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Growing Up Stupid

Today's generation often doesn't seem to realize that to prosper in the world sometimes you must curb your urges, that there are social limits, unwritten "standards."

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Today's generation often doesn't seem to realize that to prosper in the world sometimes you must curb your urges, that there are social limits, unwritten "standards."

Go to a college classroom and watch the number of students who walk in late and listen to the regular ringing — or playing of rap tunes — on cell phones. Some students, of course, quickly halt the offending sounds, but more simply answer them as if there were nothing more important than their roommates' critiques of "Real World."

Just the frolics of youth? A simple lack of courtesy?

Might be. But other youth actions like the Abu Ghraib prison guards who demeaned Iraqi prisoners didn't consider the stupidity of netcasting the proof. This should concern us all.

Most of those soldiers were very young. Whether or not older officers suggested those demeaning actions, they were at least smart enough to stay out of the photographs. And not to post them on the Internet.

Kids have always done stupid things, but I wonder if there's a pattern here, one that's been growing since the mid-1980s.

It was about that time that advertisers started recognizing the allure of the youth market. Hook kids on buying and they'd be ´┐Żber-consumers forever, product sellers reasoned. Consequently, media began catering heavily to youth. All important values became centered on something to do with sex — from giving your mouth "sex appeal" to Harvard and other colleges, in a convoluted equality concept, publishing porn mags for women.

One Northwestern fraternity sells T-shirts: "Freshmen Girls, Get 'Em While They're Skinny."

Generally speaking, advertisers and broadcast media don't want consumers to bring their brains. We realize — when we reason — that if you have that frat attitude you get charged with rape. Bringing our brains, we know that the babe does not come with the car, and that what comes with beer are hangovers and hung-over belts.

Thinking, we can see product placement in movies, and know that no matter who likes "girls from Abercrombie and Fitch," layers of trendy clothes on an ugly girl are still clothes on an ugly girl.

We realize — when we think — that boob jobs, tummy staples and penile implants are major surgeries that can kill us.

We realize — when we deliberate — that being a part of the "Pepsi Generation," and "Supersizing It," and "Spicing Up the Night" lead to obesity and diabetes.

But realizing all that is simply not "cool" or "hype," or whatever the latest slang to those raised on "Just do it!" and now, "Blink. Don't Think."

For 30 years, advertisers and broadcast media have made "following-the-cool-crowd" the ultimate value. Today we're reaping that harvest. It's become smart to be stupid.

Paris Hilton, remember, is a household name. So is Jessica Simpson. Anna Nicole Smith is a horrifying hybrid of Yogi Berra, Marshall McLuhan and P.T. Barnum.

Hip-hop artists today trash a neighborhood with graffiti in order to make the background to their songs more "real." "News" is the latest in the Brad-Jennifer saga.

Jerry Springer blatantly celebrates idiocy. His female audience members wait with hands on T-shirts hoping that the camera finds them so they can produce a quick flash.

Kids do the "do not try these at home" antics of the "Jackass" movie and TV show. The "Friday" movies are more derogatory toward blacks than anything "Amos and Andy" ever considered. MTV turns the feminist movement into the right to wear less, think less, self-respect less. Pimp and "ho" costumes lead the pack at Halloween.

Discretion, today, simply no longer seems the better part of valor.

Worse: Many of our young can't conceive of how that sentence might apply to their lives — if they can understand it. It's like "thinking" and "perceiving" are no longer available. Lifelong, everything in their world has catered to their wishes and desires to the point that making intelligent choices requires too much work.

That's just the way advertisers want it. It makes selling easier.

Of course, I could be entirely wrong. As an old guy, maybe I'm seeing what I want to see. Maybe I'm jealous of youth. Maybe the incidents are entirely isolated. Maybe advertisers want intelligent young consumers.

I do so hope I'm wrong. S



Randy Salzman, a former journalism professor, is now a doctoral candidate in public policy at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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