Have you talked to a child lately? How about a teenager? Holy God are they annoying, self-centered brats. The above picture of Justin Bieber typifies the whole problem. Stupid haircut – check. Backwards hat – check. Smug facial expression + peace sign – check. Just looking at that picture makes me want to punch America in the testicles. Then I realize that I’m in my late 20’s and I’m already starting to sound like a cranky old man, and that makes me sad. Then I watch this video of my favorite cranky old man, Grandpa Simpson, and I get happy again. Where was I? Oh yeah, idiot kids.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized these little bastards aren’t to blame. They are the natural results of a changing world. While adults have always found children insufferable to some degree, advances and trends of the past decade have accelerated the levels exponentially. Think of the parable of the snake in Natural Born Killers, told by the wise Indian Warren Red Cloud:
Once upon a time, a woman was picking up firewood. She came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow. She took the snake home and nursed it back to health. One day the snake bit her on the cheek. As she lay dying, she asked the snake, “Why have you done this to me?” And the snake answered, “Look, b-tch, you knew I was a snake.”
Like the woman, we shouldn’t pin the blame on children for making us hate them. They’re doing exactly what they’ve always done. To quote one of history’s greatest minds, “You know what I blame this on the breakdown of? Society.” Here are five things that led to that breakdown.
The Internet generally levels the playing field between public and private figures. Everyone has a platform for their voice, a platform that can be seen across the world. Case in point: my first feature, The Five Greatest Jobs in the Entertainment Industry, was read and shared by one of its subjects, Zane Lamprey. That took me a second to wrap my head around. It hadn’t even dawned on me that someone I wrote about might read it. If it had, I would have said much meaner things about Leno.
Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, ramps this issue up to 11. By friending their favorite celebrities, or getting replies or re-Tweets from them, kids live in a world where it’s normal to think the things they say will be seen and addressed by the power elite. For example, here’s a sentence I overheard at Wendy’s this winter:
Early teenage girl: President Obama is an assh-le. He never replies to my Tweets.
Think about the level of entitlement contained in that sentence. If that sentence were a book, it would just be titled The Audacity. I’m dying to know what she Tweeted him that she felt required the leader of the free world to stop all his important duties to reply. Did she solve the health care issue in under 140 characters? Or was she hoping for something more like this:
BarackObama @RudeGURRLL69 Team Jacob. Cuzza dose abs, amirite?
Allow me to start off with a confession: I was a terrible child. I was an obnoxious, snot-nosed, know it all. I would get a hold of a fact or two, and proceed to beat it into the head of every single person I came across until I found another fact to start the process over. I would interrupt adult’s conversations and pester them until they gave me attention. “Hey. Hey. *repeatedly tugs on pants leg* Hey. Did you know the pterodactyl was the biggest bird in history? And that the allosauras was even more dangerous than a tyrannosaurus?” I know. I’m shocked I’m a blogger now, too.
I relay this anecdote to point out that this took place in the late 1980s. Pre-Google. I only had access to facts I learned in school, or that my parents had unwisely given to me. Kids now have the entire world literally at their fingertips. When you combine their limitless and infuriating curiosity with a high speed Internet connection, the result is that children all have the capability to become know it alls. And when I say “know it all,” I don’t mean it in the common “jeez that kid is annoying” way. I mean they can actually know everything. Or at least more than their parents. It’s the same thing to an eight year old.
Children’s television appears to be created by psychedelic enthusiast liberal arts college dropouts. Just about every show consists of impossibly bright colors, annoying songs, and super-multiculturalism. This is typified by shows like “Dora the Explorer,” “Sid the Science Kid” and “Yo Gabba Gabba.” Especially “Yo Gabba Gabba.” That show is the Nerds Rope of children’s television – hard pieces of brightly colored sugar glued onto a strand of gummi. Exhibit A.
Contrast these shows with the shows past generations grew up with. Sure, there was educational stuff like “Sesame Street” and “Reading Rainbow,” but there was also pure, unadulterated cartoons. Those shows didn’t try to force learning down our throats or send us into an epileptic seizure. They just entertained us. I spent the vast majority of my childhood watching a cat and mouse assault each other with kitchen utensils, a coyote rig explosives and fall off a cliff, and a skunk try to rape a cat. All with no negative consequences (besides perhaps a cone-shaped lump rising from the head that could be pushed back down). And I turned out fine. *watches old man fall, doesn’t help, laughs so hard that bladder control fails*
Movies Aimed at Tweens
The Twilight films get a lot of scorn heaped on them, as much for their annoyingly rabid fanbase as the films themselves. They deserve more. As with Harry Potter, movie executives took a series of wildly popular teen fantasy books and turned them into a series of wildly profitable films (and yet not one studio has been able to turn A Confederacy of Dunces into a movie. But I digress). The result has been the malls and movie theaters of America being flooded with children dressed as vampires or wizards like someone up and moved Halloween. You know what kids who dressed up as wizards and vampires used to be called? Nerds.
Contrast that with movies aimed at kids from my generation: The Little Rascals, The Mighty Ducks, The Sandlot, Little Giants*, Rookie of the Year, Blank Check. Look, none of those were cinematic masterpieces by any means. But they did encourage kids to go outside and do things. Things like play sports, have adventures, or defraud a criminal syndicate and blow the money on four wheelers. You know, kid stuff.
* did you know that Shawna Waldron, the actress who played star linebacker Becky “Ice Box” O’Shea, had a pretty explicit nude scene in the most recent of the naughty Poison Ivy movies? You didn’t? Well then, happy Googling.
The Continuum of Wussitude
Face it, every generation gets a little whinier and less hardy than the one that preceded it. My grandfather’s generation lived through World War II. He lied about his age in the hopes of enlisting while in high school. That’s badass. My father’s generation was responsible for Woodstock. They grew long and retarded hair all over their head to rebel against their straight laced parents. When the United States went to war with Vietnam, they protested by holding signs, singing folk music, and/or fleeing the country to avoid the draft.
My generation grew up with messages from our super-hippy parents that you can do whatever you want to do in life. We wanted to play video games. When the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the majority of us couldn’t be bothered (notable exception: Uproxx’s own veteran, Matt Ufford. A much braver man than I, who has earned the right to spoil as many “Lost” plot points as he damn well pleases. It’s right there in the PATRIOT Act. Look it up, Losties). Instead of becoming hippies, a group whose incessant whining came from actually giving a damn, we became proudly apathetic hipsters.
Here’s the sad thing: the next generation is being raised by my generation. In under 80 years, we’ve gone from proudly fighting a war, to actively protesting a war, to gleefully ignoring current events until Bono and Jay-Z tell us it’s time to vote. In short, we’ve gone from this:
to this (NSFW language and vomit):
I shudder to think of how whiny and weak the next generation will be. And we have no one to blame but ourselves. We gave them the tools to be this way. I mean, take a look at the top baby names of 2009. A sampling:
Sorry, Founding Fathers. The noble democratic experiment you referred to as America is officially a failure.