol. 127, no. 2, Feb. 1997, pp. 50+. Gale Academic OneFile,link.gale.com/apps/doc/A19053077/AONE?u=txshracd2488&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=52f480fd. Accessed 26 Sept. 2021.
Sheffield, Rob. “Born to Die.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/born-to-die-2-247383/.