Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Taylor Lautner Says Some Stuff!

I spent yesterday afternoon supervising an eighth grade girl working on a project for her Religious Education class.  She wasn't half as interested in her essay on Representations of Good and Evil In The Media as she was in the new issue of her tween magazine.
            Eventually, I was forced to confiscate. Walking it over to the other side of the classroom, I leafed through it idly, and it fell open to a well-thumbed page - a feature on the new Twilight movie.

Red letters screamed out at me -
            "Taylor Lautner Says Some Stuff That Makes Us Fall In Love With Him Even More!"
            Seriously?  I've read a few snarky criticisms about teen journalism and I though the bloggers were writing parodies.  I had no idea they were quoting!
            I turned the page and saw a sidebar feature on the next-most-upcoming Twilight film Breaking Dawn:
             "FYI & BTW.  Bella and Edward get married, go on their honeymoon and then, well, things start to get a bit ca-razy.   Like, freaky-half-vampire babies crazy.  Some Freaky Shiz goes down - cue scary red eyes and even pastier skin for KStew.   Cool much?"
            Blaaaaaah. Madam Eighth-Grade was typing diligently, and fascinated, I read on - 
            "Tell us a secret from the set.  What do you do when you're not filming?"
            "I catch grapes in my mouth."
            "Sounds like quite a talent you've go there!"
            After this less than stellar kick off, the interviewer dug deep and plumbed the depths of the boy's soul:
            "What's the craziest moment you've ever had with a fan?"
            I think the most difficult thing is when they pass out.  It's broken into levels.  The first level is screaming.  The second level is crying.  When they start crying, you feel really bad for them, so you touch them because you want to make them feel better and then they pass out."
            "That's got to be awkward."
            "Well, when they pass out, you feel really bad."
            Snorting, I flipped back toward the cover and ran into a full page advertisement for pimple cream:  
            "OMG!  Proactiv is my BFF!  Heart, Delta.  XOXO."
            Right after that came a very pink page:  
            "The Art of the Perfect Kiss: A Seven Step Guide.  A perfect first kiss should be less raging thunderstorm than slow sunrise.  Think soft, short, gentle movements, with your mouth open only a little.  You don't want things to get too slobbery…"
            The Taylor Lautner stuff was harmlessly puerile, but this - !  My brain hurt.
            Against all expectations, sandwiched between the garbage the magazine contains some moderately sensible and compassionate advice (tricked out in baby-talk and rotten spelling) on the perils of anonymous chat-rooms, and several advice columns dealing with Defining your Own Self-Worth (ironic, in context) and coping with the emotional ramifications of your divorced Mum dating a new man.  
            But the bulk of the magazine is acres and acres of cosmetics and hair products - surely unaffordable for the 11 year-old target audience - that are absolutely seriously not in any way being peddled by outside advertisers (This is my absolute for real FAVE nail polish! -"the only downer is that I have to commit to one color for a whole two weeks.  Starts from $35.") and other advice columns that while outwardly pushing healthy family relationships, subvert the good intentions with the clear message that normal tweens see any sort of family relationship as just, well, eewwwww:  
            "A study compiled by the Federal Government reveals that teens spend an average of 40 hours a week with their family.   Thinking about spending that much time with your 'rents is enough to make you cry…"
            I say again: blaaaaah.  Even a kissing seminar for the prepubescent set can't be as bad as that.
            "Your first step to makeout magic is to find the actual problem.  Is he a teeth cracker?  Tonsil tackler?  Or maybe he has an unfortunate problem with, um, saliva?  PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!  The boy can't get any better if you screw up your face in disgust every time he comes near! Like all good sports, the only way to ace it is to practice up.  So get onto it!" 
            No diagrams? I confess to feeling disappointment. I was looking forward to seeing how an illustrator could make tongues and tonsils come across all kawaii with hearts and flowers.

In a flash of empathy, I understood my own mother's  blanket and unyielding objection to the YM Magazine I bought so religiously every month the year that  I was thirteen.
            "What are you giggling about over there?"
            "It's the My Most Embarrassing Experience page.  This one - oh, it's soooooo bad - in this one, this one girl was at sports camp and she had her period while she was there and the boy she had a crush banged into her during a basketball game and he noticed that she was wearing a pad."
            "May I see that?"
            I passed the magazine over.
            "Three quarters of these stories are about girls dying of embarrassment because someone saw a pack of tampons in the bottom of their bag!"
            "Well - yeah."
            Mum looked at the magazine rather coldly.  "Why, exactly, is it embarrassing for someone to grasp that the writer is a biologically functioning female?"
            She appeared to have an incredibly loose grasp of the obvious.  I floundered.  
            "Because, well - they're just - well... read the magazine! If it wasn't embarrassing, why would people be writing to the magazine about being embarrassed?" (At thirteen, I accepted everything I read in print as gospel.  I was a very trusting child.)
            "Look at it this way," I said, trying to make her understand. "If you think about it, YM is actually offering a public service.  It's like a support group for all the teenage girls in America - if I can read about how other girls suffer this too, I won't feel so bad if a pad falls out of my locker and someone sees it. "
            Mum's lips thinned.  "Is stress making you fat?"  She read aloud. "Get Lucky in Love: 7 Moves to Make Guys Melt! For the love of-  Tabubilgirl, you're thirteen!"
            "It's important."  I argued.  "If I don't learn it all now, how will I know all this stuff later when I need it?"

Approximately three issues later, and two weeks before my fourteenth birthday, my family moved from California to Northern Chile.
            "What do you want as a birthday present?" My friend Theadora asked me.
            "O.MG."  I said. "What I really really want is a subscription to YM magazine. You can't buy it down there."
            "You can't get YM in Chile?!" Theadora looked suitably horrified.  "Don't you worry, Tabubilgirl. I personally guarantee to keep you supplied.  One subscription, tied up in a ribbon, on your birthday.  I promise."*
            There were no words for my relief. She had taken one major moving worry right off my mind.
            Theadora came round to see me the very next day. "I'm not allowed to give you YM for your birthday."
            "I told my mom about it last night, and she went straight to the phone and called your Mom, and she says that your Mom says I'm not allowed to give it to you. It was absolutely none of their business, but now I'm not allowed-"
            "Can't you just secretly get it anyway?  And give me another little birthday present to hide the real one?"
            Theadora looked glum. "I thought of that too.  But your mom will see the magazine when it gets delivered to your place, and then we'll both be in trouble. And she'll hide it on you anyway."
            We sat silently on my bed, morbidly envisioning a future empty of YM Magazine.

Thank You, O Mothers of California, for insisting that I grow up free of tween journalism and forced to make - or not make - my own opinions about boys, movies, makeup and the subtle sartorial differences between brushed and stretch denim skirts.  I had to figure out kissing all on my own.  In my own time.  And I'm sure I'm not morbidly embarrassed about half the things I ought to be.
            But I don't feel deprived.  I managed to pick up a heart-stopping crush on Jonathan Brandis from SeaQuest all on my own initiative.  I had two posters - one on my wall and one in a crush-proof poster roll, for when I got old and grey and the first one faded. I muddled by.

* Fourteen year old girls talked in italics in 1994.  Things haven't changed much since.

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