A while back, I posted that I am old, because I couldn’t figure out how to work my son’s toys. He was barely five years old at the time, so I think you’ll understand when I say that this was not one of my finest moments. (I am happy to say that I did, in fact, figure out the toy in question…over a month later. Now, if only I could figure out the larger toy to which it attaches!) It made me feel as though I were some kind of relic—after all, I’m supposed to be the knowledgeable one here!
Happily, my kids make me feel young just as much as they make me feel old. I have been advised that this will not last, but let’s not rush anything; I have five more years before the oldest becomes a teenager, and I plan to milk their childhoods for as long as I can before surrendering to the ever-so-fun teenage years. Yikes. I ask my daughter on a regular basis, “Who gave you permission to grow up so fast?” (Apparently, Mommy did.)
If only my kids were the only thing making me feel old! Alas, it is not so. Pop culture is taking care of that role quite nicely, thank you; and by pop culture, I mean television and music. Thousands of people have said it before, but I’ll say it again: It was a different world when I was younger! (I say younger. I refuse to say young. I may describe myself as old, but that’s in reference to how I sometimes feel; I steadfastly refuse to say that I am literally old.) I always expected that someday I would feel that way; I never dreamed I would be in my thirties when it happened, though.
I blame Disney. It started with their take on television. Now, I know that the Disney channel has been around for years; I remember watching Dumbo’s Flying Circus during one of the rare instances that we had cable in my childhood, and a few other shows as well. But you can’t deny that things have changed! In my childhood, we had this:
Now (or recently, I should say, as this is not a current show), it’s more like this:
I’m not slamming this show, or any others (Disney people, if you read this, don’t sue me!), because I don’t think they are bad shows. I’m just saying that things have changed. And it didn’t stop with television, because the Disney machine is everywhere (along with its major competitor, Nickelodeon, a channel that I remember for green slime and You Can’t Do That On Television. Maybe they shouldn’t have done it on television; I’m not sure I like where it took us!). No, it continued into music.
Disney isn’t single-handedly responsible for everything going on in the music world today, but it is a trendsetter, perhaps the trendsetter when it comes to music for and by young people. Although I’ve been seeing it for years, I’m still amazed at the way Disney (and Nickelodeon, let’s not leave them out of the party) create multi-purpose child stars, and give them a tailor-made career that carries them for years. Of course, the company makes scads of money in the process, so from a business standpoint, I’m not surprised at all. I may be slightly concerned about where it has taken us, musically and as a society.
This isn’t about Disney, though. It’s about the way that pop culture has changed since my childhood. And change it has. I hesitate to say that it reflects a decrease in maturity, although you certainly could argue that point; I want to believe better things of people at any age. I do think, though, that our common outlook on life, as reflected in pop culture, has changed. I don’t think it’s changed for the better.
A coworker and I were talking yesterday about the television shows we watched as children. She and I are of a similar age, so we had a lot in common (not least of which is the mutual realization that we watched a LOT of television as children. Seriously, when did we have time to do anything else?) We named a number of shows that will have many of you nodding along: The A-Team, Knight Rider, McGyver, Airwolf, The Incredible Hulk, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica (the original version), Earth 2, and so on. We’ve had similar talks about other genres of television. These were shows for adults, but they were suitable for children, for the most part; and I loved them. Even then, they didn’t shy away from complex themes or topics, although they all had their simplistic moments. The difference I see when you compare them to modern shows is this: Morality and ethics were clearly presented in the older shows. Today, it’s in fashion to blur the lines. The heroes would have been villains in older shows. Here’s the obvious and gratuitous example: Vampires. Historically, they were considered evil, demonic, and terrible, and that’s how they were portrayed on the screen.
Today, not so much. They still kill—and are we all agreed that murder is still a bad thing?—and they still drink blood, but they are really not such bad people, despite all that. They’ve become sympathetic creatures. And it gets worse: our shows may not even have villains, or heroes for that matter; they may even trade places. As a society, we think this is great; we don’t want heroes, we want antiheroes. We want all our villains to be likeable, and we want them all to be not so bad in the end. I’m all for a good redemption story—the first movie I ever saw in a theater was Return of the Jedi—but we don’t even want our villains to need redemption in the first place. Morality is unclear.
And that is fine for entertainment that is directed at adults, because we adults have already crafted our own internal compass. We’ve learned our morality. Our children haven’t, and therefore we need to remember: our children watch the same things we watch. Don’t kid yourself if you think otherwise.
They listen to our music too—and they pick it up. Yes, they misunderstand some lyrics, sometimes to hilarious effect. They catch most of it, though; and that should concern us.
Music shapes us, and never more than in our teenage years. It gives us pieces of our identity that stay with us for years to come; why do you think we so readily say, “This is MY song”? I was a teenager in the 90’s (and I would tack on a few years of my early twenties, because they were still formative years for me, in my opinion). I still listen to the music of that era. Tonight, I pulled up a Spotify playlist that I use frequently; here’s a random sample:
- Hootie and the Blowfish, Only Want To Be With You. For years, I considered this to be THE representative song of the 90’s, and I still like it today.
- Lisa Loeb, Stay
- Vertical Horizon, Everything You Want
- Matchbox Twenty, Push
- Savage Garden, Truly Madly Deeply
- The Goo Goo Dolls, Here Is Gone
- Avril Lavigne, Complicated
- Smashmouth, Walking On The Sun
- REM, The End Of The World As We Know It
- The Offspring, Pretty Fly For A White Guy (Don’t judge, you listened to it too)
If you are anywhere near my age, you’re probably nodding (I’ll leave it up to you whether you mean it in agreement or embarrassment). That music didn’t define me, but it taught me some of the ways I could choose to define myself. (And no, my tastes weren’t that narrow. I also listened to country music, and Contemporary Christian music, and even a little classical. This just happened to be the playlist at hand.) The same thing happens today, but the options, I think, have changed; it’s like my argument with television, that the lines have been blurred. Topics and attitudes that were largely ignored, or at least kept in the realm of allusion, have become plain today, especially with regard to vices such as sex and drugs. That progression, of course, is all over society; as my history professor once stated, “What one generation tolerates, the next generation propagates.” He was right.
I don’t intend to make hermits of my children—they have to face the world eventually, so I won’t remove them completely from it—but I do want to have a hand in what they tolerate, and eventually propagate. It’s the only responsible attitude a parent can have. Children are like empty pitchers, waiting to be filled—if you don’t fill them up with your morality, someone else will surely fill them with theirs.
I’ve been grim long enough. I want to leave on a cheerful note. Here’s one: Morality might be an endangered species, but quick thinking is not, at least not in the Timewalkerauthor household! On the dashboard of my car sits a little, green, plush monster: Om Nom, from the mobile game Cut The Rope. Om Nom, it seems, is married, although living apart; Mrs. Om Nom, as it turns out, lives in another state with my friend Cyndera.
Now, it seems, they have children of their own (pretty impressive for hundreds of miles apart!). Tonight, I posed this stumper to my daughter: I asked her what the names of the two junior Om Noms were. Her answer? Omelette and Nomelette. Naturally.
Well played, Emma, well played!