Saturday, July 26, 2008

Misery Loves Company, Or Why We Love to Rant

Making my way through the news this week, I couldn't help but notice the level of ranting going on. There is of course the big rants: gas is outrageous, housing crisis is abysmal, politicians are (insert your comment here). All the Phil Gramms aside, there does seem to be a whole lot of bellyaching going on, about all issues large and small. What's kind of interesting is that several reports have been published routinely over the weeks that try to put the economic thing in a long range perspective, with a unifying theme of, chill out, but yet the pity party persists. All this griping does take it's toll, and I wasn't immune to it either, as I went on my own rant a few days back. Jeff Jacoby writing in the International Herald Tribune, asserts that all this doom and gloom is perhaps a compounding case of a bad attitude run amok, and he further observes that we don't want to be told why it's really not all that bad camper. We are in an apparently highly satisfying spectacular sulk, and we like it that way.

But why? Maybe we like the drama. How else has reality television been able to put such a hold upon us? Maybe we like to complain, and no one really likes to be in a bad mood all on their own. Happiness just doesn't seem to yield the pithy turn of phrases either; "Don't worry, be happy" in the 80's, or the current stick figure Jake craze, telling us that "Life is good," seems to inspire the exact opposite impulses in a significant amount of us. This seems to give our pesky journalists (and snarky bloggers) license to woe it up. Comics would be all but put out of business come to think of it. Wait, I've got it! Nasty bad moods are a market, and ill humored drama definitely sells.

Here are a few of my favorite rants, or rant worthy topics this week:
  • Cell phones. California recently implemented restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving, joining several other states. Now I can tell you from direct experience, many are still offending, including the woman who swerved into my lane the other day from the opposite direction of traffic, so I relate to the sentiments of Katharine Mieszkowski, in her article: "Hang up and drive." And, add to that the cancer risk! Recently a warning was released in the mainstream media (it's been a common warning in alternative health circles for years) from a major cancer research institute at a well known university that cautioned a recommended reduction in cell phone use, due to the possible cancer risks. Canada, ahead of this week's warning, had already cautioned it's parents to significantly reconsider and reduce their children's use of cell devices. And here's my own: on a recent walk at a local park with my son, not one person I encountered was not chattering away on a cell phone. Walking, biking, following their toddler around the play structures, all were gabbing it up. I guess I just don't have that much to say, all evidence to the contrary.
  • Make you want to slap the parent silly name choices. Apparently a judge in New Zealand had had it, and considered it his duty to intercede to spare the unfortunate girl named "Talula Does The Hula" the repercussions of parents with a questionable sense of humor, but excellent rhyming skills.
  • Exploiting kids on reality TV. Is "edutainment" an oxymoron? Paul Petersen, himself a former child star and founder of A Minor Consideration that lobbies for the rights of children in the entertainment industry, contends that the increase of reality programming featuring children amounts to "signs and portents of a culture in collapse" because "we no longer protect children."
  • Educating kids about sex. I recently watched a comedic movie that dramatized the day that sex education was introduced to the main character's young daughter's class, and the unwitting young father walks into a scene drawn from a chaotic emergency room setting, where parents are triaging their utterly shocked and awed young charges from the horror of the facts of life. On the way home, he cringes his way through the thoroughly technical questions and descriptions coming out of his daughter's mouth. Funny, yes. Exaggerated, hmmmm? I remember my own sex education classes, and frankly they were more than a little lacking, and I only knew this because my European born mother was not so shy about the subject, even though I really wanted no part of it whatsoever, and still tend toward the modest end of the spectrum. Violet Blue is not modest at all about what she sees as the president's (she's anointed Obama) charge to rescue the U.S. from the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the developed world.
  • Educating kids period. Jamie Lee Curtis rants on the Huffington Post about skills going out the window, that people struggling in the economy could actually use (shop, home-ec?). Also it was revealed that girls are now equal to boys in math. Again! But, as one commentator put it, that is hardly encouraging to the larger picture of the U.S. rank of 24th in the world in math overall. But on the other hand, the U.K. is grappling with a very controversial set of standards proposed for kids by the age of five, to include among other things the ability to form simple sentences with punctuation, which even prominent children's authors fear is way to ambitious and potentially harmful to the development of the nation's children.
  • And here's the grandaddy, holy grail of all parenting realm rants: how other parents raise their kids. Britain is worried that is may be raising a "nation of brats," parented by "Middle class Alpha Mums" or "MAMs," who subject everyone to their entitled, dangerously child-centrically reared accessories, that mesh with their perfectly coiffed ensembles. Confession time, I mostly used to fly the flag of this camp that sat in self satisfied judgment, but motherhood is more than a little humbling, and I get a little defensive when I read these rants now, BUT she does seem to come uncomfortably close to some moms I've observed. But before you castigate that mom whose child is the bain of his teacher's existence, consider the efforts of a mom who is trying to decide if her "expressive" young son needs a straight jacket or an art gallery show. However, there is a line, and please punish me with a severe case of poison ivy if I ever become that parent, distressingly common these days, that calls my child's summer camp daily at 7 am to micromanage his "camp experience."

Rant on campers, happily.

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