Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween By The Numbers

My teenage daughter just sent me an urgent text from her study hall at the high school. The fan fell out of her tail and a piece broke off and her bird had deflated.


No, my daughter doesn't imbibe in hallucinogenic mushrooms (as far as I know). And this isn't some secret code; we're not in the CIA.

My daughter and most of her class went to school today as ostriches. They ordered inflatable costumes en masse. I had some issues with the whole thing. (Does this surprise anyone? It certainly didn't surprise my daughter; she's definitely used to my issues by now.)

All right, first of all, how was this creative? Halloween gives kids an opportunity to flex those neglected artistic muscles. Pre-made costumes? Not so much.

Next, how does it allow anyone to express individuality? Everyone is wearing the same thing!

Finally, the ridiculous contraption (the quality of which, as I've already pointed out, is not particularly long-lasting) cost about $40. What about the kids who don't have four ten-spots lying around? Or pushover parents?

At any rate, like most of my convictions, this one wasn't great enough to preclude my daughter participating. So, we dutifully ordered, paid for and picked up her ostrich. She went off to school this morning with her friend from next door, both armed with deflated ostrich costumes. They would blow them up at school. Which brings us back to the beginning of my post and the trauma for today.

Like most seventeen year-olds, my daughter stopped trick-or-treating a while ago. But, I have fond memories of her costumes through the years.

She was just six weeks old when we celebrated her first Halloween. Like countless contemporaries, she was ... a pumpkin. (Uh-h, what was I just saying about creativity and individuality? Hmmmm.)

At age one, she was Pooh Bear. My husband and I spent that Halloween in New Orleans at the Anne Rice Ball (talk about creative and individual outfits!). My mother came up to babysit and took lots of Pooh pictures for us.

By two, my daughter was a big fan of the Teletubbies. She was LaLa, the yellow one. (I never really understood the Teletubbies. Then again, I don't smoke weed.)

At three, she couldn't choose between a fairy, a princess or a kitty. So, with a decidedly "more is more" approach (which, I might add, has stayed with her), she dressed as a "Fairy Princess Kitty." She was a veritable vision of pink glitter, let me tell you. She practically reeked of "girly-girl."

Subsequent years included Alice in Wonderland and Madeline, a green-faced witch (we had just seen Wicked on Broadway), and a "cat burglar" (all black, including a mask and a watchman's cap plus a pillow case full of stuffed cats). Then, we went into the horse years. In addition to dressing up as an equine herself, she was alternately a horse fly, a headless horsewoman, and the "ghost rider of dead man's gulch." I loved that particular costume. She wore a cowboy outfit, ghoulish make-up, and we wrapped her in spider webs.

I miss those years, the pretty, the pink, the ponies. Too old to trick or treat, now she and her friends "hang out." 

And, they dress up like ostriches. 

You'll be happy to know that I received a follow-up text. My daughter found the missing piece, re-inflated her bird and went off to Physics.

I guess it will be a Happy Halloween after all.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Concerts (and Cookies)

It's official. My seventeen year old daughter is a groupie. 

This isn't something I planned for. Who does really? We all want the best for our children, and here in suburban New England, most moms like me have rather lofty goals. A lawyer, maybe. A veterinarian. A journalist.

Not a groupie.

What immediately comes to mind is the movie Almost Famous. Suffice it to say, the film included plenty of sex and drugs as well as rock and roll.

Oh boy.

Of course, I went to my share of concerts in high school. But, growing up in New York City, two subway stops from Madison Square Garden, I tended to see really big shows. Elton John, David Bowie, Wings, Billy Joel, even KISS. Would I have liked to "hang out" with the boys in the band? Um ... probably. But, at that venue and with those headliners, it would have taken a much more enterprising teen than myself to get backstage. (Plus, I always had too much homework waiting back at the apartment.) 

