Two weeks ago a lot of people began taking their kids for the first day of school. There were many pictures on Facebook and Instagram of smiling youngsters on front porches holding signs that looked like a much more homey form of mug shot. Instead of reading “Cook County 528936” they said “Ephraim’s First Day Of School 2013”. It was touching, but it also made me wonder.
How many parents walked Ephraim and Ernestine into class for the first time, holding them anxiously by their little hands, and greeted a smiling young girl? “Thank you, Mrs. Gutsglory! I know that we’re going to have the most fun today! I have lots of great stories to tell and I’ll even sing a couple of songs that have a cute dance moves!”
Sure, she’s only twelve. But she looks like such a nice girl, and the school’s always been a fantastic place. Mom and dad went there as kids, after all.
This is the thought that keeps sticking in the back of my mind as the Miley Cyrus debate grinds on into its third week. Tweets are passed around like bits of fossilized gossip, nuggets of wisdom saying things like “thanks, Miley, for forcing me to explain to my kids why they can’t buy your records anymore” and “I guess Miley can’t be our daughters’ role model anymore” (Emphasis mine–KC) Blogs and columns and water cooler conversations all say that Miley is a role model no more.
Why is a twelve year old stranger given the responsibility of teaching your children in the first place?
Any parent not mentally compromised in some way would turn and flee the classroom, progeny in tow, if a pre-teen girl greeted them as the classroom teacher. If that same girl were the new teacher in Sunday School (or “Good Time Gospel Explosion” or “Kids Kreate Kristian Karma” or whatever we’re calling it now) the reaction would be equally vehement.
Yet few people seem to be thinking through what happens when they cast a little girl in a TV show. It may be a terrific TV show that taps into shared secret longings. It may seem like a fun, safe thing to watch. All these years later as I read Confessions of a Prairie Bitch and Prairie Tale I feel no small sense of guilt for whatever part I played in the high pedestal from which Melissa Gilbert toppled. I also notice how Alison Angrim’s book read as though written by someone in a much more centered place. It now occurs to me that perhaps because she was reviled instead of idolised, the actress who played Nellie Oleson was able to grow up more freely, without having to kick against the pricks of false expectation and adoration.
So whose fault is it that Miley Cyrus has to rebel against a graven image? Well, her parents, her own, the Disney Corporation–all share blame in this. But frankly, so do those who leave their children in that classroom and thereby leave that older child facing incredible pressures and the unwinnable game of Idolised Human.