My son recently was the stage manager for a local production of the musical, “Spring Awakening” which he’d declared for a couple of years as his favorite musical. My wife and I had not seen it before this local production and didn’t know the story other than a brief synopsis that our son provided. He was very proud of this particular production so we attended it with great anticipation and excitement.
To our surprise and mild shock, the content of this play was quite provocative and even more uncomfortable – in our view – given that the cast was composed of young adults 18 to early 20s. The audience was mostly composed of the cast member’s family and friends. So just like us, there were many parents and grandparents in the cast.
I could feel my wife’s discomfort early on in the production when the explicit nature of the story and dialogue were apparent. To be clear, it was a first-rate production, all the cast was excellent, and the book and music were terrific. But, it was R-rated and the total ease and acceptance of this subject matter to our son and his friends was stunning to us.
We shared our thoughts with our son afterward. He actually understood how we felt and, perhaps, even “felt” that vibe when he saw the composition of the audience. He still staunchly defended and praised the show, which we were not disparaging at all. We simply found the context for this audience and cast to be awkward.
After this experience, I began to reflect on all the “entertainment” that my boys grew up with and enjoyed. And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how our society has become degraded in its depiction of life and choice of entertainment via popular culture.
Yes, my boys both enjoyed age-appropriate shows when they were young and still firmly under our control. But, as they entered their teen years and we gave them more license and freedom, they embraced the popular culture of their times.
That included first PG-13, then R-rated movies, cable television, and contemporary music. When we reflect on all this input to their psyches and those of their generation, it’s no wonder that so many kids and young adults are callous in their appreciation of the value of life and so many feel so entitled (the “entitlement” issue is another altogether that I’ve covered in this column).
My older son, now 21, has lived in this world of popular culture for a long time. Eminem was perhaps the first star that he embraced. He didn’t get overly interested in rap and hip-hop, but to me it was certainly enough to hear Eminem’s crass lyrics and learn of his lifestyle. Later, he became enamored of contemporary horror movies with the “Saw” series being top of his list.
My younger son’s first favorite television show was “Friends,” which by many standards is mild compared to recent favs of his and popular television series such as “Shameless,” “Breaking Bad,” “Girls,” “Transparent,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Game of Thrones,” “Looking,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “American Horror Story,” “Hannibal,” and “Orange is the New Black.” The most mild of this group of television series would get the movie equivalent of PG-13, while most are certainly R-rated.
I watched “Orange in the New Black” – both seasons – and when I was finished I reflected that there wasn’t a single redeeming positive character in it. When I mentioned that to my son, he simply said, “I don’t care; it’s cool!”
The recent Netflix series, “Marco Polo,” was pretty incredible. But, would it be as “good” without the regular doses of naked women, sex scenes, and graphic violence? I did love the re-creation of time and place, but I needed to take a shower after watching it. I needed a shower and body scrub after “Orange.”
What can be the effect of living in this culture where anything traditional is rejected, where every alternative lifestyle is celebrated, and shock for shock’s sake permeates so many films, music, and television that our kids enjoy?
It can’t be good.
Seeing that young couple simulate sex on stage during “Spring Awakening” and watching the entire ensemble sticking out their middle finger during their rendition of the song, “F**k” was more than enough for my wife and me. We didn’t like it.
Yes, every generation has to have its rebellious and individual passions. I was part of the sixties generation where “Make Love, Not War” and breaking sexual taboos was forefront. We were so cool.
Now, our kids think they’re so cool, too.