Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.
I’m showing my age here, but: remember Tipper Gore? I do. I remember her as the wife of then US vice president Al Gore. I remember her as the one who — going on 20 years ago now — sought to protect the delicate ears of American youth by advocating for warning labels on music with explicit lyrics.
At the time, I rolled my eyes. I was in my early 20s, in university, away from home, trying out all kinds of explicit things or at least pretending that one day I might. My friends and I played and danced to a wide range of so-called “explicit” music — “An hour of Prince a day” was one of our mottos, and many days we managed to get in a good chunk of that hour, “Little Red Corvette” and “Raspberry Beret” interspersed with, yes, including “Darling Nikki” and “Sexy Motherf****r.”
I remember thinking that Tipper Gore must have had a little bit too much time on her hands, that she must have had to dig deep into the bucket of Second-Lady issues to come up with the explicit-song-lyric card. I mean, there had to be much more pressing problems than bad words in songs. And anyway, her concern seemed misguided; her anxiety over her precious children’s innocence too stage-mothery and stifling.
Fast forward 20 years, to last night, my house. Lately, our family has been watching music videos together on YouTube each night, each of us picking a song we’d like to see and hear. Isaac tends to go for Minecraft mashups, while Rowan tends towards Top 40 singles. Rachel and I try to mix it up with classic videos from our youth (Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”) and complete non-sequiturs (if you really want have some fun, watch a young, ridiculously skinny Barry Manilow sing “Copacabana” live; you can tell just how much he hates performing that song).
We’re pretty good at editing out the obviously raunchy stuff, like, say, Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop.” My kids don’t have the judgment yet to use profanity judiciously, and so, until they do, I find it better to steer clear of songs that will have them humming mindlessly that things are “effing awesome.”
But. Last night, after much hemming and hawing, Rowan chose Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.”
Those of you familiar with this video are already shaking your heads, but trust me when I say that I had never heard it outside of the very chaste version performed on the TV series Glee. I was fairly OK with the, “Let’s go all the way tonight” lyrics, mostly because I don’t really think that either kid knows what that actually means. What I wasn’t prepared for was Perry’s lover pushing her down onto the bed and removing her shirt. And his. Or for the making out in bra and underpants. Or the close-up shots of male hands unbuckling Perry’s jeans. I let out a strange, garbled gasp and grabbed for Rachel’s hand as Isaac and Rowan watched on, completely unperturbed.
I mean, I want my children to grow up with a healthy sense of their own sexuality as a pleasurable and positive thing. But, you know? Not yet. Not that. Maybe I’m showing my age here, but watching that video with a six- and eight-year-old, I felt very much as though I might have appreciated a warning label about explicit sexual content.
Twenty years later, I’m willing to concede that maybe, just maybe, Tipper was onto something. Maybe I needed to have kids to find that out.
(Rachel just read a draft of this post and commented, “I didn’t realize that I was married to a pro-censorship feminist.” Which, I think, is overstating the point.) I’m not interested in censoring anyone. But that doesn’t mean that I want my kids chanting, “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick,” à la Lady Gaga. Isn’t there a middle ground?