When I think about the girls who used to follow bands back in my day (that would be the late 70s, early 80s), I picture free spirits in those skirts that looked like table cloths. The first week of freshman year of college, I met a girl who had followed The Grateful Dead around the country the entire summer before. Her greatest accomplishment was sleeping with an assistant lighting guy.

Probably not what her mother had planned for her either.

Years later, I was taking a bus from Boston down to visit my then boyfriend, a medical student at University of Connecticut. A group of hippies stepped out in front of the bus as we left the highway and headed into Hartford. The Dead were playing at the Civic Center and they needed directions. I got the sense they had hitched (or walked) a long way. And hadn't bathed in a while.

See above comment about parents' hopes and dreams.

So this past weekend, when my daughter explained that she and her BFFs were heading into town at noon for their 7:30 concert, I was a little concerned. Why so early? I really didn't relish the idea of them sitting on a sidewalk outside the club all afternoon.

"No," she explained, "The band is going to tweet where they'll be before the show so we can meet them."

Say what?

Back in my day, as a fan, you took the initiative to sleep with roadies or step in front of buses. That's how you got the attention of your idol (or got an STD or worse). Well, times have changed, apparently. Today's bands stay in touch with their fans through Facebook and Twitter. They let them know where they'll be and when. 

Granted these aren't the equivalent of the huge rockstars I mentioned earlier. But, these are bonafide recording artists and their fans are just as loyal and starstruck as we were (and they're shrieking just as loud too). I have seen the iPhone videos, trust me.

Of course, once I understood the reason for going in early, I became a practically perfectly paranoid parent. I launched quite suddenly into a list of all the things the girls should be sure not to do. Like take anything, smoke anything, drink anything. Go anywhere with anyone at any time.

My daughter rolled her eyes. "Our bands aren't like that," she explained. It was my turn to roll my eyes. "That's what you think," I told her then.

Here's what I think now. She was right.

The night before, my daughter and her friend made posters and toll house cookies for the band. They went in early, waited outside the club and when the band arrived, sure enough, the young musicians were thrilled to see them, to admire the posters, to eat the cookies and to pose for priceless selfies together.

My daughter had an amazing night — and I couldn't be happier to have been mistaken. 

We assume that "back in our day" was better. Not always. Not this time.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Fuck, Yeah!

Two days ago, I posted a video on my Facebook page. Since then, I've had a number of readers ask if I'm going to blog about it. 

I hadn't planned to because what could I say that hadn't already been said — and fabulously — by the video's creators themselves? Then, I saw Deborah Norville discussing it on Inside Edition with clips of everyone from conservative politicos to Fox News to Mrs. Ozzy Osbourne raging about it. (Really, like the Osbournes are the poster family for etiquette and decency?)

So, I figured I should put in my two cents too.

If you've been away from your television (or social media) this week and consequently haven't seen the much bally-hooed video yet, I'm talking about "F-Bombs for Feminism: Potty-Mouth Princesses Use Bad Words For Good Cause," produced by FCKH8. You can watch it here. In case you can't tell yet, I highly recommend it.

It does, of course, warrant a big old NSFW warning.

But, should it?

Champions of the video have applauded its sensational tactics, as well as the big "Duh!" message behind them. Opponents have been vocal too, through formal media channels as well as online. The level of anger and hate is considerable:

I'd love to say I'm shocked, but nothing about feminism shocks me anymore. Between throwing around skewed statistics, constantly crying "victim" and, even worse, "rape" every time somebody disagrees with them. Now I can add exploiting children to the long, long list of screwed up feminist tactics. Thanks, fckh8, for, somehow, stooping lower than your sisters.

All right, this man (of course, it's a he not a she) has bigger issues than the video.

One relatively calm reporter asserted that the video would make other children learn the word "Fuck" and then use it because it looks like so much fun.

