January 28, 2014

Mind fog from basing arguments on "think of the children"

Upon seeing the not-so-risque performance by Beyonce at the Grammys, smothering mothers and doofus dads across the country vented their frustration and anger that network TV would show a singer gyrating on a chair in a not-too-revealing bodysuit. No less at 8pm -- WHEN THE CHILDREN COULD BE WATCHING.

Now, granted she looked like a desperate attention whore, relied on mere provocation rather than giving herself over to the audience, and spoke more than she sang. In other words, her performance was boring and off-putting to a normal grown-up human being.

But what the hell does that have to do with the delicate minds of kiddies in the home audience? Since when were the Grammy Awards considered a children's show? Were they ever re-run on the Disney Channel after school let out?

Helicopter parenting has so deeply infected our culture that we can't even hold a sensible adult discussion about what a lame performance that was. It all must boil down to, "What impression will it leave on my soft-clay children?" Pretty soon, we will no longer have a conception of a separate grown-up sphere that we judge on its own grown-up terms -- not whether it will scandalize some sheltered and smothered child who it was never meant for in the first place.

If you're so worried about your kids watching a potentially provocative show, then send them to play in their rooms while the grown-ups watch TV. Do you remember how that used to work when you were a child? We had dibs on the TV until 6 or 7pm, and then the grown-ups took it over for the rest of the night. Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, Matlock, Dallas, what seemed like never-ending nature documentaries, and then everyone was off to hit the hay. "Aw, but can't we stay up and watch something now that you guys are going to sleep?" "No, TV's over, we're all going to bed now."

But these days, kids entertaining themselves for a few hours would mean a break in their constant direct-line-of-sight supervision. And from there it's only a hop skip and a jump to getting kidnapped, raped, and sacrificed to the Devil.

Forcing every activity to be a family activity dilutes them into what is inoffensive enough for the parents to approve of the children watching it, and what is bland enough to entertain the parents without it being too exciting, which would set a bad example.

Hence, "think of the children" is not simply a socially acceptable way to condemn something we don't like but cannot say so openly (for whatever reason). It takes on a life of its own, spreading from there to deflate more and more of the culture meant for adults. Ultimately, everything on offer becomes a bland porridge that does not risk alienating kiddie or grown-up tastes. Everyone can agree that it was kind-of-OK.

And then you could always just let your kid watch something mature. It shows you trust them enough to take the next small steps toward growing up, and that they might as well learn about these things before going through the real deal.

Sticking with risque musical performances, one of the earliest visual memories that remains burned on my brain is the "Girls on Film" video by Duran Duran. My mother bought an entire tape of their videos (on Betamax) and played it for years. When you're a toddler, and even up through about third or fourth grade, you may not know quite what to make of it. I remember thinking that the girls were literally killing off the guys -- "What happened, did that massage lady put poison in the oil bottle???" -- when they were only stylized man-eaters. ("Oh....")

All '80s movies had T&A, so if it was about to show some skin, my father would warn me that "You might not want to watch this, there's a lovey-dovey scene coming up." Just hearing that funny phrase -- "lovey-dovey" -- took something away from the scandalous potential. "Oh, another make-out scene, eh?" If I was still in my "ewwww, kissing!" phase, I could turn away; later on, I might take down some mental notes.

We were shown a level of trust and granted a level of responsibility that, as parents ourselves, we have thoroughly withdrawn from our children. It's time to stop spazzing out and start giving kids back a life of their own -- and reclaiming the TV at night for grown-ups only (no whining).


  1. When I was 10 years old in 1979 the local UHF channel in Philly started showing the Benny Hill Show. It was on right after dinner, and i watched it very night. Some of my fondest memories, watching the sexy girls showing their knickers with Benny making the goofy faces.

    My mother would complain to my Dad about it, but he enjoyed watching more than me, and when he was home we watched it together. My mom was so against this "sexist" show, she actually wrote to the station to complain, that it should not be on until later than 8:00 because of the children watching. I was furious with her, when the station stopped broadcasting Benny at 7:00 and started showing it only at 11:00, which was past my bedtime as an 11 year old.

  2. Maybe dads have changed more than moms. Dads, uncles, and grandfathers used to be pretty open about encouraging boys to do stuff that would "put hair on your chest." Or if you wanted to walk to school by yourself in kindergarten, they'd respect your choice and use words like "brave" to encourage you.

    The return of smothering mothers these days doesn't strike me as too unusual. But the rise of doofus dads feels like an alien invasion.

  3. true.
    my parents gave me a lot of freedom, but this was typical. I did walk to school starting in kindergarden, as most kids did after the first month, but we all lived within 2 blocks of the grade school.

    my father would also take us to R rated movies, the first on was Jaws when I was 8. he also took my younger sister and best friend who were both 7 at the time. my mom was upset when she found out, but my father would do whatever he wanted. so unlike most husbands today who are afraid to upset their wives.

  4. Heh, Jaws is actually rated PG. Yesterday's PG movies make better thrillers than today's R movies -- let alone the PG-13, an ever greater dumping ground for stuff that's too adult to be for small children, yet too kiddie to be for teenagers.

    It's striking to watch old "family friendly" TV shows like Family Ties, where you remember the father being docile, an equal partner, etc. But compared to today's fathers, he's a patriarch. He raises his voice, puts his foot down, and chastises his wife when it's called for.

    The turning point came in the early-to-mid '90s with Dan from Roseanne. He started off independent but cooperative, then got domesticated into a doofus.


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