Monday, February 28, 2011

Mainstreaming Conservatism

Kristina Loew at the Revealer has recently made an interesting comment about pop culture. She says:

“From movies to music, conservative voices have cornered the tween scene, that 12 – 13 year old demographic which often looks to their favorite stars for moral guidance (and ways to spend their parents’ paychecks). “

Loew calls this “the mainstreaming of conservatism,” and wonders if it is time for parents to ask if it has gone too far. Of course, for those of us in opposition to the worldview upheld by Twilight, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, and Justin Bieber, the answer is clear. But the vast majority of parents of tweens are likely in support of the evidently uniform worldview of their cultural role models.

For me, the basic observation raises a different question: Who’s to blame?

Just why is it that the only persons put forward in the popular tween market are ones who have been instilled with thoroughly conservative perspectives on sex, religion, and other potentially divisive social topics? Are these just the sorts of people of whom tweens demand more, or are tweens simply swallowing whatever they are being fed? If a roomful of record executives and casting agents are determining the moral content of the stars they introduce to the public, are we to lay blame on them for pulling the strings, or on the young consumers for applauding the puppet show? And what motivation is there for that manipulation in the first place? Do the men in power strive to control the culture of the emergent generation, or is it something less conspiratorial – that they simply fear outcry from parents if their kids are introduced to threatening, progressive ideas too early in life?

Perhaps that fear is justified. Let us not forget the tear-filled testimonies that fill the media every time the television exposes unprepared audiences to a one-second flash of a nipple or half of a swear word. A culture of sensitivity is no doubt providing at least a partial underpinning to a culture of mainstreaming conservatism, and who is to blame for that? Is the moral make-up of modern parents really so staunchly conservative, or are liberal parents simply not doing enough to make their voices audible? Is that even feasible, or does the media drown them out by privileging one side over another?

But then, why are there any sides on the issue of what values and ideologies we should be introducing our children to through their pop stars? I’m not one to claim that teens or even pre-teens can’t understand issues of social and political import, but I would much prefer that they be given a broad span of time to arrive at their ideas about them independently. I have much respect for some young people. I actually think that I myself was smarter at fifteen than I am now at twenty-five. But in my perhaps glib estimation, the more mature teens and tweens, with more thoroughly formulated ideals, are the least likely to admire the pop stars available to them in the mainstream. If that’s true, then the children whose views are likely to be shaped by the dominant culture are the ones who simply haven’t thought much about the topics about which it’s telling them what to think.

If some kids just want to listen to syrupy pop music and watch vampires proselytize about Mormonism, let them. There is no reason for the makers of that material to be bound up with social views that, as near as I can tell, even they haven’t fully formulated yet. Why do we think they should be role models, rather than just entertainers? Why is there even cause to seek Justin Bieber’s sage counsel on women’s reproductive health? Why not let him sing and earn his six figures, and wait until both he and his audience have grown up enough to develop opinions that they hold with serious conviction?

This post consists of a lot more questions than opinions. All I know is that something’s got to give. There’s got to be a breaking point that keeps us from introducing our least reflective youths to our most conservative ideas, and growing them into the social structure that keeps recycling that dynamic. It may come by unseating the cultural powers-that-be, or just by raising our voices over theirs, or by teaching our children to think for themselves earlier and more often, but whatever the means, let it come.

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