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See (All Of) You Real Soon*

Annette&Frankie

When did working for Disney become the gateway to sex, drugs and rock & roll? How did the world’s most wholesome brand start churning out girls gone wild? When did Annette morph into Christina, Britney, Lindsay and Miley; and more importantly, why? The Disney vehicles themselves have hardly changed but the players have. It was in the late 1990s that Christina and Britney began to strip down and gyrate, but it was not the first time we had seen child stars stumble their way into adolescence. In the mid 1980s Drew Barrymore was clubbing and drinking (with her mother’s guidance) well before her 13th birthday. People were scandalized and she received treatment quite early and effectively. There have been many male child stars who have drunk and drugged their way into adulthood. But we’d all be hard pressed to think of one that sexually exploited himself. It is the sexual exploitation, versus the drinking and drugging that is most troubling and novel.

We expect that children working in an adult world and (often) treated like mini-royalty, will develop some bad habits. We expect them to be bratty, socially ill at ease, and unbearably precocious. Adoring and adulating adults often surround them. These children will drink and smoke and use drugs because they can. But why do they then strut around in their bra & panties and writhe around a stage? It can’t simply be to get attention, the whole world is already watching. Could it be that like every child star before them, they want to be taken seriously as an adult? And unlike any time period in the past, sexual objectification is synonymous with womanhood? It’s a troubling thought.

It’s never been easy for any child, in or out of the spotlight, to transition gracefully into adulthood. Surviving puberty while mapping out a grown-up public persona is mind-boggling. In olden times a child star would lobby for an onscreen kiss to signal the end of pigtail days. Many would rush into (very) early marriages to convince bosses and the public that they were grown. There are many child stars that successfully transitioned into real life and left the spotlight. There are those who went to (impressive) colleges and later forged mature acting careers. In other words, it is not written in stone that show business will upend a young life.

Performing and posing as if you’re working a Times Square peep booth, doesn’t necessarily forecast ruin. But it is very sad. These Disney women with varying degrees of talent do not need to use their bodies and cursory knowledge of sexuality to attract attention. They are not Anna Nicole or an unknown future Miss America (now actress) desperate for a break. They are household names with recording contracts and movie deals. Why do they do it? Could it be that the public rewards them for it? Is the fact that unlike decent people who would turn their heads away from such a display, we exalt the exhibitionism with our incessant chatter? Do enough of us explain to our children that we won’t be buying music, movie or concert tickets because to do so would be ghoulish? Do we boycott corporations who reap the benefits of the sexual exploitation of minors? Or do sales of a magazine skyrocket when a mouseketeer shows her breasts?

Clearly the parents of these child stars are involved in some way. Some readers might remember the public outrage over the film Pretty Baby (1978). Teri Shields was vilified for permitting a 12-year old Brooke to appear naked as a prostitute. (The public wasn’t too horrified to not see the movie however.) For years Mother Shields was heralded as the new Madame Rose. Whether it was responsible parenting or not, Brooke was playing a role in a film, not performing as her sexualized self. In fact, later Brooke was quite vocal about her very conservative views on sex. A (very) young woman strutting around television in her under things and simulating anal sex does not mean she’s sexually rampant or irresponsible. It does mean she wants to be seen as sexually available and maybe just a bit freaky. (And not in the Freaky Friday way.) These young women didn’t invent this world in which women are seen as a means to sexually pleasing (heterosexual) men. But they certainly are doing their part to perpetuate it. They are young and are finding their footing and most likely surrounded by adults who tell them they are the greatest star of all. But mostly they are too young to know any better. Becoming comfortable in your own adult skin after being a child star is tough. Doing so after creating a career based upon your sexuality is unimaginable.

*Mickey Mouse Club March (1955) Jimmie Dodd

 
 

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The Drink Dope

 

A lawsuit has been filed against a manufacturer of ‘energy’ drinks. The suit is the result of injury (and death) of children after consuming the caffeine-laced beverage. It is logical to assume that this will be the start of regulation. To the average non-Red Bull, Cocaine(!),Monster, 5-Hour Energy, Rock Star, consumer this would seem pretty intuitive. Caffeine is a drug; a legal drug that has evaded regulation in this country. Nicotine used to enjoy that kind of status as well. Cigarettes were available for sale (or given away for free) any and everywhere. Cigarette machines eventually had little adhesive labels declaring cigarette sales being intended for people over age 18. What teenager doesn’t tremble and back away from an adhesive label? Cigarettes haven’t (slowly) shied from the teen market because of the hazards of the drug nicotine, but of the smoke inhalation. But it still makes for a plausible template.

A beverage whose very intention is to alter the body chemistry is not appropriate for children. On a good day most of us would concur with this. But we would also agree that regulating anything is just a giant pain in the behind. The beverage industry is no doubt gearing up for a fight as we speak. They will counter with examples of unregulated sources of caffeine. Charts and graphs will be exhibited declaring chocolate milk as laden with as much of the drug as a grande macchiato. Gatorade and vitamin-laced waters will enter into the arguments. Coffee carts will form a single-file demonstration. In short, a circus will ensue.

