Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Facing Reality

We don't have regular television.  We stream Netflix and Hulu, and so my husband and I have a handful of current shows we watch (things like Parks and Recreation and Downton Abbey), and we watch older sitcoms or shows sometimes (along the lines of Frasier, Scrubs, Magnum, P.I.). My kids have a pretty set list of shows they watch: Wild Kratts, My Little Pony, Justin Time, Bo on the Go, a few others.  We see, on average, a few dozen movies a year at home, mostly kid fare.  There's no regular radio in our house.  I listen to Pandora stations that I have created (country that is mostly old Cowboy music, a Billy Joel station that throws out some Beatles and the like, Classical Music [primarily Chopin], and a more current station that plays things like Adele, Josh Groban, Michael Buble, etc).  We stream our iTunes through the TV, so all that comes out is music that Doug and I have specifically purchased.

The result of all of this?  I (and, thankfully, my children) are largely out of the pop culture loop.  Due to headlines that I find deeply uninteresting, I am aware of the existence of people like Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, but I don't have any familiarity with their songs, much less their videos.  I find that people who make a point to stand out through outrageous behavior or dress don't generally have much of substance to offer, and so aren't worth paying much attention.

I was reading an article today by a favorite columnist, and she was referencing the Miley Cyrus song/VMA performance in order to make a bigger point about the state of our culture in general.  Finally, curiosity got the best of me, and I watched the music video.  I didn't find myself shocked and scandalized--its been obvious for most of my life that our culture was on a steady downhill slide, and the overt, promiscuous sexuality and rampant drug use/reference can hardly be called shocking anymore, even if its brashness increases--but I was caught off guard by the song and video's seeming self-awareness.

The lyrics, tempo, and minor key of the song itself were pathetically sad, but coupled with the imagery of the video, it was deeply depressing.  Two of the primary visuals of the video, together with the refrain "We can't stop" seemed to acknowledge its own emptiness.  A taxidermied sheep--dead, stuffed with fluff and doused in chemicals to stave off rot--stands surrounded by mirrors, to make it appear as though it is surrounded by similar creatures when it is, in fact, alone, wearing sunglasses to hide its dead eyes.  In another scene, the beautiful young girl at the center of this mess is in a swimming pool surrounded by beautiful people, and yet she seeks affection from a doll--a lifeless, wooden reflection of herself.

We can't stop.  As I watched the video, I wondered how many people are living such a life:  hopping from party to party, drug to drug or sexual encounter to sexual encounter, because if they stop, the veneer of happiness crumbles and they find themselves miserable and alone.  How many people are living a life so lacking in substance that they must keep themselves constantly physically stimulated in order to convince themselves that they're having fun and enjoying their lives?  How many people are conveying the message, intentionally or unintentionally, to children and teenagers that constant partying, and the attendant sexual degradation and recreational drug use, are fun?  People only need such things in life when they don't have deeper, more important things to build their lives around--things that give genuine, meaningful joy to life.

My kids are still pretty little, and so protecting them to this point has been easy--I have largely been able to control not just who they spend time with, but what media they are exposed to.  I have started to realize how much I loathe relinquishing some of the power to provide that protection, as my tween daughter starts talking about some of the music she has listened to with friends, or movies she has watched in other people's homes.  I haven't always been thrilled with what other parents--good parents, good people--allow their kids to watch, listen to and play.  I have started talking to my older kids very explicitly about what we do and don't watch, read, or listen to.  I have started talking to my oldest daughter (only 9!) about polite, unobtrusive ways to excuse herself or steer the choices in a different direction if her friends are watching or listening to something inappropriate.

So far, both my older kids have been receptive and happy to oblige.  I know a point will come when they will realize that they are more naive, innocent, or ignorant on some things than many of their classmates and friends.  I hope that they will be able, with our help, to appreciate the differences, but I know its much more likely that they will resent me for them.  There will be some pretty hard and fast rules about the media that is allowed in our home and on their musical and/or mobile devices, should they have any, and I imagine that there will be times when they will be angry toward us for that.  But that's why kids needs parents--as vital as I believe closeness and affection is to good parenting, kids already have lots of friends.  They need someone who has been there, done that, has the wisdom of experience and the perspective of age to guide them in making wise decisions--something they simply don't always have all the tools to do on their own yet.  Kids need someone in their lives who sincerely and consistently has their best interest at heart, and is willing to be uncomfortable themselves--including sometimes holding firm and allowing a child to be angry at them rather than cave in and give them what they think they want--in order to best serve their needs.  Yes, it may put you out of step with other parents a little, and it may put your kids a little out of step with their peers, and that's not a pleasant place for either of you to be.

But any parent who has watched the "We Can't Stop" video and seen Miley writhing around suggestively on, well, everything and everyone in sight should agree that there are worse things than your kids being a little more innocent and a little more naive than their peers.

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