Okay, can we be real here just for a minute? Does anyone honestly believe that kids — onscreen or watching — haven't heard the f-bomb before? Out of curiosity, I asked my teenaged daughter if she remembers the first time she heard it. She doesn't. Not because we refrain from the profane. More like she heard it so early (and often) that it predates her memory.

BTW, she's doing just fine.

And fuck is just a word. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.


The point of the scandalous video is summed up in this line: “So what is more offensive… A little girl saying fuck? Or the fucking unequal and sexist way, society treats girls, and women?”

FCKH8's producer, Mike Kon, explains the video's objective this way: “Some adults may be uncomfortable with how these little girls are using a bad word for a good cause. It is shocking what they are saying, but the real shock is that women are still paid less than men for the same work in 2014, not the use of the F-word. The big statistic that 1 out of 5 women are sexually assaulted or raped is something society seems to find less offensive than a little four letter word and we love how these girls draw attention to that imbalance.” 

As a creative person, a writer and a marketing executive, I love pretty much everything about this video. The script, the casting, the costumes, the concept. 

What I think I love the most, however, is the idea that for a younger generation of girls (and boys too, I hope), the current state of gender affairs warrants an enormous "WTF?!?"

As the video says, “Instead of washing these girls’ mouths out with soap, maybe society needs to clean up its act.”

"Offensive?" Nah, I'd say "Effective." Fucking effective.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dos and Don'ts for Moms of Teens

In high school and college (after I'd graduated from Seventeen), I used to read Glamour magazine every month. My favorite feature was the "Dos and Don'ts" page. Photographers would catch women going about their business in ensembles that were particularly well put together ... or not. Then they'd publish pictures for all the world to see. I always thought that the narrow black bars covering the models' eyes were a sorry consolation for being identified as a "Glamour Don't."

It all seemed a little harsh.

Now, about a million years later, I live with a rather harsh critic in my own home. Don't get me wrong. My teenage daughter uses remarkable restraint when it comes to judging my outfits. (Yes, I'm sure my mom jeans, print top, quilted vest and Aerosoles are looking ultra fashionable right about now.) Rather, she judges my behavior, the decisions I make and the discipline I try (try being the operative word there) to uphold.

She's quick to argue — especially if the answer to a request she just made is "No." But, it's more the look. There's a look she sometimes gives me that speaks volumes. It says "You think you're hip, but you're not." Or "You think you know what's going on, but you don't." And most often "You think you can control me, but you can't."'

Meanwhile, in my defense (this is, after all, my blog and I can defend myself 'till the cows come home), I truly believe that I am cooler, calmer and more collected than most moms. I say "Yes" more often than "No." I'm supportive. I'm loving. I'm generous with my time and money. All right, sometimes I'm generous with my opinions too, but ...

What can I say? I'm a mom.

And that's really the crux of the matter. My daughter is a healthy, normal teen. As her mom, I am often — and naturally — the enemy. In this minefield I wake up in every morning, I'm learning to butt out, to choose my battles, to stop before I say something that may set her off.

Here are a list of Dos and Don'ts that may help ...

Do applaud her for doing well in a changing and challenging world.
Don't compare her choices (or study habits) to my own from 35 years ago.

Do loosen the reins when I can.
Don't suck the fun out of everything by imposing too many conditions or curfews.

Do respect her common sense — and privacy.
Don't snoop, stalk or otherwise undermine her efforts to grow up.

Do offer respectful observations and advice.
Don't deliver edicts, absolutes and ultimatums.

Do focus on the things that matter most.
Don't sweat the small stuff (like unmade beds, dirty laundry on the bathroom floor or empty chip bags on the rug).

Do love her for the remarkable young woman she is becoming.
Don't ever make her feel that she's less than she is.

I make a lot of mistakes (my daughter would probably say "A LOT!"), but I'm trying. Letting go is difficult for any loving mother — and, especially so for a control freak like moi. We are negotiating new territory on a daily basis, and I need to say "adios" to my Don'ts to make room for a whole bunch of Dos.

