Garbage In, Garbage Out

I’m feeling a little preachy today, so if you are not in the mood, you might not want to read any further.  I’ll forgive you with a promise of something more light-hearted and less didactic in the near future.  However, if you dare, read on.  Momma G’s on a tirade.

When my kids were little, a local store advertised a sale on comic books.  Thinking of “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “Superman” and “Archie,” I carted the kids across town with the promise that they could each pick out a comic book or two to read on a hot summer afternoon.  When we arrived at the store, I was disappointed to find that the selection was limited to violent story lines with aggressive main characters who pursued women with huge breasts and tight clothing.  I explained to my children that we would not be buying any comic books and herded them back to the car.  They were angry and disappointed that I had broken my promise, and I knew a valid explanation was in order.  Knowing it was lunch time, I asked if they were hungry.  They stated that they were, so I asked what they would do if for lunch I served rotten hot dogs and slimy garbage.  Horrified, they said that they could not eat garbage, because it would make them throw up.  I agreed, and used analogy to help them understand that if we fed their minds garbage, then garbage would come out in their thoughts and actions.

Earlier this week the internet was afire with a video of teenagers tormenting Karen Klein, a sixty-eight year old bus monitor. Our hearts broke as we watched her wipe tears from her cheeks while four middle school students pummeled her with verbal assaults and threats of physical violence.  And while subsequent reports quoted the offenders’ and their parents’ apologies, we will not easily forget that our American youth can be so despicably unkind. 

But what do we expect?  Our culture has taken our right to free speech and pushed it beyond the boundaries of common decency with an “anything goes” mentality.  Our Facebook pages are peppered with tirades.  Adults and teenagers publicly punctuate their verbal outbursts with swears, cuss words and crude references to body parts whenever they please- no matter who is nearby.  And our television is permeated shows that transform ill behaving adults and children into pop culture idols.  Miniature divas scream, stamp their feet and command their parents to give them whatever they desire, and then are rewarded with crowns, money and fame.  Dance teachers scream at students and their parents, while the students and parents scream right back at them.  “Housewives” overturn tables and hurl insults at each other, and chefs spit profanities and insults at cowering chef wannabes.  This is reality TV at its best… or its worst.

As adults we watch these programs, tsk-tsk at the ill-behaved, and laugh at their antics.  But what we fail to realize is that we are raising an entire generation who will process this behavior as acceptable.  Children do not have the maturity to differentiate between “reality TV” and reality, nor do they automatically know how to censor themselves.  Any parent knows that children are drawn to swear words like moths are to flames.   Babies might jabber unintelligible chatter ninety-nine percent of the time, but you can bet that the one clear word that your cherub can pronounce will be the curse that escaped when you stubbed your toe on the leg to his changing table.  Just think of what your seven-year old can learn by watching an hour of cable TV!

If ill behavior was limited to television, we might have a chance, but we are assaulted at every turn.  I was grocery shopping last week when a man walked toward me in the dry cereal aisle.  As I searched for the Cheerios, he spouted a steady stream of f-bombs for everyone to hear.  I looked around to find who he was yelling at, but I was the only one in the aisle.  I felt a flash of panic, wondering why he could be hollering at me, until he reached my shopping cart and I saw the blue tooth poking from his ear.  I have heard mothers swear in the Pediatrics waiting room, totally oblivious to the fact that their wide-eyed children are watching their every move.  People react to the inconvenience of a delayed flight by dressing down the airline representative at the ticket counter.  On the highway, people behind us flash their lights and tailgate, as if to say “Get moving!  My agenda is much more important than yours.”   People have even posted swears and insulting comments on my WordPress blog, although I cannot imagine why, since reading it is purely voluntary.

So what do we do?  Are we hopelessly doomed?  Will the Gen Xers give way to the Gen X-rated?  I am skeptical, but I do believe we can reverse the poison that has seeped into our culture.  It takes work- work to find the words to express our frustration while still maintaining our integrity.  Work to change the TV channel to a program that enlightens, encourages, entertains and educates our children with acceptable standards of behavior.  Work to show our children that they are precious gems that don’t deserve to be fed garbage.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a re-run of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on television.  Maybe if I watch it again, I’ll be a little more like Atticus Finch.

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