Sunday, May 11, 2008

We Still Get All Hot and Bothered Even Though We Know Better

Do we ever get tired of these scandals?

Last week a golden girl finally got her "due"--hey, it was time, it wasn't like South Park didn't warn us--and a universally acknowledged douchebag were further indicted in lowbrow and highbrow print alike.

As for Miley--yes, it's someone's fault, yes, those pictures are disturbing. As the teen starlets get younger and younger, the point is obviously to create a ruckus. C'mon--very few of Miley's fans read Vanity Fair; she's trying to look mature to an older audience. They're still not going to listen to her music, read her autobiography or watch her TV show. But despite this, assuming that Vanity Fair contacted her with a story in mind (hidden between a story about a man who was assassinated 40 years ago), why wouldn't Miley take them up on their offer? If I had the opportunity to dress in couture for a photo shoot when I was 15, I sure as hell would have done it--ignoring the fact that I would have been scared out of my wits and incredibly awkward. It sounds so glamorous, grownup, and sexy. The MySpace pictures of her showing off her green bra are so disturbing because she looks so young, yet she's just parroting what she's seen. Of course she knows this; any girl, even in private, who has mugged some sexy poses knows what she's doing. Compare this with Britney Spears, who, nine years ago (!) posed sexily as a schoolgirl for Rolling Stone and the uproar that caused. She'd barely been out for more than three or four months at that point; she didn't yet have a huge virginal reputation to discard like a pair of low rise jeans during a heavy makeout session. Don't those pictures seem tame now? At 16 Britney then already looked years older--and in a completely different world than Miley. Britney was only just beginning.

I caught a glimpse of Miley performing the other week, a random change of a channel. She was on her knees, her legs split. It's a fantastic rock star move, but one not suited for a girl who is (and looks) as young as she is. It's a move done countless times by performers and Madonna; it's also the type of move that should stay in the living room when the performed by a teenager.

It's not just her age that's a factor here, not even that she's practically the face of Disney or that an alarming number of kids under 16 look up to her. It's the fact that she looked so young, that her character stood for the everygirl and made a name for herself by living out many child's fantasies. She had the best of both worlds, the fun and perks of fame without the real, adult drawbacks. She still looks like a child, no matter what the green bra says.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Teenagers + Technology = Evil

(This is the first in what will probably be a long series of Overdue Essays: things I have written or contemplated in the past that were not posted due most likely to other demands, hence their timeliness is usually past.)

Even though April is over, I feel remiss if I did not mention something that had been on my mind much of that month: That mass violence seems to be unavoidable in April. There's Columbine (April 20, 1999), Virginia Tech (April 16, 2007), and the Oklahoma City bombing (April 19, 1995).

And then a few weeks ago came the story that eight teenage girls lured a classmate to one of their houses to bully and humiliate her to post on YouTube, so they could presumably get famous.

This was no old-school taunting; this was actual gang violence. They slammed her head into a bedroom wall REPEATEDLY, giving her a concussion.

What the fuck.

There's hate, and then there's teenage hate. And teenage hate combined with technology, warped values and money is just evil. It's appalling to read these stories, let alone be faced with the video, just because it's so alien and frightening. Even in my middle and high school years, even if I had wanted to enact some sort of violent physical revenge on someone, not only would I not have the imagination, means or wherewithal to do something of this magnitude, I would never have dared. There's stupid, and there's risky, but in what logical sense did these kids connect "intentional malicious brutal violence" and "internet video sensation" with "beloved superstar"?

The large scale of this story--eight girls, plus two boys as lookouts--again connects teen culture with technology, and shows what a deadly combination the two are. It encourages passive-aggressiveness; it blows everything out of proportion. This "stunt", this "prank" followed a string of nasty MySpace messages, texts and IMs that connected these students to one another. It's a never-ending cycle, and because nothing is face-to-face--there is no censor because they're so body language--when it finally hits in person it explodes.

This idea of fame is also incredibly warped. I can see the thrill of being on YouTube where someone can find you. I see the exhilaration of being on TV--you're important now! The world cares! Yet for all we know of fame and its trappings--hell, we're inundated with it every day--it still has that irresistible lure, so much so that people continue to sink into further and further depths to get some inkling of notoriety. But we're getting to the point where it's no longer about humiliating just ourselves anymore. The Moment of Truth is designed to ruin lives, and represents a new low for American culture. Maybe that's why--after so many years of feeling you need to be scrubbed raw in a hot shower after stumbling across a few channels on TV--NBC's new schedule is build around shows that are designed to be uplifting and positive. No more dark antiheroes like Tony Soprano, wondering which area of your life screwed you over today, but the kinds of shows that can inspire you to do more than watch television and dream about fighting crime.

Looking back, it seems that the seminal movie Mean Girls, which just rode a wave of alpha girl stories when it came out in 2004, could very well use an update. While that movie has justifiably resonated with millions of teens and former teens, a remake would just read as a ripoff of recent stories, much like episodes of SVU do.

Around the time this story broke, a survey also came out stating that mean girls are usually the most popular girls in school. Well, duh. Any who's gone to school should recognize this. Kinda hard to figure out at times, especially as it defies logic. But these are the girls who are not only mean, but manipulative, fearless, and incredibly intimidating, and they know it.

The Florida case piggybacks on a similar disturbing story from November, Megan Meier's suicide; that story is still getting traction. The woman who, in the eyes of many, effectively killed the 14 year-old is widely considered the most hated woman on the internet. The Florida story is just the most recent high-profile case, although there have been several similar ones, including a few copycats.

Technology is just a medium. It is neutral by this definition. It is just an instrument that humans use, and therefore, like any other gadget, it can be used for good or evil. We need to stop kids from using it maliciously, for taunting, humiliating, and hurting others. Spreading bullying so that in a few years we will have half a generation so morally and emotionally stunted because they were victims and perpetrators is going to leave them unable and afraid to communicate honestly and healthily, hampering their relationships.

Those involved in the Florida bullying should be charged and convicted. I can only assume they didn't learn waterboarding in school, or else that poor girl would be dead by now.