One constant in many John Hughes movies is the out-of-touch parent or adult. Authority figures are often presented as being clueless, either blissfully unaware of what it's like to be a teenager or outright hostile toward the situation. Think of Ferris Bueller's cheerful yet dim parents. Think of the scolding or neglectful parents at the outset of The Breakfast Club, or the principal in the same movie.
Watching John Hughes films, I always wondered, "At what point does someone go from being an emotional, confused and hormonal teen to an apathetic, boring adult with no memory of their own past?" Now that I am (technically) an adult and parent, I see it happening among some of my peers. I'm still confused as to what process they go through to achieve the emotional deadening, or forgetting, though.
This is on my mind because of a text from a friend: "I'm looking for a place to unload my old heavy metal albums."
I was a little confused, and wondered if he thought they were "vintage," and therefore valuable. My response was a measured: "Unload? Your kids get those."
My friend not only has kids, but sons. I was fairly certain that they of all people would be especially interested in the records he was trying to do away with.
His response was, "You want them for your kids? I'm talking Slayer, Overkill, Venom... lots of offensive and satanic stuff."
I stared at my phone in utter confusion, my head tilted like a dog.
In high school, this was the music my friend and I listened to. It got us through the silly moments of teen angst every youth feels at some point or another. We attended numerous Slayer concerts, saw upside down crosses and pentagrams aplenty and we both turned out just fine. Neither of us ever worshiped the devil, and the music didn't cause us to fail in life; we both went to college and today exist squarely in the world known as "middle class." If anything, my friend and I are living proof of a phrase written by author H.G. Bissinger: high school behavior is the worst predictor of future behavior.
That being the case, why did my friend feel the need to protect his kids from music that did no damage to him?
Self-created amnesia bothers me, and I'm offended it's so ubiquitous. You would think having been a teenager and having watched adults lose touch with their inner kid would instill a determination to not let it happen to you, but that is apparently not the case.
I remember when Steven Spielberg revamped his biggest movie, E.T., editing it to be more "politically correct." He changed dialogue so the word "terrorist" would be "hippie," and digitally removed shotguns, replacing them with walkie-talkies. I also recall George Lucas editing his once-masterpiece Star Wars to make Greedo shoot first.
Their press releases said silly things like, "It's a different world we live in today" and "This is the way I always wanted it." Neither statement made any sense. Today's world is different... from what? The era of Cold War, when students were told to climb under desks to survive a nuclear attack by Russia? E.T. was released during the Reagan years, and tensions were sky high during that period.
Did Spielberg really believe a child hearing the word "terrorist" post-9/11 would curl into the fetal position and weep for days on end, unable to leave the house? Did George Lucas think anyone seeing Han shoot first would turn them into a sociopath? If they thought changing their movies would improve society (or the films), I'd have to say the idea didn't work. Horrific incidents have continued on unabated since each movie was re-imagined, meaning the effect they had on society was nil. In reality, both men took movies infused with the energy a creative young adult has and replaced them with the tired trappings of middle age.
Personally, and I could be wrong, I believe actions like hiding or re-creating our past helps create disenfranchised, angry teens; they act out when they realize they've been spoon-fed garbage. When we use "No!" as a response to sexual experimentation, curiosities involving alcohol or as a blanket statement that lumps marijuana in with heroin, we're denying the fact teenagers will be more interested in those habits.
The attempt at a point rolling around my empty head is this: life is about honesty. You make a mistake, you learn from it and then explain to your kids where you screwed up. If you want to lead by example you must do so with unmasked honesty: "This is my life, these are the places I stumbled and these are the consequences I faced. If you want, I can help you avoid certain pitfalls, but I'll be here with a non-judgmental helping hand should you become mired along the way." What you don't do is tweak your past in order to whitewash it.
Which brings me full-circle to my friend. If people attempt to cover their actual mistakes, what chance do kids have when non-mistakes -- like musical choices -- are hidden away?
The idea "This was OK for me, but I must protect my children from it" probably causes a larger disconnect between child and parent than anything else. Kids are not stupid; they can sense a cover up or half-truth. They may not be able to articulate their feelings, but they do know resentment, and they know how to carry a chip on their shoulder.
As I swim through the wasteland called parenthood, my hope is to remain as indifferent to the stupidity of my own youth as I always have. John Hughes remembered what it was like to be a confused teenager, and I appreciated the help his movies offered me when navigating the minefield of teen life. As I look back from my adult vantage point, I realize that everything I did as a kid, every life lesson I learned and every mistake I made all helped me end up where I am today: a happily married dad of two.
And guess what?
I still own the Slayer records from my youth. They're in the basement, and when if my son, or even my daughter is interested in them? I plan to bust those puppies out as soon as I think they're mature enough.
Better Slayer than Justin Bieber, after all.
More blathering on, plus videos and podcasts at: nathantimmel.com