Tuning Out

Over 30 years ago, in the age of Olivia Newton-John, I stood in a row in jazz class and tried to wiggle non-existent hips to Let’s Get Physical.  I still can remember, so help me, some of the moves.   I don’t think I understood the suggestive lyrics, though I knew every word.

It’s also difficult for anyone of my generation to hear of Olivia without a direct cognitive connection to Grease.  In this musical, John Travolta sings about his car (and presumably other things) in Greased Lightning.  After crooning that “the chicks’ll cream for grease lightnin'”, he says:  “With new pistons, plugs, and shocks, I can get off my rocks / You know that I ain’t braggin’, she’s a real pussy wagon – greased lightnin’!”

Revisiting this makes LMFAO‘s reference to “passion in my pants” in I’m Sexy and I Know It seem a bit weak-kneed, no?

Lyrics of popular songs don’t usually disturb me, mostly because I don’t listen to them.  I don’t think young children really listen to them either, parrot them though they may.  Popular culture does annoy me some, the last time I checked, but that was awhile back.  I’ve been without cable TV and other mainstream media for almost a decade, and I’ve almost never missed it.  I’m increasingly intentional about what words, images, and sounds enter my life; I consciously choose as much of it as I can.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, LMFAO didn’t make the cut.  I had no idea who LMFAO was until it was proposed as a topic of discussion on this blog, and I have still not heard their catchy song.  I haven’t tuned into it even for this post.  I’m not interested enough.  Time is time – I can use an extra three minutes as any busy mother could.

When I read Cori Howard’s article “She’s Not Sexy, She’s 7“, it seemed to me that what’s offensive about a 7 year old dancing suggestively to a song isn’t the display of sexuality.  All of our children, including the very young ones, are sexual creatures – that’s as it should be.   The concern is that the child’s sexuality is being manipulated in ways that are inappropriate and have nothing to do with her best interests.

For my husband and me, that complaint about manipulation holds with many aspects of pop culture and mainstream media, so we limit it in our home – not just to avoid what we don’t want, but to make as much time and space available for the things that we do want.  We’re not isolationists, but we are trying to make conscious decisions according to our values, which seems like a reasonable way to live.  We know our children will see what they see and hear what they hear as they explore the world around them, but we have a little sanctuary of sorts in our house, and to the degree that we can create the environment that we prefer in it, we are going to do that.

And practically speaking:  you can talk all you want about the catchiness of song tunes, but the truth is that when you’re speaking to mothers with young children, it’s hard to deny the sweet sound of silence.

Everybody’s Gonna Have a Real Good Time

This past weekend, serendipitously, I watched a swimming pool full of children between the ages of four and twelve sing and splash to LMFAO‘s I’m Sexy and I Know It.  As the opening notes sounded, a rush of kids emerged from underneath towels and off of chaises lounges;  into the pool they went, where for three minutes, they danced and carried on like the kids they were, completely oblivious to the underlying meaning of of the lyrics of that song. Half the adults in the pool were singing along, too. Say what you will about the artistic merit of the song, you can’t deny that it’s catchy. It puts you in a good mood. It makes you not-at-all sorry for party rocking, and that’s the whole point of that type of music. It’s fun.

I bet if you asked the average seven-year old what that song is about, they’d tell you: it’s about having a party. It’s about looking good.  My seven-year old certainly could care less about the lyrics beyond those which are readily discernible on a quick listen to the chorus (he might mention that it’s about shaking his bum, but he’s seven and anything to do with bums is REALLY funny).  My older one could probably tell you what some of the other lines in the song mean, but we’ve already discussed how babies are made and that – gasp – grown-ups do “it”. Of course, you’d have to get him to stop dancing in order to ask him a question about the song in the first place.

Still, it’s probably no surprise to him or to his friends that there are references “it” in songs. Grown ups talk about a lot of things that kids don’t talk about, which doesn’t mean that kids don’t listen: it just means that it doesn’t matter to them to hear it. The economy. Politics. Stocks. What to make for dinner.  Paying bills.  These are all topics which register with most kids as “things that grown ups say” and not “things I must understand RIGHT now”. And when they do tune in, you do the best that you can with whatever questions that come your way about what they’ve heard, as it doesn’t really matter what the source of the question is: as parents, we can’t completely insulate our children from the world, nor should we. Instead, I’d rather teach them to live within it, and give them the right information to be able to do so.

At Issue: They’re Not Sexy: Pop Culture and Our Kids

English: LMFAO at the Sunset Strip Music Festi...

English: LMFAO at the Sunset Strip Music Festival 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week the New York Times’ Motherlode column featured  The Momoir Project founder Cori Howard’s article, She’s Not Sexy, She’s Seven. In it, Cori discusses the difficulty she’s had in deciding how much is “too much” when it comes to allowing her kids to listen to music with obvious, gratuitous sexual references.  After watching her daughter dancing to LMFAO‘s “I’m Sexy and I Know It“, Cori muses,

But — but — there is something very disturbing about watching your young daughter gyrating and moving her hands up and down her torso while singing, “Ah, girl, look at that body.” She isn’t sexy, she’s 7. And I resent the music that has her declaring her sexuality before she’s even old enough to have prepubescent hormones.

Difficulties ensue when the kids ask what the song’s lyrics mean.   Cori’s answers give rise to even more questions from her kids– ones that she doesn’t really want to have to answer…yet.

Cori’s not the only parent having to ask how far to  go in insulating kids from the messages in popular music, particularly those songs with violent or sexual lyrics.  This week, 4mothers explores the world of popular music. As a parent, where is your line in the sand when it comes to letting your children listen to songs with explicit or violent content?  Where is ours? Join us as we wiggle wiggle wiggle our way through this issue. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcomed.