As an author and a mother, I am both concerned and discouraged by the book, film and television projects of the last year that reinforce and even celebrate lack of self esteem, promiscuity and shallowness. Are there no teenage heroes and heroines anymore that possess real spirit?
The premiere of Steven Spielberg's new TV show "United States of Tara" depressed me last night, with yet another sassy teenage girl character who is sex-obsessed at 15 and greets her boyfriend with phrases like "Hey, sex robot". Her storyline was mostly concerned with purchasing the "morning after pill" and shopping with credit cards stolen from her father. Welcome to a media dominated by Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and MTV reality contestants as role models, a universe where even the Disney teen idols are taking their clothes off for the internet (and Vanity Fair).
Hasn't this run its course yet? Does anyone else think this isn't entertaining? And at least a bit disturbing?
I'm not saying that we need to recreate "The Waltons" and "Father Knows Best" for the 21st century, but our children have minds, hearts and souls that need to be nourished. They need to see that it is cool and desirable to be intelligent, confident and have a conscience. Why does this seem to be impossible in the current climate of entertainment, and how do we change that? Why are there no teen characters on TV who volunteer at retirement homes, help out at food drives, march for AIDS awareness and care about the world that they live in? And don't tell me it's because real kids don't act that way, because my kids do all of those things, as do many of the teenagers I know. They're not striving to be like the Gossip Girls or the Tool Academy guys. They want to live authentic, rich lives - and incidentally, I live just over the hill from Hollywood.
My concern spirals to the "Twilight" series of books, where another teenage girl with little-to-no personality finds her identity through falling in love with the most gorgeous boy in town and his family of super-model-pretty vampires, who are soooo fabulously beautiful - because they are "undead". Wow, let's just stop and think about that message for a minute. I have been talking to teenage girls ad nauseum about the popularity of this series, and they are across the board 'in love" with the vampire boy, Edward Cullen. But the theme here is that Edward loves the teen girl, Bella, with absolute obsession. OK, fair enough. Obsessive love stories are a huge part of human history and I understand that part of the appeal. But why can't we create stories where the teenage girl has strength, integrity, intelligence and personality - and finds a boy who loves her with that kind of power BECAUSE of those qualities? Why can't we create stories where the high school girl doesn't have to ABANDON HER HUMANITY (while also risking the life of her mother, among other things) in order to be loved by the super-human (or sub-human) Romeo? By the age of 18, the "heroine" of the Twilight series has abandoned her parents and her humanity, become a vampire and had an inhuman baby. Really, is this what we want for our daughters?
Don't get me wrong, I believe in free will and I am horrified by censorship in the arts, and would never support that in any manner. What this really all all adds up to is PARENTING. I believe that if your daughters are reading the Twilight series, so should you. Read it and discuss it with them find out what it is that they are responding to. Pay attention, be involved - and help them to find art that inspires them in a more constructive way.
But most of all I am asking myself of late, WHY are these projects continuing to be so plentiful and WHY aren't there more projects with real spirit out there for our kids to attach to? Do they exist but simply aren't getting noticed? Or do we need to make a concerted effort to begin creating such projects? If a book series, film or television program with real depth and social value had the same marketing as "Tara" or "Twilight" I have no doubt that it would have the same success.
Steven Spielberg has six children and a social conscience. I wonder if he has ever looked at his art form from this perspective. Because it's time that somebody did.
We are at risk of creating a generation of shallow, self-absorbed consumers, who have lost the understanding that love and sex are sacred. They deserve better. Thus, I throw the gauntlet down to all of my artistic friends in Hollywood and elsewhere: let's start creating and promoting work that is really entertaining for our kids, but also inspirational.
Their future, perhaps, depends on it.