Monday, September 11, 2000

Week of 09/11/2000

The Parent’s War On Adults
- by David Matthews 2

"Children sweeten labours; but they make misfortunes more bitter. They increase the care of life; but they mitigate the remembrance of death. The perpetuity of generation is common to beasts; but memory, merit, and noble works, are proper to men. And surely a man shall see the noblest works and foundations have proceeded from childless men; which have sought to express the images of their minds, where those of their bodies have failed." - Francis Bacon

In his story "The Boxer", author Jack London talked about the final fight of an aged pugilist and how he wanted to end his long fighting career with grace. Instead, however, he ends up fighting a man much younger than him, and despite having the experience and the skills, he was no match for the youngster’s youth and stamina. The old fighter was defeated, and as his head hit the mat, he knew that it would be over for him. There would be no more championship matches for him. No more victories to celebrate. No more winning purses to take home. His career was effectively over, ended by a younger man.

"Youth," wrote London, "will be served."

That quote stuck in my mind when I saw the latest MTV Video Music Awards, and all of the controversy and outrage surrounding it.

The brunt of the outrage was focused on teen singer Britney Spears, who started out as a schoolgirl-looking former member of the Mickey Mouse Club, but who appeared on the Awards show doing a sexy-but-clothed striptease act as part of her singing performance.

The New York Post referred to Britney’s act this way:

"Of greatest note was Spears’ performance, in which she gyrated gamely in a transparent body stocking that made her look like she wasn’t wearing anything at all - save for a handful of sequins that seemed to have been tossed at her and stuck."

Descriptive, but not entirely accurate. For starters, it wasn’t a "transparent body stocking" she wore. It was actually a flesh-colored halter top, bellbottom pants, and matching thong, each with strategically-placed sequins on them. That spells out the difference between those people who actually watched the show and those who simply got the still pictures from Reuters.

But like any other piece of journalistic sensationalism, the inaccurate description of the young singer’s attire managed to do its job of inflaming readers.. particularly the dysfunctional elite, who proclaimed it being yet another case of "mixing rock and porn" - according to one so-called parenting expert.

Of course, Britney Spears and her fellow former Mouseketeer Christina Aguilera have been at the heart of this kind of conflict almost the day their careers started. Britney, who took time off to recover from a knee injury, returned to the video scene, and suddenly people realized she had breasts, and they wondered if she had actually spent that down time to get implants. She later posed for the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine in what certain people (and you can guess which ones) referred to as "smutty". Meanwhile, Christina, who started off her career singing "What a Girl Wants", was rumored to have been visiting strip clubs not too long after she turned 18. Even rap singer Emenem, himself no stranger to controversy, speculated in his songs what sort of Clinton-like favors Christina gave to other singers and a certain MTV host.

Rumors and speculations like these have inflamed parents and moralists alike, people who feel these young ladies are role models to teenagers. Certainly the hype machines for Britney and Christina have been generated towards that crowd, so it is understandable that parents would throw screaming fits over hearing about Britney’s VMA performance.

Yet at the same time, this reflexive action -- almost as violent as a bulemic’s binge-and-purge diet -- is characteristic to a societal conflict that not too many people realize is happening… the conflict between parents and adults.

Once upon a time, there was very little to separate between being an adult and being a parent. As a matter of fact, in some parts of society, you were a parent before you even became an adult. Scary, but true. Part of the problem we have with teenage pregnancy has not been because of the supposed proliferation of sexual material, but rather because of local traditions that said if a girl was old enough to have menstrual cycles, she was old enough to be a mother. It has been a tradition in small towns that the young couples that got together in high school would be the ones who would get married and start families after graduation.

Indeed, human civilization has been predominated towards one goal: to make families and thus propagate the next generation. The whole institution of marriage was created just for that goal. Politicians pander to parents, offering them all sorts of tax breaks and special incentives simply because they got married and passed Biology 101.

But lurking in the shadows of those families is a subsection of society, one that has never really gotten any kind of recognition until recently… the adults. The adults who did not run off to get married simply to get married. The ones who wanted to spend a little more time AS adults before they decided to get married and have a family.

Only in recent decades has the notion even been entertained that one could be an adult without also being a parent. Before then, the only adults who were not parents were monks or nuns, or lived lives that would otherwise not allow them the luxury of getting married or having kids.

