Sunday, July 13, 2008

COMMENTARY: The Last Generation To Have A Childhood

In the movie “Children of Men,” actor Clive Owen leads us through a futuristic land-scape in which no children are being born.

It is an imagined adults-only world. Or is it?

A few nights ago, sitting in a local watering hole after a community event we covered, I listened to stories from young parents about what it is like to be young parents. OK, some of the people were in their early 40s. Not young nationally. But young by Iowa standards.

One set of parents talked about the challenges of keeping early teen-agers away from sexually explicit Web sites. It seems you can move the home desktop computer to a place parents can monitor, but that teens, often a step ahead of mom and dad, have figured out that using a laptop and Wi fi works wonders.

The generation that laughed at the easily fooled principal in “The Breakfast Club” has now itself become that principal as far as the uber tech-savvy millenials are concerned.

We’re walking around with toilet paper on our shoes while they’re down-loading porn — or perhaps even crafting their own material for the Net.

Another parent talked about how a seemingly innocent Web search for a Barbie led one of her family members into a porthole to pornography.

Then someone told me about the safety precautions the pizza-and-kids games franchise Chuck E. Cheese takes with young people who go there for birthday parties and other events. The Chuck E. Cheese staff stamps all members of a group with the same letter or number and then cross-checks them on the way out the door. While a little creepy, this is wise and clearly intended to prevent a number of scenarios from unfolding, many of which involve predators.

Upon hearing these anecdotes, I reached the only logical conclusion, one I’d been tossing around for some time anyway: Those of us in Generation X were among the last people to have a childhood.

True or perceived, virtual or reality, the world is a far more dangerous place for kids than it was back in the late 1970s when I was running around Indianola and Carroll, doing paper routes and schlepping unchaperoned, out of the sight of pa-rental eyes, for Mr Pibbs and baseball cards.

Didn’t we beat the Russians? Shouldn’t we feel safer?

During a recent “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” book controversy at Carroll High School I observed to one of the bright seniors that their connectedness on the Inter-net, the speed with which they could mobilize friends and allies for a cause, is a stunning thing to behold.

“We live in a much smaller world today than you did Mr. Burns,” observed this CHS student, correctly and matter-of-factly.

Splayed over a recliner with a bad back earlier this week, and with the shooting pain preventing me from grabbing a television re-mote frustratingly inches outside my grasp, I did something I never thought I would do again in life: I watched the entire first “Star Wars” movie from beginning to end. It was on the first channel that came on the screen when I turned on the TV and then absent-mindedly tossed the remote out of reach.

“Star Wars” was an important part of my childhood, as it was for so many of us in Generation X. I had dozens of action figures, and to this day, can recall the names of obscure characters that ap-pear for only minutes in the movie, like the bounty hunter Greedo, lasered-down by Han Solo at the end of the famous “Star Wars” bar scene.

Only minutes into “Star Wars” the 38-year-old in me saw something that he was glad the 10-year-old didn’t have to deal with in 1977 when the movie was re-leased: One of the robots, C3PO, is clearly based on a British homosexual. With his foppish accent, fastidiousness, drama-queening and light-loafered movements, there is no doubting that 3CPO is gay.

In fact, he’s flaming.

He makes Tinky Winky, that “outed” purple Teletubby those folks were worried about a few years ago, seem like a NASCAR dad by comparison.

But when I was a kid, no one told me C3PO was gay.

We didn’t have evangelicals on the right boycotting “Star Wars” because of sub-tle messages. Similarly, I don’t recall gay-rights groups on the left seeking to have portions of the script light-sabered for some perceived offense. And if people were doing those things no one was paying attention. In the three-television channel world of the late 1970s there wasn’t enough time to televise NBA championship games live, much less worry about sideshow politics.

I’m sure many adults in 1977 recognized that C3PO was gayer than Harry Bentley on “The Jeffersons” but they were decent enough to know that kids were more interested in how the Millennium Falcon could jump to light speed than C3PO’s bathhouse banter in the oils of planet Tatooine.

Moreover, there wasn’t an Internet were some blogger could parse all of C3PO’s “Star Wars” dialogue and movements for overt and subtle gayness.

The kind of people who do that sort of thing today just rolled their eyes and went for more popcorn in the ‘70s.

And the world was a much better place.

This is cross-posted at Iowa

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