Happy new year, dear readers. I was going to resolve to be more cheerful this year, but stories like this keep happening. Lawrence Downes writes in the New York Times:
The scene is a middle school auditorium, where girls in teams of three or four are bopping to pop songs at a student talent show. Not bopping, actually, but doing elaborately choreographed re-creations of music videos, in tiny skirts or tight shorts, with bare bellies, rouged cheeks and glittery eyes.
They writhe and strut, shake their bottoms, splay their legs, thrust their chests out and in and out again. Some straddle empty chairs, like lap dancers without laps. They don’t smile much. Their faces are locked from grim exertion, from all that leaping up and lying down without poles to hold onto. “Don’t stop don’t stop,” sings Janet Jackson, all whispery. “Jerk it like you’re making it choke. …Ohh. I’m so stimulated. Feel so X-rated.” The girls spend a lot of time lying on the floor. They are in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
As each routine ends, parents and siblings cheer, whistle and applaud. I just sit there, not fully comprehending. It’s my first suburban Long Island middle school talent show. I’m with my daughter, who is 10 and hadn’t warned me. I’m not sure what I had expected, but it wasn’t this. It was something different. Something younger. Something that didn’t make the girls look so … one-dimensional.
It would be easy to chalk it up to adolescent rebellion, an ancient and necessary phenomenon, except these girls were barely adolescents and they had nothing to rebel against. This was an official function at a public school, a milieu that in another time or universe might have seen children singing folk ballads, say, or reciting the Gettysburg Address….
Suburban parents dote on and hover over their children, micromanaging their appointments and shielding them in helmets, kneepads and thick layers of S.U.V. steel. But they allow the culture of boy-toy sexuality to bore unchecked into their little ones’ ears and eyeballs, displacing their nimble and growing brains and impoverishing the sense of wider possibilities in life.
There is no reason adulthood should be a low plateau we all clamber onto around age 10. And it’s a cramped vision of girlhood that enshrines sexual allure as the best or only form of power and esteem….
I thought of this article last night when we were making the rounds of First Night events in our New England college town. One of the highlights was a performance featuring children and teens from our local dance schools, all girls except for one boy of about eleven who gave a courtly, athletic performance of “Union Jack”. The young ballerinas were achingly lovely, reminding me that the beauty of youth is its infinite potential, shyly hidden even from itself, tragic because its promises can never be fully realized. (Yes, I know I’m only 34, but I do have gray hairs.)
And then the modern dance groups came onstage, doing the best they could with their graceless, aggressive choreography, to the hump-de-bump strains of Sean Paul’s “Give It Up to Me” (“From you look inna me eye gal I see she you want me/When you gonna give it up to me…So gimme the work yeah cause if you no gimme the work the blue balls a erupt yeah”) and The Knack’s “My Sharona” (“Such a dirty mind. Always get it up for the touch of the younger kind”). Children onstage, children in the audience. Of all the pop songs to choose, why these? For a town with a prominent women’s college, we do a good job acting like we never heard of feminism.