In Lenore Skenazy’s most recent post, “What’s the Difference Between a Sack Lunch & a Recently Beating Heart?” she points out that “This is how society changes. Not with a cataclysmic coup, but with thousands of little ‘tips’ that trade one kind of lifestyle (walking to school, dropping a kid off) with another (driving to school, coming inside, overseeing the lunch transfer).”
She is right, and some of these changes are made so gradually that we don’t even notice. I’m guilty of falling for it as much as anyone. Lenore has admitted in past posts that she tried to ‘child-proof’ her home when her kids were little. Only later did it occur to her that maybe a better course of action was to teach them how to navigate the ‘dangers’ in the house, rather than keeping her kids from ever encountering them.
We are life learning free rangers, so I’m conscious on a daily basis of not over-protecting my kids; of letting them experience the world on their own as much as possible given their ages, and to be aware that they are far more capable than most present-day ‘experts’ would have me believe. Despite this, I am sometimes reminded of how sanitized our lives have become and how little we think about it – to our overall detriment.
This weekend, while we sat inside waiting on a hurricane, we watched “Footloose” on DVD with our kids. “Footloose” came out 27 years ago in 1984, the fall of my Senior year in high school. I loved it. We all loved it. I saw it several times in the theater. It made us all want to go dancing. (Not, may I point out, to become professional dancers, but to dance. There is a large and distinct difference.) So I was very excited to watch it again with my kids, and they enjoyed it (though probably not as much as I did).
However. I admit I was shocked. There were so many things that would never make it into the movie if it was made today. (Although, since the re-make opens in October, I guess they have made the movie today. It will be interesting to see if I’m right. ) First, in the original, all the kids smoke and drink. Kevin Bacon’s character, Lori Singer’s, Sarah Jessica Parker’s, Chris Penn’s; all of them. They are supposed to be Seniors in high school, so therefore they are all underage. They sneak out and cross the state line to go dancing in a bar, smoking and buying beer after beer along the way. In movies today, (especially PG ones, which is what “Footloose” was rated) only the bad kids smoke. And drinking before you’re 21? Also only for the degenerate characters. Secondly, the “Footloose” characters all ride motorcycles while wearing no helmets. They swear like sailors (minus the “F” word) and there is even a scene in the boys’ shower where several male behinds are prominently featured. And the kids aren’t perfect looking. Lori Singer was skinny – all bony arms and legs – and Kevin Bacon had that weird hair that stuck out in all directions. They all danced in the movie but none of them were dancers, and you could tell. (Kevin Bacon had a dance double in the famous warehouse scene but that was it.)
I wonder if the “Footloose” that is being released in October will have the kids all drinking and smoking? Will they bomb around helmet-less on motorcycles? Will there be a locker room scene? (And if there is, will the movie be rated R?) I’ve seen the trailer so I know that the people in the new version are all prettier than those in the original; professional dancers with flawless skin, teeth and hair.
Is this bad? I guess not, but I think we’ve lost something. A lot of things, actually, common sense among them. Everything we see now – or much of what we allow kids to see- is so sanitized that it never approaches anything close to reality. Supposedly if we let kids see people smoking and drinking it’s a bad influence on them. I don’t think that’s accurate. I never thought, “Hey, Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer are smoking and drinking in that movie. Therefore I will too!” Nowadays we seem to believe that our kids will be irreversibly swayed by any vice or temptation, and therefore must never be exposed to them. Until they are 18, when of course they will magically become mature, discerning and self-sufficient over night.
This hyper-sanitization of the culture is ironic, because people like to talk about all the violence and sex that kids are exposed to now as opposed to when I was a kid. I would argue with that. Mostly I think kids are far more sheltered (or maybe babied is a better word), and not in a way that is beneficial. They can’t play in the dirt or touch anything outside unless they have hand sanitizer at the ready. They can’t walk anywhere alone, and if they want to pursue a sport or activity, they have to do it from the age of 3 so that they can be really good at it. Nothing can be done just for fun. Their teeth must be perfect, zits aren’t allowed and McDonald’s is akin to feeding your kids rat poison. Bikes, scooters and god forbid, motorcycles can only be ridden if you are covered head to toe in protective gear. No climbing trees, or jumping off play structures. No playing with toy guns (because clearly that means you’ll grow up to be a serial killer) or weapons of any kind.
I think our kids are smarter than this. Or at least, they could be if we’d allow it. It’s kind of hard to make good decisions when you’re never presented with anything but the most desirable option. A decision implies being able to weigh the pros and cons, the good and bad. How do you learn to do that if never exposed to the cons, the bad?
The answer is, you don’t.