Saturday, January 28, 2023

Killing Monsters: Part 2

(Continuing the article above)

I began by suggesting that the switch to electronic media is not a mere change of venue, but a profound change in the way our brains and hearts are shaped. Yet there is another change that calls for awareness and that is the increased presence of popular culture in children's lives. As I confessed in my article “TV—Then and Now” (6), my generation growing up in the 50's and 60's was the first to ingest so much television. As I read Jones' book, I chuckled remembering how my mother forbad comic books convinced that I wouldn't want to read real books. I bought them anyway, hid them in the basement and also read real books voraciously—and still do. The Beatles appeared just when I needed them at age 12, but that didn't stop me from playing Bach on the organ and listening to Beethoven. I had a brief period of existential teenage angst when I retreated to my room and became addicted to reruns of McHales Navyand Gilligan's Island. I also memorized all the words to Bob Dylan's “Desolation Row.” Yet at the same time I watched the Professor and Mary Ann of Gilligan’s Island, I also read Waldenand The Autobiography of Malcolm X.


Pop culture is healthy in small doses, but a disaster when it becomes virtually all children know. The proliferation of available medias, their heightened power and marketability, and their increased presence in children's lives at younger and younger ages is something new under the sun. Pre-pubescent children at rock concerts, two year olds playing video games and a constant diet of instant entertainment are taking their toll. It's as if dessert has become the main course of the culture. When a ten year old asked Wynton Marsalis what he felt about rap, Marsalis replied:


The fact that somebody ten years old listens to Ja Rule, Jay Z and all that—that's one of the greatest aberrations in the history of humanity. …The fact that an adult would let that be something that kids listen to is a testament to how far our civilization has fallen.  And it's a blot on us, the older people, not on y'all. Whatever we give y'all, you take. The fact that we give that to kids exposes us as one of the stupidest most backward civilizations ever. Never have so many people been given so much and given their children so little. (7)


Here Marsalis is neither speaking for Puritan repression nor unbridled indulgent expression. He speaks from an illustrious tradition of transformation, of facing our darkest and most brutal experiences and lifting them up into something beautiful. Eminem had an abusive childhood and we are asked to understand him and celebrate him for saying who he is. He grew up in darkness and is expressing that darkness. Beethoven, Dickens, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday also had brutal childhoods, but learned how to transform their darkness into a light that shines on in their art. I would feel more at ease with children enjoying Buffy the Vampire Slayer if they also knew who Mother Jones, Martha Graham, Eleanor Roosevelt and Billie Holiday were. If young people feel like they need to see "any chick in cool clothes who kicks ass!" (8), I believe they also need to see[US1]what Mother Teresa and Melba Beals and Helen Caldicott have done. If Jones' concern is the health of children and their development into caring adults, I believe it would have been worthwhile to emphasize the need to keep pop culture and its values from overwhelming the minds and hearts of our children. 


Finally, Jones begins the book critiquing the simplistic notion that mediated violence causes violent behavior and then virtually swings over to the equally simplistic notion that mediated violence alleviatesviolent behavior. However, it is in the internal conversation between permission and restraint, fantasy escape and disciplined work, personal dreams and community responsibility, that the real work lies. Jones' voice is certainly worth a hearing, but alone his views fail to give parents and children the tools they need to conduct that conversation. He says, "Mostly I just acknowledge what they're saying. It's like clutching your chest and falling down when you're shot, or just looking at a child and smiling." (9)  That's fine as far as it goes. But how far does it go? I suggest children need something more from adults— and they need something more from themselves. Let's get to work.


PS Interesting that I mention both Mortal Kombat and Eminen above, as both were directly involved in an explosive meltdown my 11-year-old granddaughter had with us grandparents after playing the former one time and listening to the latter another time. When we were out hiking in the woods or out singing in the neighborhood caroling party, she was sweet and loving and happy. I can testify first-hand that what we put in front of children matters.


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