In the year 400 B.C.,
an indictment was laid against the Greek philosopher, Socrates, for, among
other things, corrupting the youth of Athens. According to our best information,
Socrates’ crime consisted in all significant respects of getting young Athenians
to think, challenging the status quo, and attempting to bring about some
manner of religious reformation. We can expect that he would probably
be condemned today as well. After all, many modern political gadflies
are guilty of nothing more than exercising their ability to think and criticize
the status quo.
Of course, few truly thoughtful Americans would consider challenges to the
status quo, or a well-reasoned analysis of world events, to be corrupting.
Instead, they might put their own brains to work, posit their own well-reasoned
responses, and then get on with life. Still, the state of American
youth is an important issue, and many people today are concerned as to what
is happening with our youth and why. When Dan Quayle is crucified for
defending the American Family, something has to be wrong. After all,
the family is supposed to be the foundation stone of society.
Which leads us to a news item found on September 18, 2003 indicating that
Mattel, the toymaker best known for the Barbie doll, was about to release
a line of dolls targeted for the six to twelve year old market. The
dolls are advertised as having “attitude,” and are decked out in street-wise
attire such as oversized tops and pants, and come with tattoo appliqués.
They may be accessorized with ghetto blaster stereos, cell phones, and presumably,
other items that will make an appearance later. Two sets available
from Amazon.com featuring motorcycles actually had more conservative clothing
and (gasp!) helmets. Somehow this seemed to fly a bit in the face of
the “attitude” that the dolls were supposed to display. After all,
isn’t “attitude” about rebellion and flaunting the rules?
The news report went on to quote Val Stedham of the British Association of
Toy Retailers. “Kids are getting older, younger,” he said, ignoring
the highly evident contradiction in terms and the possibility that it might
imply families at age 16 and perhaps dying of old age at 45 or 50.
Meanwhile, Mattel opines that Flavas (pronounced FLAY-vuhz) are the “first
reality-based fashion doll brand that celebrates today’s teen culture through
authentic style, attitude and values,” allowing girls to express their own
personal flavor or style, or perhaps personal spelling, as well. John
Baulch, who publishes Toys and Playthings, an industry magazine, apparently
believes it. “Everything has to have attitude,” he says, and the fact that
parents may not like it makes it more appealing to children.
Somehow, somewhere along the line Stedham’s and Baulch’s thinking seems to
have become derailed. Where did they get the idea that this kind of
self-expression was good? Did they consider the possibility that parents
might disapprove of self-destructive behavior? Are the parents in charge,
or are the kids? Is Mattel interested in producing a generation of
tattooed street punks? And, why can’t they spell properly?
Actually, it is not just the toy industry. Music, movies, toys, television,
comic books, sports, and so many other sources of entertainment have focused
on the ideas of extremism and attitude. Children become ensnared when
parents are too busy or too distracted to take proper charge. Entertainment
teaches children “attitude is normal.” Eventually, after too much exposure,
they become jaded and overly mature in worldly matters, but they remain immature
in the things that count; the ability to understand and properly process
the information they are presented with. They have no discipline.
They may not be able to use algebra or write a coherent essay, even if they
know the words to the latest rap hit. They become rebellious people
with no real values, little or no moral context, no sense of civic virtue
and little or no understanding of what holds a society together. They
are the perfect group of people around which to build a failing civilization.
One major symptom of the problems our youth are encountering is the obsession
with everything “extreme.” It is no longer sufficient for anything
to be normal or ordinary. Simplicity is not enough to satisfy the jaded
personality, which needs to be over-stimulated even to achieve what would
have been satisfying a generation or two before. And when extremism
is not enough, where will youth turn for entertainment? Will we return
to blood sport as in ancient Rome, or is Rollerball in the offing?
As a fan of old movies and books I’m reminded at times of how young people amused themselves in past years. Try watching Meet Me in St. Louis, reading Little Women, or perhaps Cheaper By The Dozen.
In these and other period stories teens had their own household duties and
no time for “attitude.” Their family was counting on them, and the
bonds between parents and children were not something to be taken lightly.
When they had time for entertainment it was organized, group based, and encouraged
them to excel at things that enhanced their social skills and set the stage
for their adult interactions. And within the family, it was more than
just a matter of duty. There was love, as well; something not found
on street corners, and it doesn’t come with attitude attached.
For years some highly vocal types have criticized Mattel for the unrealistic
model that Barbie provided. If “Flavas” are the best model for youth
that the toy industry can produce, then give me Barbie. At least she
was well groomed, well dressed, and didn’t have attitude, tattoos or encourage
children to rebel against their parents.
Steven Laib is a practicing attorney.