Category Archives: Culture

Bad parenting

From CNN (“‘Meanest mom on planet’ sells son’s car,” January 9, 2008):

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Jane Hambleton has dubbed herself the “meanest mom on the planet.”

After finding alcohol in her son’s car, she decided to sell the car and share her 19-year-old’s misdeed with everyone — by placing an ad in the local newspaper.

The ad reads: “OLDS 1999 Intrigue. Totally uncool parents who obviously don’t love teenage son, selling his car. Only driven for three weeks before snoopy mom who needs to get a life found booze under front seat. $3,700/offer. Call meanest mom on the planet.”

This is pretty damn sick. What kind of irresponsible parent gets their kid a two-ton killing machine anyway?

Kids: don’t drive. Just stick with booze.

Censorship vs. turning your television off: an early chapter

I got to thinking during my last post, actually, that it always surprises me how the debate about garbage in the media is framed. It usually looks something like this: one side (in Amerika, we call this side the “conservative” side) complains that there is way too much unregulated garbage on TV that is accessible to impressionable young minds. The other side says, well, the First Amendment kind of bars government censorship. Sorry. These two points get repeated over and over again in idiotic three-minute cable segments, as if there isn’t any other solution, or even any other side to the issue. It reminded me of this exchange between Frank Zappa and John Lofton on CNN’s crappy show Crossfire:

First, the thornier side, is about sex. The viewing public loves sex. So, naturally, the racier the sexualization of television, the more viewers you’ll get. Whether in Utah or Los Angeles, people watch complete garbage.

The pro-censorship guys

Then, of course, there’s a powerful section of the population, maybe waning in power now, that wishes to impose what might be described as a neo-Christian (or neo-Judeo-Christian*) morality on the public. John Lofton is an early example. In the 1980s, he was playing the quintessential American 1980s conservative: angry, dumb, beedy-eyed, wearing large-rimmed glasses, and ready to sink his teeth into anyone who dares to disagree with him (which, to him, is probably tantamount to disagreeing with the Bible). Today, he runs a blog after having left the Republican Party because they’re too unbiblical.

It’s said neo-Christians (“Christian right”) have theological motivations at times, though I somehow doubt theology was ever the overarching motivation. If they resemble an earlier Christian movement, it’s the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages—people believed in them, and they believed in Jesus, but not too many people really knew what they were talking about. In the jolly Middle Ages, there wasn’t much in the way of enforcement of rules, but there was a lot of talk about rules. Hell was reserved for pretty serious heresy (or Jews). Like the 1970s-1980s, capitalism and borrowing was the new vogue. The bourgeois become popular in government because they were able to manage finances. The church was a big receiver of income (in the climax of the neo-Christian movement, in the early 2000s, there was a lot of talk of federally-financed, likely unconstitutional “faith-based initiatives”). While this was going, the church backed off from its restrictions on usury, as secular governments found themselves needing to borrow to finance wars and later explorations. It was only in the early modern era that religion surged in violence again (maybe that’s next in the 21st century?).

In any event, neo-Christians weren’t necessarily fundamentalist Christians, and some still aren’t. Most are Republicans, but occasionally there’s a Democrat (Joseph Lieberman) or Libertarian thrown into the mix. Most subscribe to some form of evangelical, highly eschatological Christianity, but some are Catholics or even Jews (Leiberman again, or Bill Kristol). Heck, some are Mormons—witness the recent idiotic speech by Mitt Romney, who preaches religious toleration to a point.

If anything, neo-Christians may not even agree about very much. They agree that abortion should be banned, they agree that federal power can be used to enforce morality (to varying extents), and they agree that at least parts of the First Amendment really shouldn’t have any teeth or no heed should be paid to it at all. In all other ways, they have wide-ranging beliefs, though it often seems otherwise because they’re willing to sacrifice almost everything else over their core issues, allowing other interest groups to fill in the vacuum (this is where people like Kristol and other Republican Party sects like big business come in).

The neo-Christian guys first cropped up definitively in the 1970s, though elements of their theology and even influence certainly can be traced back decades, if not centuries. They were around before Roe v. Wade (1973), though Roe certainly boosted them. Pat Robertson had The 700 Club in the 1960s and The Late Great Planet Earth (by ex-riverboat captain Hal Lindsey) was written before Roe (1970). Less polemical, but also at least on the fringes of that movement, was Billy Graham.