And, if anyone happens to take a picture of me today, please have a nice thick black bar ready.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pretty and Skinny, Synonyms No More

I recently went through an exhausting semiannual ritual — the dreaded closet swap. In our colonial home, storage space is at a premium and anything off-season resides in garment bags under the eaves of our third floor. Twice a year, I empty the closet and wardrobe in the tiny dressing room that separates our bedroom from my teenage daughter's, then refill them with items appropriate for whatever season is looming. Sandals are replaced by boots. Polo shirts are replaced by turtlenecks. Capris and camp shirts by wool pants and jackets.

In theory, anything that is out of style (or simply out of favor), is put into a Hefty bag for the school thrift shop. But, in truth, I keep most things, telling myself that shoulder pads will be in again or that I might wear those size 6 jeans someday. (If I contracted a tape worm, maybe.)

This time, I went into it determined to be ruthless. Lately, I've felt the need to purge, to live a lighter life by shedding some of our accumulated accoutrements, prized possessions, bibelots, objets (oh, admit it already Alex, the word is "crap"). The closet swap was the perfect opportunity to test my new resolve. I vowed that I would look at my fall and winter clothes with a more critical eye than ever before. If there's something I haven't worn lately (like in the past two or three years) or don't absolutely love, it's outta here. Most of all, if there are clothes that are too small, gone. Gone baby gone!

Despite what some might think, keeping "skinny jeans" is not an inspiration. It's more like a condemnation. We have been conditioned to believe that the words "pretty" and "skinny" mean the same thing. Opening the closet and seeing anything that is too small just reminds me of how much I've lost — or, more aptly, how much I've gained. I'm 52; I've had a baby. As Mammy would say:

"You ain't never going to be no eighteen and a half inches again. Never. And there ain't nothing to do about it, Miss Scarlet."

I'm proud to report that I did indeed donate an unusual amount of clothing this year. And, I do feel better when I select what I'm going to wear. Everything in my closet actually fits. (What a concept!) In fact, I don't just feel better, (dare I say it?) I feel pretty.

To celebrate the overdue eviction of my skinny jeans, I'd like to share a current video: Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass."

Yeah, it's pretty clear, I ain't no size two
But I can shake it, shake it
Like I'm supposed to do
'Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
And all the right junk in all the right places

I see the magazine workin' that Photoshop
We know that sh*t ain't real
C'mon now, make it stop
If you got beauty, beauty, just raise 'em up
'Cause every inch of you is perfect
From the bottom to the top

Yeah, my mama she told me don't worry about your size
She says, "Boys like a little more booty to hold at night."
You know I won't be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that's what you're into then go ahead and move along

Because you know I'm
All about that bass, 'bout that bass, no treble

Well done, Meghan! "All About That Bass" is great fun and a great lesson for girls of all sizes and all ages. 

Just hope my daughter and her friends learn it before they're 52.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

3Ps: Protect, Permit and ... Panic!

I recently read an essay in The New York Times that talked about how to manage teenagers. (Actually, it was more a reflection on how to survive teenagers.) The author and mother of two teen boys, Jessica Lahey, quoted Dr. Laurence Steinberg from his book Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence ...

"Protect when you must, but permit when you can."

I have mixed feelings about these words.

On the one hand, I agree with them. In theory and wholeheartedly. On the other hand, I'm having a tremendously difficult time adhering to them. Because, in real life is nothing like in theory.

Protect and permit mean different things to my teenage daughter and to myself. Where I may see myself protecting her, she sees me not permitting something that in her mind holds no danger whatsoever. She struggles against the boundaries I've set. I struggle to let her go.

We do agree on one thing though ... this SUCKS!

She's seventeen, so she no longer feels the need to ask if she can do something with her friends. She simply announces it. Then, if her plans change, she doesn't feel the need to give us an update. Is she safe? Probably. But, couldn't she call or send a quick text to tell us where they actually are now instead of where we thought they were then?

