Tag Archives: adolescence

You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two*


One of the classic adolescent rebellions played out in homes around the world involves the interpretation of limits. Taking the car out at 12:01 AM is not technically driving at night. Having friends over to ‘study’ isn’t really having a party. The teen, having recently acquired the ability to discern shades of grey, knows exactly what they’re doing. They know that the intention of the ‘night driving’ restriction has to do with the dark and not the time. They know that they are not to have friends over when there is no adult present. But one can admire their commitment to the job of testing limits and tormenting parents. That is the point of adolescence (that and moving themselves and their packed bags closer to the front door). But what about full-grown people who engage in the same rule/law/ethics interpretations? How did they get stuck in an adolescent developmental stage and does it apply to all areas of their lives?

Does the president of the Academy of Arts & Sciences have her staff falsely claim her to have a doctorate on grant proposals, then dare them to pierce something? After stashing close to half a million dollars in an off-shore account does the U.S. Trade Nominee then swipe a twenty out of his mom’s wallet? As the Military Joint Chiefs of Staff defend their male dominated, hierarchical, and abstruse approach to sex crimes are they texting each other about getting with Senator Gillibrand? There are times when skirting the letter of the law and finding creative solutions is admirable. Many examples come to mind within institutions catering to the vulnerable. Hospitals are notorious for rules & regulations that may not always be beneficial to a patient. Social services agencies can at times be more rules than reason. Schools become increasingly rule-bound with every semester. We are often put in the position of reinterpreting or bypassing rules (or even laws) when the situation warrants it.

And this is when things get sticky. A mature adult with a sense of communal responsibility and an interest in the world should be able to discern between personal benefit and compassion/public good. Letting your dog off the leash in a populated park may make the dog happy, but mostly it makes you feel like a cool dog owner. Smashing the window of a parked car to rescue a dog from a sun-baked death is for the benefit of the dog. Both of these acts are against the law and only one poses a potential danger to others (the leash-less dog). We are continuously enacting laws or fines to encourage people to act decently. The very fact that we need to approach decency from the outside in is problematic. Parents everywhere will tell you how exasperating this is as they engage in it day after day after day. Time-outs begat no phone, begat no car begat grounding. Parenthood can at times seems like a progression of creative external incentives to do the right thing.

Isn’t the idea of adulthood that we’ve now internalized decency? Don’t we pull up our big boy/girl pants and realize all we have is our word and reputation? When we decide to lie (and lying is always a decision) about our credentials (on resumes, Linkedin, proposals, and in interviews) do we honestly think that no one will find out? Are we making a conscious decision to be seen as not just less qualified but a liar too? When we put money offshore, presumably having decided that we’ve already paid what we care to in taxes, do we not worry how that will be perceived? In essence the law that allows for this form of tax evasion is no different than many other less sexy loopholes. We all know that some level of corruption exists in enabling these rules and laws to exist. When we avail ourselves of a corrupt, personally beneficial act, we do so knowing we are harming others. That we teach our children (by our act) that this is a decent way to live is baffling. But that we can consider ourselves suitable for public office is simply loony. That we can look at military brass behaving abhorrently and hear the strains of ‘boys will be boys’ in our heads tells us everything.

Children will be children, it’s their job after all. And teens will be teens. But will adults be adults? What becomes of a society that is mired in adolescence? Impulse driven self-absorbed, risk tolerant behavior is very scary when it lacks parental oversight. Rules and laws have their place but they can’t take the place of conscience. Nothing can.

*Oliver (1960) – Lionel Bart

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Posted by on June 5, 2013 in Childhood, Cultural Critique


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We Dress Alike*


There’s a stark yet strangely beautiful photo essay by Nolan Conway. Identically styled people sit in various MacDonald’s restaurants. At first (second and third) glance it would appear that this is a collection of twin portraits. But the captions prove otherwise. Capturing clusters of indistinguishable people is no doubt the point of a MacDonald’s story. It makes that obvious and the also not so obvious point of; when did everyone start looking alike?

Recently a story about the ‘edgy’ art scene in the newest hippest neighborhood was accompanied by a photo. A cluster of identically clad and groomed under 40s was captioned. But you’d have to be the profiled artist’s mother to pick his knit capped head out of the half-dozen style clones. The men had moppish 80’s hair, the women had asymmetrical 80’s hair. The men were wearing what they considered ironic T-shirts (when did ubiquitous and mundane become synonymous with irony?) The women are in clothes made to appear as if they were accidentally washed on the incorrect cycle. They are faded just so and just a bit worn. And they all are wearing vaguely ethnic scarves and polyester knit hats perched on the top of their heads. Even the manner in which they wear these unattractive utilitarian hats (indoors!) is identical.

