[Paleopsych] WSJ: It's, Like, So Totally Cool
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Sun Aug 28 20:06:20 UTC 2005
It's, Like, So Totally Cool
Girls' magazines are filled with bad grammar, but their content is
BY MEGHAN COX GURDON
Friday, August 19, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT
Last summer a polite, articulate 11-year-old friend of my daughter's
went off eagerly to a week of summer nature camp--and found herself
ridiculed and ostracized for what the other children considered her
peculiar manner of speech. "She was mocked," the girl's parents
recounted, "for speaking in complete sentences."
I had largely forgotten this sad little anecdote until I happened on
an online edition of Girls Life Magazine. "Girls Life?" thought I, all
innocence. "Why, that must have something to do with the Girl Scouts."
An image of wholesome do-goodery, of scrubbed cheeks and Norman
Rockwell freshness, rose obediently in my mind--only to sink instantly
under a deluge of inane headlines: "Too cute suits!" "Guys, Life,
Friends, Body: Real Advice Just for You." "Wanna sound off about GL
mag?" "Win FREE stuff! Feelin' lucky? Enter now!"
Guys? Wanna? Feelin'? Ugh! Yet it turns out that Girls Life is indeed
the magazine of the Girl Scouts of America (GSA), that high-minded
organization originally modeled on Britain's Girl Guides, which itself
sprang from the rib of Lord Robert Baden-Powell's turn-of-the-century
Boy Scout movement.
Girls Life is a successful stand-alone magazine ("From liking boys to
'like-liking' boys, Girls Life has it all!") and a five-time recipient
of the Parents' Choice Award; the copies that Girl Scout subscribers
receive contain a special four-page GSA insert. Yet isn't it piquant,
even painful, to consider that an organization created to promote
children's spine-straightening moral and physical development has
devolved into one that through its magazine asks: "Poll Party:
Favorite nail polish color?"
"If an article comes in and it's a snore, and just needs to be funned
up a little, I fun it up," the executive editor of Girls Life, Kelly
White, told the online writers' magazine, The Purple Crayon. "I inject
it with words like 'swank' and 'stoked.'" Girls Life, Ms. Kelly
emphasized, is "not condescending. Still, we try to speak our readers'
No wonder my daughter's friend had such trouble at summer camp. When
adult editors talk of "funning up" the English language, when the vast
panoply of info-tainment aimed at children parrots and reinforces the
cheesiest pubescent vocabulary and preoccupations, what chance does a
well-read, well-spoken child stand? In the terrible, gleaming world of
adult-facilitated teen culture, talking calmly in complete sentences
marks you as a freak.
Teen People asks, "How Sexy Are You?" and "Gotta Hottie Next Door?"
Cosmo Girl hosts a "Battle of the Boys: Who's the Hottest?" and Bop
magazine online offers a male-as-sex-object game called Frankenboy:
"Build your dream boy and e-mail him to a friend!"
But magazines are only a part of it. Watch television aimed at the
young and it is difficult to escape the disquieting sense that too
much children's programming exists to--well, program children.
Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel teach children through precept and
relentless example how to preen, how to diss and how, if
d''ark-skinned, to talk Ebonics. Virtually every girl sashays in
heels, miniskirts and lipgloss; virtually every adult is an easily
outsmarted villain or an eyeroll-worthy chump.
And always, coiled beneath the amped-up happy talk of cool stuff, mean
girls and cute guys, is sex. Children groomed within an inch of
supermodeldom, with flashing teeth, gleaming hair and sexy clothes,
are shown having crushes, yearning for dates and trying to act cool so
as to get dates. Though for the misery that often results from
too-early dating and consequent backseat fumbling, you presumably have
to switch to Lifetime . . .
[081905scouts.jpg] It used to be that adults talked about bringing
children up, of raising them. Today the mass media, with the tacit
support of parents, has largely abandoned any effort to lift children
up and instead crouches ever lower to what it thinks is their
aesthetic and linguistic level. Slam poet Taylor Mali's witty cri de
coeur "Totally like whatever, you know?" aptly laments the pandemic
brainlessness this fosters:
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . .You know?
That we've just gotten to the point
where it's just, like . . .
So actually our disarticulation . . .ness
is just a clever sort of . . .thing
to disguise the fact that we've become
the most aggressively inarticulate
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!
Clunky bottom-feeding language is, of course, an expression of clunky
bottom-feeding thinking. And when you "fun up" language, you
trivialize thinking, fueling the already unhelpful suspicion among
young teens that someone who talks seriously is ipso facto boring. So
what we have is this extraordinary wave of empty, glittering,
funned-up teen culture that rushes children into an ersatz
maturity--chiefly sexual--and where the only reward is a jaded heart
and an empty head.
The natural defense, of course, is that the purveyors of mass culture
are only giving young consumers what they want. Yet it is also true
that magazines, Web sites and TV shows do not just minister to taste;
they create taste. And here is where adults are grievously culpable,
for it is not children who pitch ditzy show ideas, write facile
scripts, edit funned-up, dumbed-down copy or crop photos to make
Lindsay Lohan's breasts look melon-esque.
It is worth mentioning that this awfulness applies chiefly to
girl-consumers. Boy's Life, the magazine for Cub and Boy Scouts (and
published by the Boy Scouts of America), is fully of goofy jokes,
puzzles, jazzy photos of boys swooshing on surfboards or white-water
rafting--even a Bible Heroes comic strip--but there is not a girl to
be seen, or alluded to, except a few little-sister-types in the ads.
But then, lip gloss, hip inarticulateness and sashaying in heels don't
really have male counterparts. So perhaps there is no consumer demand.
When a girl recites the Girl Scout Law, she promises to respect
herself and others. Somehow I don't think the founder of the American
Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low, would have dreamt this to include having
"beach-perfect hair" or "crushing on a Momma's boy." And when there is
scarcely a stiletto-height's difference between the magazine vehicle
of the Girl Scouts of America and, say, Cosmo Girl, something is
rotten in the culture--not teen culture (that goes without saying) but
Mrs. Gurdon is a columnist for National Review Online.
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