Let us assume (for the sake of all that’s decent) that parents are not purchasing caffeine-laced drinks for their children. What would be more effective (and less hair raising) than outlawing sales to children is to outlaw marketing of drug products to children. Children aren’t buying caffeine delivery beverages because they thought of it on their own. They buy them to look cool and be like their friends who buy them to look cool and be like the advertisement. Of course they’ll never admit this. Don’t believe me? Go to a school right now and ask the guzzlers why they’re guzzling. “Gotta wake up” “Gotta test” They believe they need the effects of the beverage. Do we really want our kids believing they need drugs to get through the day?

Death and serious illness/injury from caffeine is probably rare. But this lawsuit speaks to something more universal. There is no reason in the world to train children to use drugs to improve their performance. Their bodies and minds are still developing. Soon enough they will be fully grown and can make informed decisions.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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One For My Baby

Parents have been arrested for throwing their children a booze infused party.  Perhaps I’m being a bit incendiary with the phrase; “throwing their children a (party)”  However, I suspect that teenagers and their tons of friends did not buy the alcohol themselves, and certainly not with their own money.  The justification that these gated community Queens parents make is the standard: “I’d rather they did it at home.”

Can we just tease that apart a bit?  It’s sounds so wholesome on the surface, doesn’t it?  “Baking: I’d rather they did it at home.”  It suggests supervision and perhaps even an informal tutorial.  Nobody is hosting wine tasting parties for their teens (to my knowledge.)  These kids are drinking to get drunk.  That is the goal.  Drinking as a social behavior takes a level of sophistication and social ease that teenagers rarely possess.  They drink to get drunk, they use prescription drugs to get high or stoned, they use street drugs (and freaking aerosol cans!) for the same reason.  Would these same parents host a few dozen teenagers and pass out methamphetamine?  It happens (usually not in gated communities) and (with any luck) those children go into protective care.

I’m all for parents teaching children how to be fully functioning adults.  If they feel that teaching their child to drink responsibly is part of that, so be it.  But hosting your kid’s friend’s booze bash is not about that.  It’s about wanting to feel cool.  Children from this gated community are going to the hospital for alcohol poisoning (delivered by parents to avoid detection.)  Do you know how much alcohol needs to be ingested to result in poisoning?!  Banish all thoughts of Liesl having her first sip of champagne at the ball.  You’ve got to power drink serious alcohol (or be a toddler) to be poisoned.

They’d rather they did it at home.  What does that mean?  One parent suggested that he’d rather his kid was drinking at home than at the beach.  Why’s that?  Is drowning a concern?  What about the dozens of teenagers getting drunk in your house?  Are they all sleeping it off in your bonus room?  How do you feel about your cherub getting drunk at their friend’s house?  Is that okay?  I’m guessing not.  I’m guessing you want the party at your house.  You know what would make you even cooler in a 16 year old’s eyes?  Invite tattoo artists to the next bash.

Let’s put aside class discrepancies (people of means don’t usually lose custody of their children for indiscretions) and even issues of physical danger for a moment.  Instead let’s focus on what this behavior actually teaches children.  1) The rules don’t apply to you 2) It’s not breaking the law if you don’t get caught 3) Behaving irresponsibly is not only a natural part of adolescence it’s a healthy part of middle-age.

Kids do stupid things.  It’s their job.  It’s only by going too far that they find their own limits and comfort levels.  The best protection you can offer a child is a strong sense of self.  A teenager who feels he/she has worth is less prone to trying to prove it in questionable ways.  The same could be said for parents.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Childhood, Well-Being

 

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The Race To The Cure

“28 days” has become shorthand for a detoxification program.  Perhaps you doubt me.  Perhaps you grew up only hearing “28 days” intoned by a distracted health & hygiene teacher while she directed her pointer towards an image evoking more cartoon bull’s head than uterus.  Trust me, four weeks (categorized in as days) means something else now.  Feel free to give it a test run and announce to your co-workers that you’re taking some time off; 28 days to be precise.  Then sit back and watch as one by one your office mates slide up to you and give you an awkward pat on the back, or shyly tell you about their own/their spouse/their parent/their child’s struggle.  Be prepared for the happy hour invitations to taper off as well.

28 Days” has become the normative addiction treatment time to such an extent that a movie was given only that title.  No subtitle was necessary; the masses knew exactly what was in store for Sandra Bullock.  But how in the world did we get to a point of this time period being synonymous with becoming sober?

