Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Learning to talk - (Beware: F-Bombs.)

            I have a two year old daughter who is a big talker, but like a lot of kids her age, she has trouble with certain sounds. Lately almost every vowel that comes out of her mouth sounds like “uh.” So our conversations go like this:
            “Fuhk.” She jabs her hand into the air in the direction of the kitchen counter.
            “What honey?”
            “Fuhk. Fuhk.”
            I go to the counter and randomly pick up objects –a wooden spoon, a ladle. “This? This?”
            “No! Fuhk!”
            “Point to it, honey,” I say as the sweat soaks through my shirt.
            I finally realize that she wants a fork, except she can’t have one because she’s only allowed to have them during mealtime lest she remove one of her sisters’ eyeballs with it.
            “Not now honey. You can have a fork at lunch time.”
            At which point she throws herself on the floor, kicking and screaming, “FUUUUUUUUUUUHK!!! FUUUUUUUUUUUUHK!!!”
            My thoughts exactly.
            She also has trouble making the “th” sound, and so she’ll substitute, “f” for it. This linguistic peccadillo becomes especially awkward when the grandparents come to visit.
            “Thank Grandpa for the new Elmo doll,” I say as I pick up torn wrapping paper from the floor.
            “Thak,” she says around the wad of red fur in her mouth.
            My heart leaps with hope. She almost said it right! “Take Elmo’s hand out of your mouth and speak clearly.”
            She sweetly obliges, climbs onto grandpa’s lap, places one chubby hand on either side of his face, and says quite clearly, “Fuhk you, Pop Pop.”
            My father is hard of hearing, and he bends his ear toward her. “What honey?”
            “Fuhk. You.”
            “What?” he says, refusing to believe his own senses.
            “FUHK! YOU!!!” she yells into his face, and runs off with Elmo trailing behind.
            Grandpa looks at me, pearly blue eyes clouded with confusion.
            “Just say you’re welcome,” I tell him.
            The problem is that anyone who knows my husband and me are aware we suffer from the condition of potty mouth. Like every conscientious couple, when I was pregnant we resolved to purge all swears from our vocabulary so that on the auspicious day we would be curse-free. For months we were pure of mouth and thought, somewhat, and on the inaugural day of our parenthood we believed we’d been adequately conditioned to avoid the salty side of the English language. The problem is that when you become a parent, your stress reaches a level heretofore unimagined. You can find yourself pacing the living room at three in the morning, not having slept four consecutive hours for weeks, with an infant inexplicably screaming in your ear. When your husband asks you if you’re absolutely certain you mixed the formula correctly as he examines it under the light... I defy anyone not to release a few expletives under these conditions.
           So I feel a little guilty that, during moments of extreme duress, I might have relieved myself of a few fu*ks within my daughter’s hearing. A worry nags at the back of my mind that my predilection for cursing is what led to her phonetic confusion. To make matters worse, I think she has begun to notice the flicker of shame on my face whenever she says it, because lately she’s been coming up to me when there are no forks in sight, says, “Fuhk,” then visibly enjoys my unease.
            I know in my heart if I tell her to stop saying it, she’ll develop a one-word vocabulary pretty quickly. What’s worse, her vocabulary is expanding, but she can’t say the “T” or “G” sound either. So I do my best to suppress my guilt and let her explore the myriad applications for this combination of phonemes.
            And my favorite, owing to my obliging explanation for where farts come from: Fart=Fuhk Butt. (She can say the “T” sound in “butt” perfectly, but not fart? Do you see why I sometimes wonder if she is, if you’ll excuse the expression, fu*king with me?)
           She’ll grow out of it. Her language skills are developing by leaps and bounds. She’s beginning to explore verbs, in fact, and is even starting to form simple sentences. Even if she has trouble pronouncing letters like “s,” she’s making an effort, and it really is exciting. So when she comes up to me holding her frog toy, lays him gently on a chair, points proudly, and says, “Fuhk shit in chair,” I’m a proud momma, even as my mother in law stares at me in horror.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The defilement of Hannah Montana.