Apparently not.

We've never enforced a curfew per se, because she was never out late without us unless we knew exactly where and with whom. Suddenly all bets are off, and I'm sorry I wasn't stricter when I didn't need to be because it's proving very difficult to create rules now.

This is her junior year of high school. (Supposedly, this one "really counts." All right, can we please send a great big collective "F*ck you!" to whoever said that? Way to add undue pressure to the pressure cooker we're already living in here.) I've tried to leave her to her own academic devices. I haven't nagged or micromanaged studying and homework. She would disagree, of course, but I've truly cut back dramatically. At what point, then, am I allowed to check on grades and course correct if needed?

I'll say it again. This SUCKS.

My job, as I see it, is not to be her friend. Not to permit all the time. And, in fairness, I permit much much (much much) more than she gives me credit for. Really, my job is to help her succeed. To help her do her best and become the best version of her possible. To help her embrace the values that I believe are important for her to lead a happy, productive life. This doesn't make me very popular. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.

And in the protect and permit dichotomy, I seem to inspire a lot of resentment for the first and no credit whatsoever for the second.

Rock ... me ... hard place.

She doesn't believe me, but I would much rather see her smiling all the time. I don't actually enjoy lecturing or picking fights or upholding consequences. 

She also doesn't believe me, but I have enormous faith in her. I'm so proud of her so much of the time. I believe that she can accomplish great things. And, I believe that part of my job is to enable her to do so. Sometimes, that means permitting her to do things she wants to do.

But, sometimes it means protecting her. Not just from things that go bump in the night, but from making short-term mistakes that might have long-term ramifications.

These days, it gets harder and harder to be her friend. For now, I'll just have to settle for being her mother.

I'll be her friend again — and gladly — whenever she's ready.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Malala and Education's Potential for Peace

This year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee received 278 nominations for its Peace Prize — the greatest number ever. I can't list the candidates here (and no one else can either) because each list is kept private for 50 years.

Of course, we all now know two of those nominated. This year's prize is being awarded to Kailash Satyarth and Malala Yousafzai "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."

Yes, those brilliant people in Norway see the connection between education and peace. Here in the suburban United States? Not so much.

We're a little too focused on other more immediate issues.

Last night, I attended the Open House at my daughter's high school. As she gets older, these annual events become a bit bittersweet. Settling onto a less than comfortable field house bleacher before the program began, I commiserated with other mothers. "This is our next-to-last one," we reminded each other, somehow making the hectic (and always inconvenient) evening feel precious and fleeting.

The principal welcomed us and shared mostly good news. We heard about MCAS scores, PSAT scores, SAT scores, AP test scores (do we see a pattern here, folks?). Our school performs quite well in all of the above. I'm glad, of course, but there seems to be an inordinate focus on numbers. We then went through an accelerated version of our teenagers' schedules. 

A grateful aside here. My daughter, for the umpteenth time, provided me with a map as well as a list of courses and classrooms. She is a most considerate young woman. Or, she has very little confidence in her dear mama's navigational skills. Regardless, it was appreciated (and coveted by others). The students in her school probably score extremely high on psychology tests since the spanking new building seems to have been inspired by a rat's maze.

But I digress.

In short order, I ran through six ten-minute "classes" and browsed activity tables (and resisted bake sales) during two "study halls." The teachers were welcoming and talked about expectations and "outcomes." The same over-anxious parents I've known since pre-school asked obsessive questions about assignments and grades, GPAs and college acceptance. I couldn't help but cringe when I imagined how embarrassed their sons or daughters would be if they could hear them.

Of course, if these vigilant mums and dads care a little too much, most of our kids don't seem to care enough. There are surely some nerdy brains (God bless their pocket protectors), but for the rank and file sixteen- and seventeen-year olds, school is a necessary evil. It's a drag. It's a mandated interruption of whatever they actually do care about, whether that's hanging out on Snapchat or streaming "How I Met Your Mother" or, in my daughter's case, a horse.

