Sunday, December 25, 2022

What to Put Before Children


My granddaughter Zadie tends to sleep late. Which means, I’m usually doing something— seated playing Solitaire or reading a book or typing—when she awakens. And more often than not when she’s visiting, she finds me and wraps her arms around me from behind to say “Good morning.” You would think that at 11 years old and fully arrived at (an early) puberty, this would stop. You would be wrong.


She’s had a rough Fall at school, for the first time ever getting into some trouble. A combination of that early puberty and peer pressure and that developmental stage of trying defiance on for size. Something she’s always been comfortable with at home, but thankfully, not at school. So when she came down last week for her Holiday visit, I was steeled to see a new version of my darling granddaughter, complete with constantly rolling eyes, sullen withdrawal and oozing negativity. And thankfully, I was wrong.


We rode our bikes the first day and as she has said before, she looked at me with a big smile and said, “I love riding bikes!” This morning, she plunged into the Palm Springs pool and said with exultation, “I love this!” She walked some 7 miles up to Mt. Tam without a whimper of complaint and actually had a super-sweet walk back telling stories to her brother without a single “Stop!!” from either of them. And she turned to me spontaneously in the kitchen the other day and said, “Pop-pop, I love you.”


This sense of her intact childlike innocence still alive and well means the world to me. And has a lot to do with my anger at her song choices on the trip down here. (See yesterday’s post.) Though it came across to her as personal, it really was my anger and profound disappointment in a culture that puts so much crap before its children —and purposefully so to make money. Fast food, violent video games, junk TV, addictive social media, misogynist and over-sexualized song lyrics. For example, some lyrics from the Eminem song that Zadie chose to play for me driving down:


"My bum is on your lips, my bum is on your lips"
And if I'm lucky, you might just give it a little kiss
And that's the message that we deliver to little kids
And expect them not to know what a woman's clitoris is
Of course they're gonna know what intercourse is
By the time they hit fourth grade
They've got the Discovery Channel, don't they?
We ain't nothin' but mammals, well, some of us, cannibals
Who cut other people open like cantaloupes
But if we can hump dead animals and antelopes
Then there's no reason that a man and another man can't elope
But if you feel like I feel, I got the antidote
Women, wave your pantyhose, sing the chorus, and it goes

I'm Slim Shady, yes, I'm the real Shady

Will Smith don't gotta cuss in his raps to sell records
Well, I do, so fuck him and fuck you too
You think I give a damn about a Grammy?
Half of you critics can't even stomach me, let alone stand me

So I can sit next to Carson Daly and Fred Durst
And hear 'em argue over who she gave head to first
Little bitch put me on blast on MTV
"Yeah, he's cute, but I think he's married to Kim, hee-hee"
I should download her audio on MP3
And show the whole world how you gave Eminem VD (ah)
I'm sick of you little girl and boy groups
All you do is annoy me, so I have been sent here to destroy you
And there's a million of us just like me
Who cuss like me, who just don't give a fuck like me
Who dress like me, walk, talk and act like me
And just might be the next best thing, but not quite me

'Cause I'm Slim Shady, yes, I'm the real Shady

It's funny, 'cause at the rate I'm going, when I'm thirty
I'll be the only person in the nursing home flirting
Pinching nurse's asses when I'm jacking off with Jergens
And I'm jerking, but this whole bag of Viagra isn't working
And every single person is a Slim Shady lurking
He could be working at Burger King, spittin' on your onion rings
Or in the parking lot, circling, screaming, "I don't give a fuck"
With his windows down and his system up
So will the real Shady please stand up
And put one of those fingers on each hand up?
And be proud to be outta your mind and outta control
And one more time, loud as you can, how does it go?


That’s a taste of what my 11-year old granddaughter is listening to. That’s what the culture is putting on her plate. 


The songs that I chose— In My Life, Teach Your Children Well, Don’t Worry; Be Happy, Dancing Cheek to Cheek and more— have a very different kind of message to impress itself upon the 11-year-old mind. As does the first movement to Beethoven’s 5th which I put on her for her while she joyfully and unabashedly danced to it in the living room. And the melody to Joplin’s Entertainer that I’m teaching her on piano.


I understand that her adolescent development will require some separation from me and her parents as she searches for what she thinks is “her own” music (though much is what her peers and marketers convince her is important). I understand that pop culture and low brow has a place in the ecology of the imagination. What I question is the percentage and the proportion and yes, the need to be clear about the limits of what’s appropriate.


I know, to my great sorrow and sadness, that both her schools and her mediated life will neglect the artistry of Art Tatum and Hazel Scott, will never ask her to recite Emily Dickinson or W.B. Yeats, will likely bypass Shakespeare and certainly bypass the extraordinary power of West African music and dance. Her saving grace will be her parents, aunt, grandparents determined to reveal that which is truly worthy of her attention and her effort. That counts for something. But it’s all the more powerful when the whole culture lines up together—schools, churches, friends, neighbors, media— and agrees on the non-negotiable things that we need that brings comfort, safety, beauty and positive life values to our children. 


You know the list. We all do.

And for my money, Eminem is not on it.




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