Unless you're living in Antarctica right now, you know that the media has been in an uproar over Miley Cyrus's lascivious performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. My first reaction was: "Meh." Much ado about nothing. But the more I've seen written about it, the more interested I've become, not in Miley's silly dance, but in the media's reaction to it.

A few days ago I watched the dance on YouTube to see what all the fuss was about. There's Miley shaking her tail feathers and simulating oral sex, surrounded by people dressed up as giant plush toys. The choreography didn't wow me, nor did the artistic vision behind the display, but the entire thing is very clearly the work of many professionals. To get something like that together, a juggernaut of producers, choreographers, audio-visual experts, software engineers, costume designers, dancers, and cameramen all had to come together to execute this folly. Miley Cyrus herself must have had an enormous staff of people, from the agents who fought to get her the gig, (which must have been sought after by many performers,) to her make-up artists and hair specialists, not to mention all the dancing lessons and coaching she must have gotten regarding how to properly twerk.

And then: OUTRAGE! How dare Miley Cyrus behave like a wanton slattern, stripping down to her underwear to gyrate so suggestively! Suddenly she is at the center of a disapproval vortex for performing in a dance that someone else designed, being asked to explain herself only to have her absolute dumbest sound-bites published. (Were there any intelligent sounding bites? Perhaps we'll never know.) This twenty year old girl is being grilled rather mercilessly.

Considering, though, all the people involved in the show, I have to ask why isn't anyone else being held accountable? Somehow I doubt the dancing puppets, the twerking, or even the song were all Miley's idea. After all, she was hired for this gig by somebody, and told what was expected of her. She was given a job to do, and she did it.

I did a quick web search looking for the names of the choreographers and producers who are ultimately responsible for the show, but I couldn't turn up any interviews done with them. All the attention and scorn is for Miley. I went to the MTV website and found triumphant reports of Miley's record sales skyrocketing, and proud mention of how her name dominates social media. She sure is cashing in on all that disapproval, and so are a lot of other people. So I can't help wondering: Wasn't she just trying to do what they asked of her? And I'm sorry to say this, but at the age of twenty, I would never expect her to have the kind of judgment an older woman would have. She's young, ambitious, she wanted to please her bosses.

In the final analysis, what I see when I look at that performance is a young woman's body being exploited --by a multinational corporation, by producers, by music executives, and by herself. Was she a victim? Not at all. She was more than complicit in that performance; she obviously embraced it. But I have to wonder at all the many people behind that dance number, the people pulling all the strings to make it happen, and question why twenty year old Miley is the only one sitting on hot coals.

To me the answer is obvious: Because the ones behind the scenes are mostly wealthy middle aged businessmen, and she is a young woman.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, I'm pulling out the sexism card.

As soon as a woman exposes her body to suggest sexuality, she is labeled a slut. No matter that she was fulfilling a contract, no matter that a thousand other people are making money off what some see as her degradation. She's called the slut. She's named the whore. My personal reaction to her dance was to feel a little grossed out, but rather than heap all responsibility on her head, I think the responsibility can be spread around to plenty of other people who made the cynical choice to display her that way for the sake of money. They knew exactly what would happen in the media, and probably so did Ms. Cyrus. This tempest in a teapot is every bit as choreographed as Miley's twerking, only in this case, you and I are the performers, and we are fulfilling our role splendidly.

We are talking about it, we are blogging about it, tweeting and twerking about it. We are dancing where they want us to go, and with us come our dollars. Because they knew that nothing gets people more worked up than seeing a young woman unapologetically embracing her role as a sexual object. If it hadn't been Hannah Montana it would have been someone else, but they chose Miley because a few short years ago she had a wholesome, spotless image, and turning that image on its head would provoke the most heated response, and bring in the most money.

I don't have a problem with Miley Cyrus. I have a problem with the system that made such a display so damn profitable.