These young people aren't stupid. They watch the news. They know that they're lucky to have access to a high quality (see test score paragraph above) free education — regardless of their financial situation, religion or gender. They know it, but they don't feel it.

They haven't had to.

Malala, now the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient at seventeen (the same age as my own daughter), once explained "Part of our human nature is that we don't learn the importance of anything until it's snatched from our hands. In Pakistan, when we were stopped from going to school, I realized that education is very important, and education is power for women."

I couldn't be happier that this year's Nobel Prize is recognizing education activists rather than political leaders. I'd like to think that ensuring a better future (not admission to an Ivy, but a safe and peaceful world) is more deeply rooted than our aggression, greed or competitiveness. That taking care of our children is at the heart of human nature.

Meanwhile, I do wish my daughter and her friends didn't take their education for granted.  

But, as a wise and wonderful new Laureate noted, that's human nature too.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Teens and the Relativity of Time

Did you know that until the late 1800s, communities all over the United States determined their own time? There were more than 300 different time zones in our country alone! Cities and towns set their clocks by the sunrise and sunset — so not only did the time change place to place, but it changed throughout the year. When rail travel became popular, this wreaked havoc with the train schedules. So everyone was forced to adopt a standard.

When I stumbled upon this trivia recently, I was not as surprised as you might expect. You see, I realized several years ago that time is relative. In fact, sometimes I feel like my own household has multiple time zones. Or dimensions. Or not-so-parallel universes.

Let me explain.

One might think that three people living in a single 2,300 square foot house would all be on the same clock. Mais non, it turns out there is a lot of room for interpretation. 

We may all agree that it's 11:45 pm, for example. But, while the grownups equate this with "Late," the teenager protests that it's "Not." While I may be aghast that the reading for AP U.S. History isn't done yet, that same teen assures me that (a) she has plenty of time and (b) I am "so" overreacting.

Weekends present similar anomolies. Four days off for Rosh Hashanah (thank you, תודה רבה, all our Jewish friends) might seem like a liberal amount of time for rewriting a particular analysis of Virginia Woolf's Death of a Moth. Why then do Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday pass us by without so much as a book cracked, a pen put to paper, or a finger on a keyboard? Why were we, once again, wide awake and thoroughly stressed out late the night before the edited paper is due?

Oh wait, my bad. It wasn't "Late."

I'm old. I'm tired. I would go to bed at about 9:00 each night if I had my way. My daughter and I will have to disagree on the definition of "Late." 

But, how about more relative terms like "Now," "Soon," and "Later?"

When I ask, "Can you please put your backpack away now?" I mean "Now." As in, "This very instant in the time and space continuum." I don't think I'm alone in this either. Merriam-Webster defines that harmless three-letter word as "at the present time or moment." 

When my daughter hears the word "Now," she interprets it differently. "Now" means "Some time ... later ... maybe ... if you feel like it."

Of course, like time itself, the concept of "Now" is endlessly changeable. When my daughter wants/needs/absolutely-has-to-have something, the word takes on all sorts of urgency. 

Maybe the discrepancy is because of where we are in our own relative lives. She's still fairly new at this, while I've almost certainly moved past my own halfway mark. Maybe time flies a little (or a whole lot) when you're middle-aged. I bemoan how fast my daughter's growing up. She bemoans having to study for Physics. Somehow six hours with that textbook feels longer to her than the last six years did to me.

Then again, why do I assume that my interpretation of time is the correct one? Albert Einstein asserted that "Time is an illusion." He said that "The separation between past, present and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one."

So, maybe my daughter's an Einstein after all. Who knew?

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Stalker Videos: Then and Now

They say the only bad publicity is no publicity.