By the 1980s, after hot issues like the Vietnam War and Watergate had cooled down, these neo-Christian guys took Washington and the airwaves by storm. They never had full control of the House and Senate until 1994, but they set the legislative tone from 1980 until 1992, and then from 1994 until 2007. They only managed full control of both the Congress and the White House for most of the period between 2001 and 2006. There was a short lull from late 2001 until early 2003 when Vermont Republican Senator Jim Jeffords left the party and handed control of the Senate over to the Democrats (he decided not to seek reelection).

Regardless, from the 1980s on, neo-Christians set the social agenda, and deferred to other sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory sections of the Republican Party to set the economic agenda. Their power to persuade was unprecedented because they learned to master the airwaves as a tool for spreading memes. Constant, non-stop repetition of their ideas made their ideas popular, even when those ideas were obviously stupid. Ronald Reagan’s moronic economic policies, which we’re still paying for in 2007, sounded great: cut taxes, cut spending, cut regulations, get the government out of our lives, spend a lot on the military (I know, but they don’t quite contradict). Either way, he really only managed to cut taxes and some regulations. Meanwhile, Ronnie had no problems using the federal government to thrust social policy on people: he presided over raised drinking age to 21. Meanwhile, the neo-Christians managed to poison to the ‘L’ word and keep the focus of dialog solely on their beliefs until at least 2005, arguably with a break around 1992 when the mess made in the 1980s and early 1990s was really to much.

Keep in mind, however, this movement was a lot more earnest early on than it was by the 1990s, or even in the 2000s when it was partially eclipsed by neoconservatism.

* I’m just going to stick to neo-Christian as the term, because it’s short.

Is “getting speared” a euphemism for something?

From The New York Times (“TV’s Perfect Girl Is Pregnant; Real Families Talk“):

High school girls here wondered aloud on Thursday why no one was talking about contraception. Parents across the country, on the other hand, commiserated over the Internet about how, thanks to Ms. Spears, they were facing a conversation with their 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds about sex.

How terrible! It’s absolutely awful for children to understand how to avoid pregnancy before they’re faced with it!

Seriously, maybe Jamie Lynn’s mom, who recently canceled a book on parenting, ought to have had the talk at that age.

And yeah, why isn’t contraception being discussed? Good job, New York Times, you get a cookie.

Of course, none of this means an end to the usual doom and gloom as neo-Puritanical parents and right-wing politicians lament that children are getting pregnant at younger ages (quick: how old was your average girl when she had her first child in 1600s New England?). Why, it’s almost like it’s the television’s fault that these poor little children hear all this disgusting filth about penises going into vaginas, squirting, and coming back out and smoking a cigarette:

“Nowadays, nothing’s safe, not even cartoons,” Diana Madruga, who has an 11-year-old daughter, said as she wrapped up her shift as the manager of a Dunkin’ Donuts here in the Boston suburbs.

Here’s a hint for you, Mme Madruga: turn off the goddamn television! And don’t have your kids read the Bible, whatever you do. There’s filth in there too.

Of course, I’m jumping the gun a little. Only some of this is part of that age-old (that is, going back to circa 1980) shouting match between frightened, goonish right-wingers and the few people simultaneously both courageous and influential enough to stand up for free speech. There is also a hint of an actual social problem here, expressed so eloquently by a 17-year-old:

High school girls who had already had their hearts broken by the all-too-public life of Ms. Spears’s older sister, Britney, known as a hard-partying mother of two, worried that their younger sisters would be devastated by the news — or, worse, that their sisters might think it was “cool” to be 16 and pregnant.

What? Maybe some of the problem here is teenage girls don’t have good role models anymore. Wonder Girl never got pregnant (correct me if I’m wrong).

“She’s the idealistic little girl,” Alicia Akusis, 17, said of the television character Zoey between classes at Concord-Carlisle High School here. “She does perfect in school. Boys like her because she’s pretty, but she doesn’t deal with boys. She’s really smart, she’s really cool, she’s an empowering girl character.”

She’s the “idealistic little girl” who “does perfect in school”? Maybe Concord-Carlisle should work on its grammar curriculum, but I digress.

