Aug 26 2013
Sorry, Miley

The problem, this time, is that our society feels like it knows her, knows her backstory, knows she's someone's daughter, and isn't able to forget it. Other women, like the ones on stage with Miley, the ones no one is complaining about? Well, we can sexualize them, reduce them to toys lacking a story, but this girl? We know her dad!

 

I'd like to apologize to Miley Cyrus on behalf of All Adults. 

I know this seems grandiose, or inappropriate, but I'm going to do it, anyway, because I see people issue class-size apologies all the time, plus this is my blog and stuff. 

Now, this next paragraph is so blindingly obvious, so stunningly simple, I almost deleted it. But then, I told myself, apparently it's NOT so obvious, because we, you know, don't do it:

Adults are supposed to protect young people. Adults are supposed to refuse to treat young people like little gods, put them on pedestals, and parade them on stages. But adults do it, anyway, and our culture is just dumb, and just numb, enough to act like it's perfectly normal. Turns out, as we've always known, celebrity messes with people's heads, particularly the young.

A few years ago, I remember talking about this on my radio show.

Me: I'd never, ever let my kid be a celebrity. And not because of a few anecdotes, but because it messes with their           heads, teaches them narcissism, and skews their view of the world.

Callers to the show: But Brant, a good Christian family can raise a celebrity. And kids NEED great role models from strong, Christian families, like, you know, the Cyrus family, or the Biebers, and...

No, actually, kids don't need other kids as role models.

Kids need adults.

And adults are supposed to step in before their children, say, inhale poison. But, as safety-obsessed as we are, we won't do that. So kids, we've polluted our cultural atmosphere - now take a long, deep breath. Just make sure to wear a helmet.

We're supposed to step in, too, before you humiliate yourself imitating our own sickness. We're supposed to say things, impossible-sounding things, like "No." We know you're not going to like us; but we're adults, and adults protect. Kids need adults.

But kids might even want to be celebrities! They might even like the attention! - but kids need adults. Adults who say, "This is not what life is about, and we're not doing this." This isn't a pile-on for the Cyruses, by the way. Miley's father has already voiced his deep regret. Honestly, I feel horrible for him. I simply can't imagine much more humiliating, for a father, than... whatever... that... was... on the VMA Awards.  He's already said what I'm saying: His daughter's celebrity was a horrible mistake.

Am I making excuses for a 20 year-old? Maybe. Or maybe just explanations. I think, were I a child celebrity, I would have a profound lack of perspective, too.

Miley's just doing what she likely suspects she needs to do in her business: Shock people. She's grown up watching, say, Britney writhe with a snake on the very same awards show, so it's hard to blame her if she's surprised by the universally negative reaction. She's doing what she thought we wanted.

The problem, this time, is that our society feels like it knows her, knows her backstory, knows she's someone's daughter, and isn't able to forget it. Other women, like the ones on stage with Miley, the ones no one is complaining about? Well, we can sexualize them, reduce them to toys lacking a story, but this girl? We know her dad!

Kids don't need more kids. They know plenty of them. Kids need adults, actual adults, adults adult enough to reject a culture that is so bored, so dead, that it can only feel alive if given one more jolt, one more shock. And it's hard to shock, anymore, but Miley hit that mark.

MTV has largely been about sex since its beginning, and Miley's performance was almost a brilliant parody. It was a beautiful young woman, very scantily-clad, parading in front of millions, and it was... well, repulsive.

Which brings to mind what Mike Yaconelli once wrote, "The more pagan a society becomes, the more boring its people become." And I, for one, can't help but notice:

MTV, you're doing the near impossible. You're making sexuality seem boring.

Anyway, adults aren't supposed to make kids into celebrities. We're not supposed to let kids just "follow their dreams" without regard to how foolishly tragic said dreams might be. We're supposed to step in. If other grown-ups are creating a toxic cultural atmosphere (uh, no Britney pun intended) we're supposed to at least inquire about the emotional health of those grown-ups, while separating you from them, until you're older and wiser. 

But we didn't. Now, after handing you the keys, the car, and a cliff, we stand around and wonder, "Wow! What happened? What a strange girl."

Kids need adults. 

Aug 15 2013
The Cost of Children

I know bargains when I see them. They make me smile. And these two bargains can smile back.

So the news media wants you to know: It's going to cost you dearly to have a kid.

$241,000, actually. And that doesn't even count college, and you know how costly college is! Pretty daunting, this whole procreation deal. 

Thing is, my wife and I didn't have the money, either. When we had our boy, Justice, I made $17,500. We rented a duplex, and drove two cars worth a combined - not making this up, this is what they sold for: $125. And this isn't the 50's. This is the 90s.

Foolish to have a kid? Mathematically, sure. And I love math, but math ain't everything. You can't play kickball with it or watch it giggle in the bathtub.

Turns out, my parents couldn't afford me, on paper, either. Maybe they're filled with regret. ("Wow, we paid tens of thousands and we wind up with BRANT? WHAT A RIP-OFF.") But I doubt it, because they seem to not only like me, they like the expensive humans my wife and I produced. (Full disclosure: There's a big downside to this having-kids thing.)

Ironically, on the same day the annual "Cost of a Child" study comes out, there's this guy from American Idol in the news. Justin Guarini was a star - he finished second to Kelly Clarkson in 2002. But now money is tight. Very tight. He wrote on his website that he's had to skip meals to make sure his family has enough.

There was a time when I could have thrown down cash for a house, and had any number of lovers in and out the door. A flashy car and clothes to match. An ego to trump them all.

Now, I rent a home filled with love. I have a wife whom I love and who loves me (me!) and who lifts me up. Children who give me cherubic-lipped kisses before I leave for work and who are the most delicious morsels of joy and peace and prosperity.

I am a pretty wealthy individual. 

And then this, his best line:

I have more riches than I can count. Most of them come in the form of smiles and drool... but they make me feel like a gazillionaire.

Justin Guarini, I didn't watch your season of "Idol", but I'm now a fan. You, sir, are on to something.

And so is Bruce Brander, unfortunately. Bruce wrote a terrific book, called Staring Into Chaos, and it's about how civilizations, you know, go down the tubes. And Brander notes a commonality: Declining civilizations look at children through a cost/benefit lens. They see them as a drag on our personal autonomy, or another personal accoutrement, to enhance our status. It's plus and minus, and minus and plus, and maybe it's worth having one, if it doesn't make me cancel my Bahamas trip.

(Is it incumbent on everyone to have children? Of course not! But you might want to root on those who do, and create a culture and policies that support marriage and families, even big ones. Other people's kids are wonderful, joyful things, too. For one thing, you need them to retire.)

Of course, this whole "kids are too expensive" thing has a funny familiarity to it, and by "funny", of course, I mean, "tragically unfunny". It's precisely where we are. And precisely why western civilization, demographically speaking, is most definitely, irreversibly, going out of business. The numbers don't lie. As a culture, we simply love ourselves too much to burden ourselves with little versions of ourselves.

And then there are those who will continue to see children for what they are: Miracles and blessings. But they are now the counter-culture. The good news is, the counter-culture doesn't just have drool on its carpet and a beater in the garage. It has a future, and that future is at a table, surrounded by the laughs and cries of our grandbabies.

Expensive inconveniences grow up, and have their own inconveniences, and, like Justin Guarini, wouldn't trade them for the world. What, exactly, was I going to spend that money on, anyway?

I know bargains when I see them. They make me smile.

And these two bargains can smile back.