In the past week, Maroon 5's Adam Levine has generated a lot of publicity thanks to his sensational new video "Animals." When I say "sensational," I mean the stricter definition of the word, as in "causing great public interest and excitement." I do not — definitely do not — mean the more colloquial interpretation of excellent, fantastic or awesome. Actually, I am still in a bit of awe, having watched the thing. What awes me is that the video goes to endless staging and editorial ends to ensure that all the private junk of the clearly naked model is obscured, while dousing her in blood.

Apparently, blood — lots and lots of it — is okay. Nipples? Not so much.

This fits in perfectly with our society's acceptance of violence and prudishness about nudity. Movies, for example, will earn an R or X (or dreaded NC-17) rating for bare bodies. But, murder, dismembered limbs, shootings, stabbings, gore-a-palooza ... that's PG or PG-13.

"Animals," is a disturbing (deeply disturbing) best-of-both-worlds. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet of sex and blood. In fact, it's sex in blood. It's one hot mess by anyone's measure. And, what may be the most perverse thing of all is that it quite literally equates a blood bath with orgasmic passion.

Maybe I'm not the target audience. But who is?

In the video, Levine plays a butcher who develops a crush on one of his customers (portrayed by the singer's real-life wife, model Behati Prinsloo). He stalks her, following her on the street by day, staring up at her window after dark (the usually handsome Levine is particularly creepy in a hoodie and thick glasses).

In case we don't get it, the lyrics confirm that he's a predator.

Baby, I'm preying on you tonight
Hunt you down, eat you alive
Just like animals, animals
Like animals

Maybe you think that you can hide
I can smell your scent from miles
Just like animals, animals
Like animals

Clearly, she is his prey. And, if we have any doubt that he considers her a rare and succulent piece of meat, the stalking footage is intercut with Levine bumping and grinding to butchered carcasses in back of his shop. The climax (pun intended) of the video is the two of them making love, covered in blood.

There has been outrage over the video — as everyone involved no doubt expected — from individuals and a number of organizations, including RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Bottom line? The video is offensive on so many levels and, I would argue, it's much worse than that. The graphic images, combined with the music and the allure of a superstar, may incite copy-cat behavior from obsessed and less-than-all-there fans. Why would people of power and influence put images like these out there, knowing that they're glorifying rape and murder? 

This isn't a matter of censorship. It's a matter of gross irresponsibility.

But, isn't it creative? Not even! Despite the excessive use of stage blood (I hope it's stage blood!), Maroon 5 didn't even come up with a new concept. Turn back time a quarter of a century and watch George Michael's "Father Figure."

In that video (from Michael's huge hit album Faith), the singer plays a cab driver who develops a crush on one of his passengers (sound familiar?). He stalks her, showing up at a runway show (she's a model), lingering in doorways, compulsively cutting out pictures of her. In case, we don't get it, he sings that "sometimes love can be mistaken for a crime." But, the refrain demonstrates nobler emotions as well:

I will be your father figure
Put your tiny hand in mine
I will be your preacher teacher
Anything you have in mind
I will be your father figure
I have had enough of crime
I will be the one who loves you
Until the end of time

Yes, it's still creepy. And as a feminist and the mother of a teenage daughter, I do see disturbing elements in it. But, it's nowhere near as graphic or threatening. Much of the video is filmed in black and white with a smoky film noir feeling. It was stylish and cutting edge (Michael was one of music video's leading innovators in the 80s). It was sexy, without being ... well ... downright disgusting.

I'm 52 years old, and naturally I'm going to gravitate to the culture that was popular when I was young rather than that targeting today's generation. Alone in my car, I prefer George Michael to Maroon 5. I don't think I'm becoming more conservative as I get older. I still think of myself as liberal and artistic.

But, I don't think music videos should show women being stalked (yes, that includes yours, George dear). And I certainly don't think that the media should present images that equate sex and a bloodbath. Music videos in general have objectified women since the genre began.

