Friday, August 28, 2009

BFFs Don't Let BFFs TXT N DRV.

The Solutions are the Problems
Part 1 of an Unfortunately Ongoing Series on The Pussification of America's Youth

Sex and blood will always capture the attention of the American audience. Whether it is in fiction, film, or our nightly news, we have an unnatural, almost weird obsession with gore and eroticism -- especially the dirty stuff. Yet in “polite” society, this is rarely acknowledged. I am shocked and saddened by the puritanical nature and early twentieth-century thinking of those entrusted with keeping the children of the twenty-first century safe from twenty-first century problems. Those responsible for educating the youth of the country in issues of responsibility and morality are usually so completely out of touch with those they are trying to reach, it can seem counter-productive. Media that deals with “teen issues” or any issue deemed a little too uncomfortable to be handled with a direct conversation are virtually ignored unless a quiz immediately follows. These presentations are usually so painfully uncool in their attempts to be cool that the credibility of the speaker or organization behind it is immediately gone. I think this happens for two reasons. First, the American teenager is hyper-aware of condescension from adults and the establishment. Secondly, even deathly serious issues are delivered with “kid gloves.” Teenagers respond to me well because if you are over the age of twelve, I interact with them no differently than I would an adult, with the exception that I actually will think before I speak.

Viewed as an “adult” now, when I interact with high school-age children, I do not continue to appear to speak their language. In fact, I usually admonish them if they speak aloud any cyber-phrases, e.g. LOL, BRB, and the like. I did not send very many text messages until I purchased a phone that had a keyboard. I found it far too time-consuming to text-message and I would try to write in complete sentences. I saw these messages as e-mail only 140 characters in length. Yet, the keyboard makes it nearly impossible to consider attempting to send a text message while operating a vehicle. Others, however, thanks to T9 Software, are able to text away at blinding speed and barely glance at the screen and what they are typing. This would make the temptation to text message and drive much, much higher. The temptation also increases as the age of the driver decreases – for some text messaging is a preferred method of communication. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute determined in a comprehensive study that the likelihood of crashing while reading and replying to text messages is 23 times greater than if one is not. That staggering statistic alone was enough to make me plug in my headphone attachment and place my phone far out of reach, when I am driving the vehicle. Yet, I know countless friends that habitually send text messages while driving and with kids growing up “texting,” it is incumbent upon those of us who have not, that it is dangerous and inappropriate to send text messages while driving. We also have to have a conversation with them about not sending around naked pictures of themselves, but I digress.

It is also not just an American problem and the British have attempted what is really not that drastic of a solution. Available on YouTube, there is a video of three young British teenagers that cause a multi-car accident while distracted by text messages on the phone. The accident happens fifteen seconds into the video and what follows is over four minutes of the crash – highly cinematic and very bloody, the rescue effort – including an unresponsive infant that really doesn’t look dead, just adorable, and the paramedics’ rescue efforts for the person who caused the accident – the young actress does a very good job of soundlessly expressing guilt as her primary feeling during this part of the video. Graphic though it may be, I think the most brilliant part of the video is the last few seconds where in the helicopter flight to the hospital it is successfully implied that the driver has only the rest of her life to live with the result of such a careless act. Yet, there is a narrative being developed that this video is far too graphic to be effective for the youth of America.

I think the main argument should be that this particular ad is purely fiction. It is a very well-acted, well-directed, high quality public service announcement and that is all that it is. It goes no further than any network show that substitutes laugh tracks for gun blasts. The last scene of the season finale of LOST this year was far more bloody and “graphic” than anything in that video. Don’t even get me started on Wolverine…. When I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, I recall a group of mothers that happened to be very much against drunk driving showing us video of real drunk driving accidents involving teenagers. In that afternoon, on public school property and time, I saw video of brains splattered across the pavement, a leg not cleanly severed somewhere about mid-calf, sneaker still on the foot, and a myriad of other horrible bloody images. And you know what? It fucking worked. Even without the element of drinking, I realize that while flying down the road I am piloting a massive death trap for myself and anyone unfortunate enough to be in my vicinity when I lose all control and careen into something or someone only to be discovered a bloody mess, cigarette clasped in one hand and, in the other, my phone with a half-written text message to a dope dealer.

Rather than being too graphic, the British ad is exactly the type of thing that would reach the kids of today. Sure, it is still painfully uncool, but the pain comes from a different place than it did when I was forced to listen to 40 year-olds say things like “radical” and “whack” in 1997. So often people usually more invested in a particular cause than the youths they are trying to reach, will discount unorthodox methods of reaching out to kids and this is where they fail. The world is more dangerous than it was when I was growing up, and if we are to prepare our children to survive everyday life we cannot spare their feelings. The purpose of the ad, and others like it, is to shock the shit out of these kids and hopefully at least reach enough of them so that they survive long enough to ensure the survival of the human race. When was it decided that it was in the best interest of our children to hide them away from reality and then shove them out into the harsh light of the real world as workers, college students, or as a part of the military. As a father, I know that we love our kids and want to protect them, but I also know that it is because of this that we must make it hard for them sometimes. We have to force them to deal with uncomfortable or downright twisted happenings in the real world, mostly on their own. They have the potential to be a stronger and smarter people than we will ever be, yet they won’t make it if someone doesn’t tell them to keep their eyes on the road and off that goddamn phone.

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