Friday, September 7, 2007

The Inescapability of Toxic Pop Culture

Dr. Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, professor of history at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Social Science, wrote an essay entitled "Socializing Children in a Culture of Obscenity" for the book Kid Stuff: Marketing Sex & Violence to America's Children. In it, Dr. Lasch-Quinn discusses the difficulties modern parents have in raising their children amid what she terms "the culture of obscenity":

"By obscenity here, I mean not only what is considered adult-rated sexual material, but also a kind of fundamental offensiveness, vulgarity, indecency, perversity, and vacuity on our part as a nation, generation, or civilization. Often having little to do with sexuality itself, this kind of obscenity bears on nearly all realms of society. It is rooted in a radically antisocial ethos premised on the right to individual fulfillment at all costs and is fed by the belief that appeals to morality have no standing because they are all relative and subjective."

Unfortunately, this type of toxicity has so thoroughly permeated today's society that it is virtually inescapable. As Dr. Lasch-Quinn writes:

"Critics of this culture have used tactics resting on the ways parents can take responsibility over what their children hear and see: the V-chip, ratings systems, magazines that guide parents through the thicket of the popular culture, and even home-schooling. Those parents most cognizant of their own responsibilities, however, are often the ones who also recognize the limits of their ability to monitor a whole culture...Even when vigilantly controlling what their children witness, parents often face the reality that their fellow parents are not nearly as concerned as they are- if they are even concerned at all."

I experienced this type of frustration with the inescapability of toxic pop culture earlier this week at park day. This month, our local homeschool support group is meeting at a park in one of the towns considered to be among the "nicest" in our area. It has a median household income of $125k, 80% of the residents hold bachelor's degrees or higher, and homes are priced well over $1 million. The public schools have standardized test scores in the top 10% in all of California, and among the highest in the county. I'm saying this to show that this is not some ghetto neighborhood but on the contrary, one that is generally thought to be highly desirable.

Anyways, I got to park day on the later side because of DS' afternoon nap. The local public schools had obviously already let out for the day and the playground was very crowded. There was a group of girls who looked to be about 8 or 9 but dressed as if they were college coeds. Spaghetti-strap tees low cut across their nonexistent chests paired with a miniskirt (no leggings underneath), rhinestone-encrusted jeans, or yoga pants with words emblazoned across the derrière. They were practicing a provocative dance to some pop song I'd never personally heard before but which included the word "booty" and the phrase "lose your inhibitions" in its chorus.

I found this disturbing to say the least. It's bad enough to see that type of routine from the Raiders Girls or other pro sports cheerleaders but at least those are adult women! These were prepubescent girls :-(

Meanwhile, their homeschooled counterparts were all dressed age-appropriately (most in cute flowery sundresses) and playing some elaborate "let's pretend" game. That's the type of behavior I remember from when I was growing up BTW.

I wondered what kind of parents would allow their young daughters to engage in this type of behavior and I soon found out. DS wanted to go in the toddler swings and standing right next to them was a gaggle of moms. Like their daughters, these 40something women were dressed like teen party queens. In the quarter of an hour I stood there pushing DS in the swing, these moms engaged in one of the most insipid conversations I've ever heard. Every single remark coming out of their overly made up mouths was totally materialistic, narcissistic, and utterly vapid. They did not *ONCE* talk about their children- it was all about *THEMSELVES*: their luxury travel, their wine club memberships, their horseback riding lessons, their TIVO's and high-def televisions, and so on. During the whole time I was there, they did not pay even the slightest bit of attention to their children except when one of the girls came over to let the moms know the girls were going to the restroom.

I feel so sorry for the children of such obviously self-absorbed women. Clearly many members of the "Me Generation" are having difficulty providing the kind of moral guidance their children so desperately need. Because of them, those of us involved parents who *DO* care about the negative influences of the toxic pop culture are having a harder and harder time shielding our children. It's not enough to unplug the television, turn off the radio, and homeschool our kids. As Dr. Lasch-Quinn notes:

"In everyday life, images of commodities jarringly appear in places hitherto understood to be noncommercial. The particular content of these images disturbs older aesthetic expectations, such as an oversized picture of a reclining, bikini-clad woman with head thrown back in ecstasy taking up the whole side of a city bus."

Or prepubescent girls shaking their miniskirted "booty" provocatively on the local playground.

I'm not sure what the solution is to these huge problems of toxic pop culture and overly permissive parenting. We can, and should, limit media exposure. Many Christian homeschoolers decide to associate primarily with those espousing similar values. While I can certainly understand their reasoning for this, that's not something I personally feel comfortable doing. It just doesn't seem to be in the spirit of Christ's calling us to be the "salt and light" to have a religious litmus test for one's friends.


Barbara Frank said...

I share your frustration. It is so hard to keep our kids on the straight and narrow in this world. Two of my homeschooled-from-birth kids are now adults, and while they know right from wrong and live accordingly (for the most part), they have already become desensitized to much of the garbage in this world, and think I am overreacting when I express similar outrage to what you share in this post. My only hope is that they'll change their tune once they have kids of their own. If not, I'll have to wait for God to convict them on these issues.

mom huebert said...

Yes, I agree. I get disgusted by not only the toxicity of our culture, but also the pervasiveness of it. We find it even in some churches we've attended, where we hoped to find a breath of clean air. I am saddened and angered by the prevailing concept among church youth that it's okay, and even good, to go out and "be a bad girl"-- actual quote-- and then "come back to God"; usually with an illegitimate child in tow.

Our defense has been to homeschool to avoid unnecessary exposure, and then to discuss how to think about what we can't help being exposed to. I hate that our boys have to deal with scantily-clad, slut-minded girls (and guys...ugh), but we try to freely talk about those things. Our reasoning? Tender plants grow best in a protected environment, but on the other hand, bad things grow in the dark, so keep the light on!

The Not Quite Crunchy Parent said...

Great post! You expressed my own feelings so well. I'm always shocked when I mention something like this to a well meaning but mainstream Mom..the response is usally a "blink" and a look that more or less says..."I never thought of that!"

deb said...

I put my younger son briefly into public school at the age of ten. I was astonished to discover that fifth grade girls were already discussing dating and having relationships with older boys. When I mention my concern to other moms they only shrugged and seemed surprised by my disapproval.

I have two daughters whom I am homeschooling. Thank goodness they are not in public school. I can't imagine the pressure to conform that they would come under if they were not homeschooled

Anonymous said...

I was searching the internet for something like your blog as today I went to the hairdressers and got my first dose of Foxtel. So here I am in Australia watching an American tv show titled Parental Control whereby parents choose alternative girlfriends to woe their son away from his current girlfriend. And it seems the norm is to pole dance on your first date - it was crass. And not only was it on for the adults, all the children who came in had to watch it. My children go to an alternative school here with the hope that we can provide them with an education which enriches them with culture worthy of them. And I suppose that is the trick, always look for something to raise their spirits with so when the crap confronts them they will recognise it.