The Bobbsey Twin-ness is not reserved for the under 40 crowd of course. If you’ve attended a high school graduation in recent years, and perhaps sat in a back row, you would see a sea of identical heads. Over 40 female hair is almost always long, straight and highlighted (it’s the equivalent of our foremother’s blue rinse.) The clothing style depends on the B.M.I. but almost always includes denim w/ a minimum of 3% lycra. This Doubleminting has always been pervasive among teens of course. It is the holy grail of adolescence to look exactly like everyone else. But what about college? Have you been to college lately? Move-in day is a riot. All the dads are in cargo shorts, untucked shirts & baseball caps; and all the mothers are in capris and generous cleavage (you think it’s easy to see your daughter turn into a grown woman?!) and the freshman are in uniform. The young women are dressed in body-con pieces from head to shin. From shin to toe they are most likely either in an Ugg or wellie (making them look as if they’re standing in a bucket, which is flattering on exactly no one) or if the weather allows, a rubber ‘shoe’ suitable for the beach, pool or hospital. The young men are either in baggy cargo shorts (like father like…) or slim fitting madras shorts. T-shirt (with message/image suited to the corresponding college/university) and unlaced sneakers or shower shoes complete the look. Since when did college students want to look alike? When did they want to follow the lead of their parents in any pursuit, least of all an approach to style? Wait but what of the art students you ask? Well if completing the checklist of body modifying (piercing, tattoos, earlobe stretchers) is a sign of creativity, then we’re good. (Note to medical students on the fence about their specialty; restorative cosmetic surgery – ka-ching!)

So how did it happen? Is it all the result of very cheap clothing in chain stores? Is it that the same ‘look’ is available across the country in a mall or big-box store near you? Is it our celebrity culture that drives style? Could it be that people (consumers, media, merchandisers) turn to celebrities (who turn to a handful of stylists) to create their look? Or is the styling of one’s person just the tip of the iceberg? Is it more that a culture that celebrates sameness is ultimately going to look the same. A culture that applauds and supports genre over niche does not cultivate creativity. Television talent contests award very specific sounds and looks (there is no Gong Show diversity on display anywhere.) Since the Rocky and Godfather days, film sequels are king. Broadway’s percentage of revivals grows every year. Where are the new ideas? How much wonderful writing never sees the light of day? What happened to the novel? Memoirs (which is a lovely sounding word for ‘it happened to me so it must be interesting’) is the genre of choice. Sensation and sequels sell, but what about good writing and great stories? Is there an audience (aka money) for talented novelists, poets, screenwriters and playwrights? We could also shine the light on indistinguishable home design and decor, museums exhibits and performance arts centers. You’d have to have a GPS to know where you are sometimes.

There have always been style trends. People don’t much go for operetta the way they once did. Sonnets went the way of hoop skirts, and you don’t see a lot of domes and columns being erected. But not since perhaps the 1950s have people strived to look and sound so much alike. Perhaps it is merely cyclical and not a harbinger of the demise of creativity. My goal is to outlive the cycle, seek creativity and to do so while wearing what flatters/interests me.

*The Triplet Song (The Bandwagon 1953) by Arthur Schwartz & Howard Dietz

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Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Style


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Corseted Voices


The teeny tiny breathy voice caught my attention. At first I attributed it to the elderly woman sitting at the front of the bus. The fragile smallness of the tone certainly fit the profile. But then I noticed the breathy almost Marilyn quality beneath the tinny squeak. The come hither tone coming from the throat rather than the diaphragm could be the result of a pulmonary condition, but it sounded too controlled, too intentional to be medical in origin. After a few unsubtle craning of the neck I spotted the source, a young woman in her early 20s. Where on earth did she learn to speak like a sexy grandmother? And how do I wrangle an introduction to her grandmother?

Since that mass transit incident I’ve come in contact with hundreds of women ranging in their late teens to late 20s speaking in tiny breathy voices. How did this happen? As little girls did they dream of one day sounding like sexy grandmas? Did they foresee a lucrative career in senior phone sex? Or was it just an adolescent affectation, like dotting ‘i’s’ with hearts, that simply got way out of hand? And what kind of teenage girl wants to sound decrepit? Or could it be what you and I hear as fragile breathy grandma, these uber-indoor voiced gals hear as submissive and thereby somehow enticing? We’ve all been there; the home perms, the blue eye shadow, the clogs. We’ve all done our time in the adolescent hall of mirrors, trying on one misguided identity after another. But I’d like to think had I continued on any of my (many) misguided paths one parent or another would have said something. In fact they did. During the height of my adolescent years I spent all of 5 minutes with an affected voice; having just spent an enriching day with some upper east side girls. I was told in no uncertain terms to unlock my jaw and open my mouth immediately. My country club affectation was quashed before I even made it up to my room, let alone onto a public bus.

