Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Well, Which Is It Young Feller?

How to Be Strong - Roseanne Cash (mp3)
ELO Kiddies - Cheap Trick (mp3)
From Raising Arizona:
GALE: Alright you hayseeds it's a stickup! Everybody freeze. Everybody down on the ground.  (Long pause)
HAYSEED: Well, which is it Young Feller? You want I should freeze or get down on the ground? I mean to say, if'n I freeze I can't rightly drop. And if'n I drop, I'm gonna be in motion.
What do we as a country want our children to be?

Are kids better serving as consumers in a free economy or as innocent angels in a pit of vipers? Well? Which is it, people? What the hell do you expect from America's children and teens? They ain't super-powered, y'know.

A recent Washington Post article in the "On Faith" section points out the dilemma decently enough.

In much the same way that adults cram fast food and candy down the throats of children yet expect them to grow up with physiques like Kate Moss and Macauley Culkin, adults shove kids in front of millions of disturbing visual images and auditory sounds but expect them to grow up sweet and innocent. And I'm not talking just parents here. I'm talking parents in specific and culture at large.

The TODAY Show will run an expose on the scandal surrounding Bristol Palin and premarital sex at 7:10, followed by a Hardee's commercial at 7:14 that depicts a woman with her tits practically spilling out of her dress, eating a hamburger like she's fellating it, and then scooping some stray ketchup from her finger and sucking on that like it's sloppy seconds. And then Matt Lauer returns to the screen to discuss the "scandal" of Miss California taking photos in lingerie. And then they'll see a movie trailer where Uhura is straddling Captain Kirk, and he's about to boldly take her where no man has gone before. All before most children have finished their breakfast. Oh yeah, and then Meredith returns with stories about the Craigslist predator and John Edwards' wayward penis.

Can you explain this to me?

If we want to feel like responsible parents, we can't watch a single thing that remotely interests us on television if there's the slightest damn chance our children could walk into the room. We won't let them watch ANY show anymore unless it's been DVR'd ("TiVo'd") first, because we can't risk the kind of shit that will greet them during commercial breaks of "Wipeout."

Meanwhile -- and I mean no offense, my conservative friends -- I've witnessed a fairly strong correlation between how often one agrees with "Family Values" lingo and how often one exposes their children to questionably-appropriate material. The more granola and tree-huggin' the parents I know, the more likely their children are even more sheltered from pop culture than ours. And ours are pretty sheltered, especially compared to most I know. (In point of fact, I'm not terribly confident that sheltering them more or better necessarily guarantees anything substantial in the long run. It just soothes my conscience a little is all, so we err on the side of caution.)

I wonder if that's because conservatives are the ones who espouse both the family values and the free market, the belief that people have the right to make a buck any way they can.

Let's take Carrie Prejean as an example. Her parents instilled in her a belief that gay marriage rips at the stable fabric of society. And I'd bet you a dime to a dollar that they are against increasing taxes and gun control. Yet, those same parents were perfectly OK with their sweet darling getting fake tits and modeling in lingerie as a teenager. I don't mean to rake them over the coals, but I do awe at our collective inconsistencies that don't once seem to give us judgmental pause.

Likewise, why aren't Elliott Spitzer and Sarah Palin seen more frequently as partners in deplorable hypocrisy? Both stood on soap boxes and wooed votes based on a public stance that was clearly neglected -- at least in moments -- in their private lives. But apparently we give Palin more lenience because "Who can control kids these days?" Maybe that's valid. Or... maybe it's all the more dangerous to stand on soap boxes and preach parental values if your kids ain't sweet li'l angels.

As the article suggests, we seem to be much more capable, as a society, of objecting to gay couples and teenage sex than we are of actually trying to address what most reasonable minds should agree is a more serious problem -- the pandemic of illegitimacy, for instance -- head-on.

It's a foolish game to call out the hypocrisy of specific people to make a point, because I'm plenty hypocritical in my own right, as both a parent and as a general adult. But I must call this hypocrisy out. I'm doin' it for the children, dammit!

We want them to do as we say, not as we do. And we want them to be sex symbols only in certain situations. We want to market Britney as a whore and an angel (well, we did back in 1999), and we expect our kids to know wisely and magically differentiate the good Britney from the bad Britney.

Everyone always expects so much out of the younger generations, and almost as much out of other people's children as our own, yet we don't seem to want to do much, collectively as a society, to help them.

I originally wrote "protect them," but I think the challenge is far more nuanced than mere protection. Instead of shielding, shouldn't we instead be aiming to equip them to do what they should, and more importantly to nurture them in an environment that helps them determine what the hell "should" is in the first place?

"How to Be Strong" is from the compilation album Mary Had a Little Amp. I can't find it anywhere for downloading, but the CD is good! The Cheap Trick tune can be found on iTunes or Amazon.com's mp3 site.


Daisy said...


Excellent post today! I don't think of my self as especially overprotective (although I have recetly learned that my self assesment is not always accurate)but I am very cautious about what my kids watch. I know that we can't control our kids forever but I fail to believe that parents are completely blameless for their children's missteps. I won't even get started on the hypocrisy of Sarah Palin and her family values playmates! I think the way we help our kids is to expose them to the things slowly explaining as we go until they can differentiate the good Brtney from the bad on their own. Right now in my house this means I don't watch the news while the kids are awake.

Jason said...

I think the age old question in this case is: What 'should' we nurture kids into? Let's talk sports, for instance.

Growing up as a kid, and even today, I think I managed to stay relatively trouble free because I was always busy with school and sports. (Now it is work and sports.)

The problem however, lies in choices, I think. I saw Ben Johnson get nailed for steroids at the 88 Olympics which made me cry while I was doing my paper route as a kid, I have had numerous acquaintances and people that I know get arrested for drugs, steroids, assault, DUI, rape and even homicide, and I never chose to emulate. That's not to say I don't make a million mistakes, because I do. Maybe I got lucky in some ways in not allowing my screwups to become overblown.

I think this argument could be extrapolated into other areas as well. I agree that we should nurture children as much as we can, but I also believe that there is a certain bit of luck in growing up.

Bob said...

I just like the random photos of Padma Lakshmi eating.

Billy said...

Jason, I completely agree with you. Luck is a huge factor. A major reason I was such a trouble-free teenager was because my closest friends were neighborhood pals, and none of us were on the Train to Popular Town. We were on the one going to Geeky Role-Playing Comicsville. That train tends to be equipped with fewer bar cars and fewer drugs.

But I was still just lucky that those were the kids in my neighborhood.

Tockstar said...

Great post. I rememeber having an "aha!" moment as a teenager (yeah, yeah, go ahead and smirk). But seriously, I was a classic good girl and I remember getting in hot water at youth group one night because I announced that if society was going to create a situation where it seems all the cool kids are gettin it on, that was fine, but glorifying sex in every possible way whilst making pariahs out of pregnant teenagers didn't make any sense. Our problem as a society is that sex sells, yet also leads to moral hang-ups. Money is good, but teenage motherhood is bad, but..oh, wait yep, money is still good. What to do?

BeckEye said...

I always fellate my hamburgers. It lets them know how much I love them.

And I swear that Padma Lakshmi is always drunk.

Anonymous said...

Point of clarification: she's really fellating her own hand.