Have you ever tried to cultivate a new behavior?  Perhaps you’ve quit smoking (if not, you really should consider it) or adopted an exercise program.  Maybe you’ve tried to modify someone else’s behavior, say, trying to get an infant to sleep through the majority of the night.  The first two weeks are hell.  Pure unadulterated hell.  Every morning brings the realization that; yes, you have to do that THING again.  At two weeks a change in diet is still feeling punitive and perhaps constipating.  By three or four weeks, the sulking starts to ebb and a begrudging buy-in takes its place.  By six weeks most new behaviors have found their firm footing.  Yes, you might still find yourself with a cigarette in your hand (perhaps at your high school reunion where you become a 17 year old trapped in a 42 year old’s body.)  But, by week six, your body and mind now have a sense memory and you have gotten past some unconscious triggers.  You can have a drink without smoking, finish a meal without smoking, etc.  It may always take effort to keep from lighting up, but it doesn’t take every cell in your body to resist.

Keeping that analogy in mind; how in the world is four weeks sufficient time to a) rid the body of substance b) discover why you use the substance c) develop coping mechanisms beyond using d) learn to be in the world without substances?  I don’t think there is anyone in the medical profession who would recommend such a brief treatment stint.  Six weeks might be sufficient time for some people who do not have multiple diagnoses (ex.; addiction + bipolar) or have not been addicted for too long a period.

Abbreviated treatment, whether 28 days inpatient or 6-10 therapy visits, is the brainchild of insurance companies.  There is no doubt that there are many many people who can greatly benefit from short-term problem solving based therapy.  But viewing all psychological conditions as the same is as nutty as considering every physical condition as equal.  A hospital stay for a tonsillectomy is not the same as that for brain surgery.

Addiction treatment is tricky.  Addicts are crafty folk.  Their relationship to their substance is the most important thing in the world to them.  The substance one is addicted to is not the issue.  Removing access to alcohol, drugs, starvation, for 28 days is meaningless.  Addicts don’t use because of how it makes them feel, they use to stop feeling like they do without it.  Helping someone to find comfort in their body, soul and the world without their substance of choice is hard work.  There are no shortcuts.  Four weeks is a significant time, it is.  It’s a long time to miss a traveling spouse.  It’s a long time to wait for test results.  It’s a long time to wait for an electrician.  But I don’t think it’s enough time to change the fundamental wiring of a human being.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Only You Can Prevent Obesity

“This is drugs.  This is your brain on drugs.  Any questions?”  Derivatives of this have become part of our cultural punch lines, but there was a time the blurb itself carried quite a punch.  You may remember your own reaction the first few times you saw the advertisement.  It was jarring in its unblinking visuals and straightforward message.  The brilliance of the campaign was its unflinching honesty and shock value.  It was a message that was heard loud and clear.  If memory serves, the previous public service announcement with similar impact was the single tear of the actor playing a Native American.  Throwing trash out your car window wasn’t so tempting if you thought it would make that nice silent man cry.

It’s been quite a number of decades since both of those campaigns.  During that time we have almost all our vices banned or black boxed.  Warning labels are printed on any and everything that might someday be used in a manner that leads to litigation.  You’d be hard pressed to come up with anything left for which to promote consumer awareness.  Awareness is at an all time high.  There is a different colored ribbon for every day of the week, and a rubber bracelet to coordinate.

So what is a city to do when it decides to combat obesity with an awareness campaign?   How far is a city willing to go?  Obesity, unlike drug use or littering, is rife with sensitivity.  That frying egg was not aimed at drug addicts, it was intended as a preventative message.  Littering was never seen as a morality issue, it was just time to do something about the trend.  But obesity?!  First off, the public service announcements are not targeting people who may be considering a life of obesity; they are aimed at the overweight.   People know they are overweight, and have a whole host of feelings about it.  Showing images (photo-shopped or not) of overweight people with moderately small text warning of future medical issues is one big yawn.   There is nothing shocking or even helpful about that messaging.  But it is safe, isn’t it?  Who could you possibly offend?

If you consider the health implications of obesity to be serious enough to launch a campaign, you might just have to offend a bit (or break a few eggs as the case may be.)  Perhaps more effective than showing a larger sized woman climbing up subway steps, would be showing her trying to fit into a subway seat?  Maybe an image of her getting acrylic nails and the tag line “wouldn’t it be nice to have more fashion choices?” Sexist?  Probably.  Instead of manipulating an image of a portly man to indicate limb loss, how about a campaign about libido loss?  Disease is one thing, but impotency is quite another.

How do you do this without offending?  You probably don’t.  But if the point of the campaign is to change behavior, a little bluntness might be just the ticket.  There was a time when our whole country smoked: in elevators and in movie theatres!  It took years, but boy have times changed.  Nobody ever quit smoking due to an advert of a smoker with the message; “smoking leads to disease.”  Why not emulate the success of the No Smoking campaign?  Black box processed foods, eliminate junk food in the workplace, mandate all weight loss systems to include the following declaration; “this is not an education or behavior modification program, effective only while using our product.” and develop jarring public service adverts.

If you believe that body size is too personal to discuss in a blunt and in your face manner, maybe it is in fact personal.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 7, 2012 in Media/Marketing

 

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