Do parents not hear their own children? Does their adoration tinker with their ears giving every utterance the deep solid tones of a young Helen Reddy? Do teachers no longer send students to speech therapy? Do doctors not notice the panting and squeaking? And what of peers; merciless, punishing, unrelentingly critical peers? Shouldn’t there be taunting and antagonizing? Where are the Depends jokes, the lockers draped in support hose? Or are the geriatric geisha voiced gals admired?! Is having a tiny voice whose sole purpose is to entice men, the 21st century equivalent of a 16-inch waist or the ability to play the harpsichord? Is fragile the new black? Are young woman creating virtual corsets resulting in smaller people with diminished voice? If so, to what end? Surely the job interviewing process is not aided by appearing weak and tremulous. My guess is that by 30, their mouths start to open and they find their real voice. Traditionally that’s what metaphorically happens in one’s thirties. The alternative is simply too hideous to contemplate! No one wants to hear quarterly projections or medical test results in a breathy shaky voice. It would be hard to believe the state of the union is anything but doomed hearing it spoken in a squeak. But just in case these women don’t naturally grow out of the contrivance, congratulations to all you vocal coaches and speech therapists, your ship has come in!

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Posted by on March 11, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being


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How Lovely To Be A Woman*

If you have been in the vicinity of a woman under 27 in recent years, you have undoubtedly found yourself asking “is she asking me that or telling me that?”  Putting a question mark at the end of every sentence began as a teenage affectation and has migrated into the adult world.  If you have spent anytime in the workplace?  You have heard the inflection?  Time and time again?  Like the co-worker of a Tourette’s sufferer, you politely pretend it’s not happening (and later slam your head against your office wall.)  I would probably have far fewer dents in my head if it weren’t for the fact that I have never, ever met a young man who engages in oratory self-doubt.  I’m willing to acquiesce that the question mark had the same genesis as the nervous tic of “like” or dotting “i”s with smiley faces.  They are all just proof of the herd mentality of finding one’s adolescent individuality.  But surely college and then the workplace are not smiley face life stages.  (Oh my, there’s probably software for that now.  It’s only a matter of time when doctoral thesis will be turned in with little smiley faces doting the “i”s.  Ph.D candidates will march across the podium to receive their diploma emblazoned with the 7th grade spelling they created of their name – “Bahrbra” “Stacye” “Sharyn”)

The ubiquitous question mark is disturbing for its implication of uncertainty.  One need only hear Molly Wei testifying in the Rutgers University invasion of privacy case for proof.  This serious, well-groomed and coached witness, ends every sentence with a question mark.  Hopefully the jurors all have teenage girls at home.  There is nothing new about women (of any age) altering their voice for effect.  We can all think of at least a dozen performers or celebrities who have adopted breathy/baby voices.  Performers do that.  It’s what’s called performing.  But when a sales associate? or account manager? ends every sentence with a question mark?  It’s about something else.

A delayed adolescence and all the insecurities that accompany it are on full (somewhat cringe inducing) display.  Walk through a large office and note the identical manicures, outfits, handbags, sunglasses, tech toys.  It’s like walking through a high school.  There was a time when being old enough to work meant being old enough to have an identity.  While I admit (very begrudgingly) that television shows are not exactly the same as social anthropology, it is interesting to note the WJM newsroom.  Even if you were from Mars, you would never confuse Mary with a visiting Rhoda or Phyllis.  They all had a distinct style and sound.  (Sue Ann Nivens was her own best creation, but was a bit older than the other women.)  Was there ever a better voice manipulator than Mary?  Whether she was “Rob”ing or “Mr.Grant”ing you would never confuse her with anyone else.  Isn’t that the point?

Whether it’s habit, insecurity, or immaturity, it’s time to stop.  See all those strings/rubber bracelets on your wrist?  Snap one every time you hear your voice go up.  I promise you, in just a matter or weeks you will lose the tic and before you know it; find you voice.

“How lovely to be so grown-up and free!  Life’s lovely when you’re a woman like me!” – Kim Macafee (age 15) Bye Bye Birdie – Lee Adams, 1960


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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Cultural Critique


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