Mr. Levine, you have taken it to a new low. Let's just hope no one tries to take it lower.

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pass the Popcorn: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Movies were such an important part of my teen years.

In my neighborhood, on Manhattan's upper westside, we had a number of different theatres. The Beacon, now a famous venue for bands, was showing blockbusters then. Five minutes away, there were the Embassy, the Paramount and two Cinema Studios, side-by-side auditoriums that tended toward smaller indies and foreign films. Directly across Broadway was the Regency, which specialized in sliverscreen classics, organized into wonderful monthly festivals by genre or star or studio. But after all these years, the only one left is Loews 83rd, which somehow expanded (and apparently moved a block) into the AMC Loews 84th. It's now been supersized (along with everything at McDonalds) into a 6-auditorium multiplex. I haven't been there, but I've heard they have cushy reclining seats.

At any rate, growing up in New York City in the 1970s, with no cars or malls or digital devices, movies were a frequent and favorite teen-time free-time pastime. 

Today in the suburbs in the 2010s? Not so much. 

After all, kids have access to so much media on so many devices pretty much all the time. It typically takes a major motion picture event — something along the line of The Hunger Games — to motivate my teenage daughter to head to an actual, analog, real-life, box-office-and-tickets-and-concession-stands theatre.

So, when we recently saw a preview for the new Disney movie Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, AND we both thought it looked fun, AND then I happened to get an offer for "exclusive VIP" sneak preview tickets, I felt like I'd hit the jackpot. Fortunately, my daughter had only an unrealistic amount of homework (as opposed to an insane amount of homework), and she wanted to go.

The multiplex was a half an hour drive away, in unrelenting rain, after a long day of attending school for her and leading a copywriting workshop for me. We got lost on the way and we were both getting over colds ... but, we went for it. The only snafu (other than the aforementioned weather and fatigue and confusing directions) was that the popcorn line was too long (why do these giant theatre complexes always have two people trying to help two hundred hungry patrons?). We gave up, went in to choose our seats and figured we could eat something after.

The theatre was packed (I guess we weren't such "exclusive VIPs" after all) with lots of families and little kids. But, they soon quieted down and everyone was almost immediately engaged with young Alexander and his birthday-from-hell. Actually, the whole premise of the movie is that Alexander is the only one in his family who doesn't lead a charmed life (as his older brother says, "hashtag blessed"). So, he wishes that they could experience what it's like to be him. And — voila! — they do. His out-of-work dad (Steve Carrell, whom I adore) finally has a break in his job search which is hilariously sabotaged by a marker-eating baby, a pirate shirt, and a Japanese barbecue gone blazingly bad. His mom (Jennifer Garner) is up for a promotion at her publishing company when an insidious typo in her book Who's Ready to Jump on the Potty not only destroys her chances but earns her the wrath of an elderly Dick Van Dyke. His older brother ends up car-less, license-less, and girlfriend-less on the night of the prom (in a powder blue tux, no less). And his aspiring actress sister plays a most mixed-up and memorable Peter Pan after downing an inordinate amount of particularly potent cough syrup.

Still optimistic, the family asserts that the day can't get any worse. Of course, it does. Enter, a crocodile in their living room and the "Thunder Down Under" in their backyard. It all ended happily, of course. And, except that we were starving (Really! WTF with the popcorn line, movie theatre people?), we had a wonderful time.

On the way home (after we got lost again, twice, looking for Panera), we talked about school and friends and work and plans ... it was just great. We talked about whether she was ready  for college (she's not), and whether she will be in 23 months (she will). We talked about our family's values and the fact that she's growing up (into a fairly remarkable person, I might add). I can't remember the last time we had such a heart-to-heart.

It was worth rallying after a long day. It was worth driving an hour (we won't include the unplanned detours). It was even worth watching a whole movie without popcorn. (Really?)

In fact, I'd go so far as to say it wasn't "terrible, horrible, no good or very bad" at all.

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