Parents make no end of compromises to accommodate the dubious wishes and tastes of their children (despite any number of memoirs that insist otherwise), and I am no exception. Long car rides invariably lead to pleas from the back seat for a musical distraction from the dreaded are-we-there-yet syndrome. I have found, to my unending dismay, that my extremely limited collection of CD’s (Sinatra, Vivaldi and the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem) and the radio stations I command with the touch of a button (stations that play the aforementioned artists) simply do not touch the heart and soul of the average 8-year-old. So compromise I must.
And let me tell you, it is no small thing, this compromise. Because instead of listening to the sublime music I prefer, I am forced to subject myself to the noise, chatter and cross-promotional synergy transmitted by a local radio station that exists for no apparent purpose other than to serve as a propaganda platform for the Disney empire.
Actually, I do the station, called Radio Disney, a disservice—it does, in fact, have a purpose other than to promote affiliated films, action figures, television shows and pop artists. Its on-air employees are determined to strip the English language of dignity and gravitas in order that its preteen listeners may become fluent in the language of airhead pop, in which everything is “cool,” everybody is “dude” and great arguments are reduced to the single phrase “like, whatever.”
So it is, as you can see, something of an ordeal to be in the driver’s seat these days. My wife and I have instituted a new rule for the only two Radio Disney listeners we know: we, the adults (we’re the people in charge, remember?), will allow the children to listen to the station’s music, but not to the awful chatter or the repellent commercials. As soon as we hear the voice of the faux-teenager host (“O.K. dudes, like, if you dug that song, you can buy a cool CD, like, now. Or you can fly, like, to Disney World and be cool, dude.”), the sound goes down.
The other day, however, I was witness to an extraordinary event, one that, as you’ll see, is directly related to our choice of a Catholic-school education for our children.
In the middle of an are-we-there-yet drive out of state, the radio was spewing some manner of music between commercials for the latest Disney film, and I was, of course, in the midst of counting my blessings. It’s all one can do in such a situation. Suddenly a voice from the back seat cried out: “Turn off the music! Turn it off!!! Please.”
In the nanosecond it took me to comply with this request, I thought: “O.K., now’s the time to introduce them to ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’ Better yet, ‘They’re Moving My Father’s Grave to Build a Sewer.’ That’s vintage Clancys and Makem.” Rather than risk being accused of pushing my own interests and tastes at such a moment, however, I simply asked my daughter why she issued her hasty, though welcome, demand. “That was a Britney Spears song,” she explained. “Sister told us that we should not pay attention to Britney Spears.”
I couldn’t surpress a smile. Didn’t even try.
I don’t know much about this young woman, except that she performed, if that’s the right word, at a Super Bowl I covered two years ago. I remember the performance because of what followed it. It was halftime of the big game, I had a newspaper deadline to make, and while Ms. Spears was “singing,” I was staring at my computer, trying to come up with the right words to describe the dreadful performance of the New York Giants. At some point, Ms. Spears left the field and the game resumed. A colleague poked me on the shoulder and said, “You know, you never even looked up, did you?”
No, I hadn’t. And I can’t say I’ve regretted it. From what I know about this particular performer, let’s just say it’s disappointing that society hasn’t moved beyond such, well, lack of subtlety.
Needless to say, I was delighted to learn that in addition to the famous “plus” that Catholic school education offers, my children are also learning that popularity does not equal good, or right, or just. Our children are assaulted daily with improper, exploitive and manipulative images from popular culture—so much so that, I was horrified to learn, miniature versions of Ms. Spears’s come-hither getups are popular with 9-year-old girls. (Hello, parents? Are you there?) How comforting it is to know that somebody in authority is challenging these grotesque messages and images.
I have written before about the challenge of rearing G-rated children in an MTV world, and the reaction to those pieces tells me that many parents share my anger with the media, fashion and entertainment industries who are so determined to turn children into little consumers obsessed with looks, style and that much-prized pop-culture attitude. I’m delighted to report that we are not alone in that battle. There are, in fact, teachers and others who seem comfortable playing the role of adults, and who are willing to counter pop culture’s relentless exploitation of our children.
In my case, those adults happen to work at my parish school. And I’m glad they do.