Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Helpless: The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Today a coworker and I were talking about music. Specifically, about music for Twelve and the foundational influence of music in the teen years. My coworker agreed that music is an important part of the developing psyche; he remembers realizing that he didn't just have to listen to whatever music was on the radio, that there was new and different music out there just waiting to be discovered.

Now, I'm not much of a music person; I own few CDs (Black Eyed Peas, Pink Martini, and the soundtrack to Ocean's Twelve that didn't even have the bit that I bought it for) and my iPod (20GB, 16GB available) has only whatever music that a former roommate put on it in a fit of compassion in 2006. At work, when I'm in charge, we listen to whatever Pandora station was on the day before; my coworkers are constantly seeding stations with stuff I've never heard of.

The upshot is that there's rarely music playing in our house: I can't concentrate on anything else when there's music playing and I can't ever figure out what the heck they're saying anyway. (And then when I do finally make out the words, most of the time it's racist, classist, or horribly degrading to women. Way too many catchy songs have been totally ruined for me.)

This means that for most of her life, Twelve's pretty much grown up in an unintentional music vacuum. About two years ago, she began to acquire a few CDs - Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga - all fairly innocuous I suppose, but it still bothered me that the entirety of her musical exposure was modern, mainstream crap.

I freaked out a tiny bit and sent out a pathetic message to several musically-inclined friends asking for suggestions/donations of empowering, non-sexist tunes to try and remedy the situation. One friend was kind enough to prepare five or six CDs of woman-friendly songs, complete with set lists. I couldn't wait for Twelve to claim women's music history for her own, discover a love for [insert your favorite woman artist here], and join the ranks of earnest feminists.

Didn't happen.

Okay, fine, no biggie, I let the matter drop. I continued to enforce the no-popular-radio ban, citing the awfulness of commercials, and Twelve continued to play Lady Gaga on incessant repeat and read lots of books. This was okay. Not ideal, but okay.

For Christmas, Twelve was given an iPod Touch. I won't bore you with the details of its giver, but suffice it to say that Twelve's other parent has never bothered to actually participate in her upbringing and does not bother to think critically about which cultural influences are appropriate for her.

I am mostly resigned to Twelve having this small device of the devil's design. We worked together to establish appropriate parameters for its use (no email or internet browsing without permission, but using the chat and text functions is okay), every now and then it turns out to be handy to have the internet at hand, and it's an excellent behavior modification incentive. ("Do you want to lose the privilege of your iPod?" works amazingly well when Twelve is in full I-know-I'm-driving-you-nuts-but-aren't-I-cute-and-I-can-see-you-trying-not-to-smile performance mode.)

I'm only mostly resigned to its presence in her life for two reasons: For one thing, it's frightening to see her so zoned in on a tiny screen. You know how unsettling it is to see a toddler sitting, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed, in front of a TV? It's pretty much the same thing with Twelve and the iPod. Increasingly frequently, she's made to just put the damn thing away for awhile.

The other thing I'm not totally okay with is that it's got music on it: Country music. Top-40 music. Vacuous pop music. Music with horrifying lyrics and worse subtexts. For example, have you every actually listened to the words of that 'Extraterrestrials' song? If you take out the aliens, it's a recipe for abusive relationships, plain and simple. Children - children! - are being taught and formed and shaped by this stuff, all the time, all over the place.

"It's a pretty helpless thing, being a parent," I concluded this morning, after admitting that I've been totally unsuccessful in shaping Twelve's taste in music. You just can't control what teaches and forms and shapes your children. You can try, up to a certain point. But you can only try, and the point at which you lose control comes very, very soon.

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