Anyway, empowering female figures have sex drives too. From the sounds of it, nobody can fairly accuse Jamie Lynn Spears of a moral failing. She was 16 and practically living with her older boyfriend. Uh, yeah, they’re going to have sex, and probably not safely. Mama Spears should have looked up from the typewriter that she was using to write a book on parenting occasionally to spend time constructive time with her daughter. And, oh yeah, maybe not let her live with her boyfriend. Seriously, Mama Spears was so shocked that all she could do was muse that her daughter had never missed curfew, as if sex couldn’t be had before curfew.

Maybe some good could come from this. Nickelodeon could do a docudrama show about teenage pregnancy and postpartum life. Some of the dialog could be awesome, showing what it’s really like when you have an infant. Like, not being able to hang out with your friends, or get boozed up, or whatever 16-year-olds do nowadays. Actually, Nick kind of did have that idea:

Dan Martinsen, a spokesman for Nickelodeon, said Thursday that “Zoey 101” was one of its most popular shows among viewers 9 to 14.

“Nothing about the content, characters or the storytelling on our air has changed at all,” Mr. Martinsen said. He said that Nickelodeon was discussing a special on the issue with Linda Ellerbee, the television journalist who is the host of “Nick News.” “Whenever an issue becomes so prevalent that it’s inescapable,” Mr. Martinsen said, “her show is where we turn to help kids navigate and interpret and understand it.”

And, of course, this Times spiel ends on a note of attempted irony:

Greg Moseley, 18, said he was sick of hearing the name Jamie Lynn Spears. “Why do we care about Britney Spears’s little sister?” Mr. Moseley said. “Why does it make a difference? What does it mean? Nothing.”

“All this stuff is impossible to get away from,” he continued, “unless you go to Alaska and live in the woods.”

Or, turn of your television and skip the headlines about it on the Internet and in the paper. Mostly worked for me, except I guess I sort of just ranted about it.

Sex ed. delays intercourse?

Study: Sex Education Works to Delay Intercourse.” The only thing that makes me doubt it is that Fox reported it.

Also:

[Jamie Lynn] Spears, who turned 16 on April 4 and says she is 12 weeks into her pregnancy, told the magazine she plans to raise her child in Louisiana, “so it can have a normal family life.”

…of eating possum and shagging sheep?

Moms pissed off

I love hearing stories about pretentious suburban mothers getting hosed over nothing. And it happens all the time in allegedly “liberal,””progressive” Los Angeles. Like, this non-issue about some Disney Channel star on some movie that I’ve seen billboards for somewhere getting pissed off because an actress in it was seen nude:

(Sept. 7) – The wholesome image of Vanessa Hudgens, star of the made-for-kids TV movie hit “High School Musical,” was under fire on Friday because of a nude photo circulating on the Internet, creating a new publicity challenge for the Walt Disney Co.

“She’s damaged,” Renee Rollins-Greenberg, a Los Angeles mother of two, told Reuters. “She’s got this teeny-bop audience, young pre-teens and younger, who are admiring her and thinking she’s this wonderful, pure innocent person. Eighteen is awfully young for this kind of display.”

“I’m devastated because I have an 8-year-old for which I now have to have an explanation,” said another Los Angeles-area mother, Rosie Konkel. “She’s always looked at this character as a very smart and proper young lady.”

No, she’s not damaged. She’s damaged when she does a nude pictorial in Penthouse. That’s when you know your body is buying you a star on the Walk of Fame anymore.

Your Own Chocolate Jesus

So, a brief recap: Catholics have their panties in a bunch again. Somebody made a sculpture of Jesus. Okay, that’s not so bad. But the sculpture was made out of chocolate. Okay, that’s…tasteless? But not that bad. So, what was so bad about the statue that it attracted the attention of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights? (As a side note, just remember that the League has very little to do with religious rights and just about nothing to do with civil rights.) Here’s what was so bad: Chocolate Christ was missing the loin cloth. (BBC News: “Chocolate Jesus exhibit cancelled,” March 21, 2007.)

Elsewhere on the crossroads between religious fanaticism, oversensitivity, and censorship, here’s a nice little gem from the UK:

Schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils, a Governmentbacked study has revealed.

It found some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial.

There is also resistance to tackling the 11th century Crusades – where Christians fought Muslim armies for control of Jerusalem – because lessons often contradict what is taught in local mosques.

So, that makes sense. Take the one chance to instill something other than iman-endorsed lies into the minds of impressionable young children and just piss it away (“Teachers drop the Holocaust to avoid offending Muslims,” by Laura Clark of the Daily Mail, 02-April-2007).