Friday, October 12, 2018

We're Reaping a Crop of Trash Planted by Frat Boy Culture in the 80s

I am probably more nostalgic about the pop culture of my youth than most people. I consumed a freaking ton of it both passively and actively while growing up. Correct me if I'm misremembering, but we didn't do as much back then? I didn't participate in sports or clubs or go anywhere or take vacations with my family very often. Here's what I remember: Piano lessons, One year of 4H, and a trip to Disneyland.

I wasn't deprived. It was normal for families and kids, especially, to have a lot of unstructured time. Now, filling our schedules to the point of busting is a point of pride. And we do it to kids' schedules too. In fact, my kids had quit more activities before preschool than I participated in during my whole childhood. Most of my memories are tied to shows and songs and characters. So when people like me started having kids we wanted them to experience all the things that meant so much to us when we were little. I ordered Schoolhouse Rock videos and the whole Danger Mouse series for my family. Truly, it's one of the great joys of parenting to revisit that stuff with your own kids.

But not all of it holds up.

I've become a much more discerning cultural critic since becoming a parent. There are a lot of movies that just don't stand the test of time and that I would never share with my kids. I first noticed this with Goonies. It has so much more swearing than I remembered. But you don't remember it, you might say. So your kids won't either. But that's not the point. If I'm telling my kids they can be articulate, funny, cool, and acceptable without ever swearing, I need to put my money where my mouth is and show them good examples of this. That's why parenting is hard. Now, when kids get a little older you don't have to teach in absolutes. They can understand exceptions and nuance and, in fact, older children should learn how to navigate a world that may not share their values with integrity and without being too judgmental. So there are all kinds of little discrepancies peppered through art and media that you have to consider before you endorse it for your own kids.

But what I want to talk about is different than that because we find ourselves in the middle of a cultural moment—a moment defined by the #metoo movement and heralded by an obscene chauvinist becoming the president of the United States. This moment is also marked by enablers who dismiss or downplay the bad behavior of a fellow tribe member in exchange for power. The indignant, angry behavior of Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing and the moving testimony of Christine Blasey Ford struck a chord in me and in all of the women I know.

We believe her because we are her.

In the context of #metoo, Molly Ringwald writes about her conflicted feelings about 16 Candles and the scene where a drunk girl becomes a punchline for our dreamy protagonist who chooses not to "violate" her but instead lets a nerd take a crack at it. Ugh. It wasn't until John Hughes died in 2009 that I first considered his movies from an adult's perspective. His movies were, hands down, the most influential movies about teenagers I ever watched. The soundtracks, in particular, were so great. And, unlike horror movies which seemed like the only other movies about teenagers at the time, sometimes women had actual lines in them. John Hughes included the female perspective and he included the outcasts' perspective, which was something we craved. Unfortunately, to get at those angsty truths sometimes the outcast sexually harassed and occasionally molested the female.

Kavanaugh supporters, #metoo dismissers, and so-called anti-feminists rationalize past bad behavior of men by say "those were different times" and, as I mentioned above, they were different times. Every time is a different time. But even in those times it wasn't right to molest or objectify women. Trauma caused damage then as it causes damage now.  Men made chauvinist jokes and laughed at women, sexualized and objectified them, accepted zero responsibility and were not held accountable for their actions then just as they do now.

Tell me again, how were those times different?

Kavanaugh himself referenced Animal House, Caddyshack, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High in his confirmation hearing as the movies that influenced his yearbook committee. Art reflects life; life reflects art. For sure, art doesn't have to reflect my values for it to be good, valuable, or legitimate. But at this point in time, in order for something to resonate with me and to be worth buying, watching, looking at, or listening to it has to try harder to be better. When I was a kid I didn't have the wherewithal to think critically about the shows I watched. Now I do. I have the benefit of seeing how the guys who grew up on Animal House turned out and I am not impressed.


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