Monday, January 16, 2006

Emotional Downward Mobility

On Katie's Beer and Be Strong in the Grace, TK has been talking about how hard it is as a real parent in this real world to help your children navigate a culture that is often so antithetical to what is good and right. There's one thing to be said for the various versions of the fundamentalist or Christian ghetto approach: they make thinking about issues like this a lot easier: just ban movies and you don't have to decide whether the fairly explicit sex scenes in Excalibur, for example, outweigh the powerful and engrossing illustration of how Arthur's kingdom fell through adultery because from the beginning it was founded on adultery. Sometimes I worry that my own choices in what movies to rent from Blockbuster (and Excalibur is one I've decided is not appropriate) or what CD's to buy them from Borders may have a corrupting influence on my own children. It may seem like a new problem, but it's one Christian parents have faced from the beginning; and we can be happy that evils like dueling or a blooming career in the slave trade no longer beckon to our children.

In some ways, music is a much more difficult rapid to canoe than movies because so few of us oldsters have any real familiarity with the music our teenage children listen to. More so than movies, music is generation-specific. As an active and involved mom, TK appears to have more than most and has been mulling over her (step) nephew's love of Eminem. As a contribution to her questions, I'd like to suggest that Mary Eberstadt has a great essay that asks us to ask a different question:

The ongoing adult preoccupation with current music goes something like this: What is the overall influence of this deafening, foul, and often vicious-sounding stuff on children and teenagers? This is a genuinely important question, and serious studies and articles, some concerned particularly with current music’s possible link to violence, have lately been devoted to it. . . . Nonetheless, this is not my focus here. Instead, I would like to turn that logic about influence upside down and ask this question: What is it about today’s music, violent and disgusting though it may be, that resonates with so many American kids?

The answers she comes up with are provocative:

Baby boomers and their music rebelled against parents because they were parents — nurturing, attentive, and overly present (as those teenagers often saw it) authority figures. Today’s teenagers and their music rebel against parents because they are not parents — not nurturing, not attentive, and often not even there. This difference in generational experience may not lend itself to statistical measure, but it is as real as the platinum and gold records that continue to capture it. What those records show compared to yesteryear’s rock is emotional downward mobility. Surely if some of the current generation of teenagers and young adults had been better taken care of, then the likes of Kurt Cobain, Eminem, Tupac Shakur, and certain other parental nightmares would have been mere footnotes to recent music history rather than rulers of it.

To step back from the emotional immediacy of those lyrics and to juxtapose the ascendance of such music alongside the long-standing sophisticated assaults on what is sardonically called “family values” is to meditate on a larger irony. As today’s music stars and their raving fans likely do not know, many commentators and analysts have been rationalizing every aspect of the adult exodus from home — sometimes celebrating it full throttle, as in the example of working motherhood — longer than most of today’s singers and bands have been alive (emphasis added).

Read it all. After I did, I found that while I guess I'm still fairly prudish, I have more understanding of where our childrens' friends are coming from.