The baby boomers certainly took advantage of that idea of celebrating adulthood during the 60’s and 70’s. Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Philosophy explored the notion that an adult was more than just some baby-making, family-producer, and the young adults of the time lapped it up. In the hypocritical 80’s, while all the attention was on the thirty-something young urban professional parents, or Yuppies, the non-parenting adults came up with their own acronym: DINK’s, or Double Income, No Kids. They worked just as hard as their yuppie counterparts, but were able to enjoy life a little bit more because they didn’t have to worry about spending money on kids.

In the 90’s however, a form of backlash against the adults was started by the moralists. Crusading under the banner of "family values", moralists and theocrats began to push the notion that adults were really not as important as parents were. The things that entertained adults, be they strip clubs, video games, movies, music, television programs, were deemed "unfriendly to families", and thus targeted for censorship and government legislation.

And there, the moralists easily found allies in the parents. It really didn’t take much to win them over. All they had to do was to prey on the natural protective instincts of parents, generate a little hysteria, and then link a certain tragedy to whatever they want censored.

Presto! Instant outrage that is so preconditioned that it would make Pavlov salivate instead of his dogs.

Let’s get brutally honest here.. there IS an adversarial relationship between adults and some parents. Some parents, not all, have a deep-rooted hatred of adults who are not parents. It’s easy to see why, when you realize just how some adults are able to enjoy their lives without kids around them.

Many parents live their whole lives around their children. They sacrifice everything for them. Everything they do is often for their children. They work hard and save their money just for their kids. They sacrifice sleep and time they would otherwise spend having fun as adults just so they can spend it with their kids.

And then they see their adult counterparts… having fun. Enjoying life. Doing all of the things they might have done, or wanted to do, but just couldn’t.. because they now have kids.

Quite often when parents say they can’t wait for their kids to grow up, they don’t want their kids to become adults.. they want their kids to become parents! To have kids all their own, so they can learn first-hand what it was like for their parents. These parents don’t want their kids to become adults, because to do that is to be reminded of the fun that they will never be able to enjoy.

Now granted, some parents are not that way. They manage to find ways to enjoy life even with children. Unfortunately, they become the silent witnesses to this societal war between adults and parents.

It is said that non-parenting adults are selfish because they only care about themselves and their significant others. But the ugly truth is that it is quite often the parents that are the selfish ones, because they want everyone to reorganize their world around their children.

You can hear that selfishness when those activist parents get in front of the media. Just listen to them. They want to censor television programs so that their children can’t see a certain show. They want to censor the Internet so their children won’t access the inappropriate sites. They want to shut down strip clubs and outlaw adult videos so that they won’t have to explain such things to their children. They want their version of religion and sex education taught in schools so that their children will be taught "proper" values. "Me, me, me…" "Mine, mine, mine…" Self-centered talk that come straight from childhood.

Look, parents, you need to recognize that the whole wide world just does not revolve around your kids! Your world certainly does, but that does not give you the right to go in and make it the priority of everyone else.

The first thing that parents need to remember is that their goal is NOT to reshape reality for their children, but rather to help their kids prepare for the real world. The more they try to deny that, the harder it will be for their children as they are growing up.

It would also help if we would stop making parenting the end-all, be-all goal for people. Women don’t like it when they are told that their only place in the world is to stay at home and make babies, but that is precisely what our predominance towards families and kids tells us. It tells us that we are nothing more than just societal life-support for children.

Instead of condemning those childless adults, parents should congratulate them for at least not rushing through just to bring an extra mouth in the world. They should be congratulated for trying to find the right significant other so they won’t have to go through divorce or stick through a turbulent marriage "just for the sake of the children."

And instead of pushing children to become parents, they should instead be urged to enjoy those years as an adult. Allow them to grow up and become adults first so they can decide for themselves who they are and what their place in the world would me. Let them enjoy those years of life being young and on top, because they will never be able to enjoy them quite the same way again.

This holds true especially with our young stars. Instead of condemning Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera for breaking away from their "teen icon" status, they should be allowed to grow up and relish those adult years. They should enjoy that life, be able to celebrate it however they want to. They shouldn’t be typecast into that "teen icon" status.

And believe me, the entertainment world is a pretty fickle one. After all, how many people still remember Debbie Gibson? Or Tiffany? They faded away into obscurity. Their fifteen minutes of fame long since expired. The same holds true to today’s stars. Britney and Christina will eventually be replaced by yet another group of talented young girls who will serve as the icons for young teenagers.

After all, youth will be served.

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