John Cave Osborne wonders if censoring his daughter’s access to pop music is the right thing to do.
My daughter, Pookie, may never win a penmanship award, but that doesn’t detract from the beauty of her writing. Lately she’s taken to leaving her mother and me notes, usually in the kitchen, to prohibit us from various sweets she’s classified as hers and hers only. Whenever I run across one of her communiqués, I know I’m in for a real treat, even if the note’s purpose is to prevent me from having one.
Accordingly, I was tickled when I found one of her sloppily-written notes the other night. But my delight quickly disappeared as I read the downward-tilting and crooked scribblings. It was the lyrics to Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”—more specifically, Snoop Dogg’s part.
Color me old school, but no 9-year-old girl should ever write “all that ass, hangin’ out.” Ever.
Lately Pookie has been asking me to download various (and morally questionable) songs on her iPod, “California Gurls” among them. Maybe I’m a prude, but I’ve found it difficult to give my ponytail-sporting daughter unfettered access to tunes like Jeremiah’s ”Birthday Sex.” So I’ve been putting her off.
But truth be told, I’m split down the middle. On one hand, many of today’s popular songs contain lyrics dripping with age-inappropriate themes. And while I realize that Pook probably isn’t catching the double entendre when Perry belts out “Sun-kissed skin so hot / we’ll melt your popsicle,” I’d still rather she not be exposed to veiled fellatio references (or is it coitus?), thank you very much. Hell, I’m having a hard enough time with her John Stamos obsession. (Damn you, Nickelodeon.)
On the other hand, songs containing sexually explicit themes, misogynistic lyrics, and drug references are hardly new. My very first favorite song was “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns. The premise? Sammy is driving around in his Chevy van when he stops to pick up some random hitch-hiking chick, who naps innocently for a bit in his front seat. Upon awakening she grabs the singer “by the hand” and next thing you know, ol’ Sammy is banging this nomadic nympho in the back of his (presumably disgusting) vehicle. Hardly an appropriate song for a 5-year-old to know by heart—yet I turned out OK, right? … Right?
Just as I was during the ’70s, Pookie’s getting plenty of exposure to today’s pop culture regardless of what I do. Her biological dad’s girlfriend has much older children. Each time she returns from his house, she has learned something new, most likely from one of those older kids she idolizes. Not that I’m blaming her dad (or his girlfriend) at all. I was the youngest of five, so I get it. (You think I discovered “Chevy Van” all by myself?) So if Pookie’s gonna stumble upon the very things I’m trying to shield her from in the first place, why even bother?
The other day, I read a wonderful post by Jason Falls. His topic was a controversial one: the proposed 13-story Manhattan Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero. Jason’s take was as succinct as it was clear. “Religious zealots,” he writes, “are to blame for the events of Sept. 11, 2001. … Religious zealots were to blame for the events of Nov. 18, 1978. … Blaming 9/11 on Muslims is like blaming Jonestown on Methodists. You’re generalizing and stereotyping and dividing our country. And you’re helping the cause not of Muslims, but of the extremists.”
I agree. The day our country decides where various places of worship belong and where they don’t will be a sad one. For that will mean our government has imposed the power of censorship on its citizens, thus rendering the first amendment—the right to gather and convene, as well as freedom of speech—impotent. And I don’t mean to get all John Milton on you, but his appeal to Parliament in 1644 to rescind government-sanctioned censorship, Areopagitica, is widely regarded as the best argument ever made against censorship of any kind. I was required to read excerpts from it in high school. It struck a chord with me then, and it still strikes a chord with me now.
So given that I’m all about freedom of speech, I can’t help but wonder why I’m all undone about a few age-inappropriate lyrics my 9-year-old probably doesn’t even understand yet.
It’s true I don’t want my little girl to grow up mistaking misogynistic sentiments as healthy ones. I don’t want her goal in life to be a sought-after piece of scantily-clad ass. I don’t want her to aspire to be the momentary apple of someone like Snoop Dogg’s eye when, in “California Gurls,” he raps, “Kiss her, touch her, squeeze her buns.” (By the way, Snoop, buns? Really?)
So what should I do? Pull a Tipper Gore and censor everything my daughter listens to? Even though I know she’ll easily gain access to it regardless of my efforts? Thanks to the Internet, she’s mere keystrokes away from pulling up any number of vulgar things, no matter how many safety features we employ on our computer.
So, censorship? No. If I object to it in Manhattan, why should I employ it in my home? I would rather allow my daughter access to the media she’s hell-bent on accessing anyway. Will I keep my eye on her? You bet. Will I impose limits on her? Of course. But censor her? No. Instead I’ll have to have faith and trust that the strength of our family, coupled with the direction it provides, will be sufficient enough to preclude Pookie from the mis-wired legions of her generation, who’ll eventually get swept away in a sea of pop-culture superficiality. I’ll stay as plugged-in as I can to the things she likes, enough, at least, to enable me to chime in with my two cents each time the opportunity presents itself.
By doing so, I’ll be a bigger part of her life than I would be if I were to simply deny her access to anything that doesn’t completely jive with the values I hope she’ll one day embrace. By doing so, I’ll be better attuned to her and the issues she’ll face as she creeps ever closer toward adolescence. By doing so, I’ll likely be able to keep an even closer eye on her as she won’t be forced to go behind my back to sneak a forbidden cookie from the jar.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some songs to download. And while I’m not necessarily thrilled about it, at least there’s a silver lining: none of them are sung by Justin Bieber. That kid gives me the creeps.