If there is any American left who has not seen an out-of-it Britney Spears cluelessly moving about the stage at the recent MTV Video Music Awards in her sequined underwear, know you are the envy of many an American parent. Because — even though there are a lot of stories about admirable Americans out there — we insist on broadcasting, writing about (GUILTY!), watching, and talking about the saddest cases of unbecoming conduct among the gifted and well-off.
Radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham knows exactly what I mean. Laura has a new New York Times bestselling book out, Power to the People. She says it’s co-written by you — that means you. It chronicles a lot of what’s wrong in the culture and politics, but also points out that people are actively doing the right thing. So, for example, while we may have an illegal-immigration problem, it turns out voters aren’t going to let non-enforcement of our nation’s laws stand, they’re not going to let Congress make it worse. They’re not going to surrender to rule breakers and patronizing lawmakers.
They’re also not going to allow the pornification of America to continue — and it’s this point that TV talk shows love to get Ingraham on to talk about, because it means S-E-X and sex sells. Sex especially sells when the folks in the production booth can shrink the fully clothed Ingraham on your TV screen and use the majority of the screen to show you, YET AGAIN, Britney’s sub-par but extremely revealing VMA performance.
I’ll tell you who I’d like to see on The Today Show instead of Britney: “26-year-old powerhouse Rashida Jolley.”
I met Rashida in another book that just came out this summer, Girls Gone Mild by Wendy Shalit. Shalit wants us to be the better, purer selves we can be, because she knows it’s more fun that way: She has seen it for herself.
Jolley is a Washington, D.C., native, born into a big, loving family. Her father’s attitude was clear, as Shalit relayed: If his daughter got pregnant or had sex at all, and he found out about it, she would “have to move to another planet,” so it was a given that she would be abstinent. This may sound tyrannical, but it helped her come to a mature understanding of sexual morality. “It wasn’t about our parents anymore, but realizing that we wanted to be respected in all aspects of our lives,” Jolley recalls.
Jolley is a powerhouse because she insists on shining her light — on getting that message out. She says that when she speaks to city kids, the overwhelming majority of the kids applaud her. But the adults . . . the adults are a different story. She recounts a speaking engagement in a New York school a few years ago during which she was outrageously criticized by a teacher present for the presentation, in front of the students. Jolley had talked about her “dream” that she would one day be married, and encouraged the students to have dreams and “a vision.” She tried to get them thinking: How are you going to get there? What are you going to do with your life? But dreams get these kids hopes up, the teacher complained.
A student, God bless him, protested: “Yo, Miss Jolley, can I respond to that?” The 15-year-old boy continued, looking straight at the teacher who had just moments before expressed low expectations for him and his future: “No. Far too often, it’s the adults who are saying we can’t accomplish our dreams, and they expect us to fail instead of encouraging us to aim high. . . . If you would stand up and set the bar high, and encourage us and have expectations for us, then you would start to see the change.”
Taking off from the student, Jolley says “it’s about being educated about the options that you have, and many young people do not even realize that they have an option.” Could that be because they’ve got hip-hop booty, bitches, and hos to watch and listen to? Could that be because their parents watch the news, and Britney’s bra seems ever-present?
Teen-pregnancy rates are gradually declining. “Super wholesome” (as TV Guide puts it) Hannah Montana is a hit. There’s hope. Power to the people: You know what to do. Ingraham suggests that you should be your children’s media guide. Shalit notes that it’s not going to be right-wing screeds (however well-written) that are going to change the culture. It’ll be parents, good teachers, grounded media and entertainment moguls, and clean teens. So let’s get to work. You know what beats a washed-up pop tart.
© 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.