Monday, February 6, 2012

Youth and Beauty

I’ve enjoyed the hell out of the last several weeks in my classroom reading To Kill a Mockingbird. The kids have enjoyed it too. Every day, we challenge a different stereotype. What does it mean to be black? White? Southern? A girl? Poor? Educated? Mentally healthy? Religious? Old? Young?

Our discussions have been rich, and the kids seemed to embrace Atticus’ philosophy. You never really know a person until you get inside his skin and walk around in it. I was energized. Attitudes were adjusting, including mine. One book really can change people’s lives.

Cut to today.

“Who were you rooting for yesterday, Ms. Owens?”

“The Giants.”

“Really? Why?”

“Well, normally I’m not a fan of either team, but we have a couple of connections to the Giants, and that seemed like a good reason to root for them. Plus, I’m over the Patriots, and yeah, that’s probably sour grapes from when they beat teams I like, but whatever.”

“But Tom Brady’s hot! You have to root for him.”

“So is David Beckham, but I’m not buying his underwear.”

I watch a girl’s eyes glaze over. “I totally would.”

I realize my eyes have glazed over, and I shake myself back to reality. “Come on people. You do not have inferior minds. Surely, you base decisions like which team to root for and what products to buy on more than just physical beauty?”

Beavis and Butthead in the back of the room, “huhuhuhuhuh…Go Daddy!”

“I bought M&Ms this morning, but I based that on humor. They had the best commercial. Plus, I like M&Ms.”

“OH! It’s that kind of party!" Everyone laughed amidst general agreement that M&Ms had the best commercial. (This was the first commercial mentioned by students in every class. Good job M&M/Mars! You reached your target audience.)

“What about that half-time show? How old is Madonna anyway. She’s like my grandma’s age or something?”

“Yeah, seriously. Why do they keep getting old people?”

Ouch. This one hit home, and my knee jerked.

“Madonna hit the charts when I was in high school. She has adapted for thirty years. How many of your favorite artists will still be relevant when you’re in your forties?”

“Justin Bieber.”

I’m not making that up. I might have thrown up a little in my mouth. I resisted the urge to make a snide remark and further pigeon-hole myself. I had already planted a flag in “old people” land.

“Who says Madonna is still relevant?”

“We’re talking about her aren’t we? She played to a billion people last night. A lot of them are talking about her too. Plus, that awful song she just put out is on the radio every five minutes.”

“SEE!! You don’t even like her anymore! She’s old!”

“I don’t like that song because it’s stupid. Let’s see if I can sum up this discussion…Only hot people are worthy of our attention and fandom, and old people need to get out of our faces because they aren’t relevant anymore. Is that about right?”

Beavis and Butthead, “hehehehehehe….yeah.”

Everyone else backpedals warily, smelling a trap.

“Betty White is old, and we like her. She’s funny.”

“So old people are good for a laugh in a commercial, but leave the half-time show to us young, relevant folks?”

“You are totally twisting our words, Ms. Owens!”

“Then, please, tell me what you really mean.”

Several false starts, then, “Nevermind.”

“Uh huh…get out your homework.”

I’d like to say victory was mine, but it was hollow at best. I’d like to blame it on the fact that these kids are 15 years old, but I saw the same discussion on Facebook and Twitter last night.

We are only willing to get inside someone else’s skin and walk around in it as long as we can go back to our own young, beautiful skin to live.

My favorite commercial? The Audi headlights that blew up those eternally young, eternally beautiful vampires.

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