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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Where is Tipper Gore When You Need Her?

Not so long ago, David Zaring directed us to an article suggesting that having daughters tends to make judges more liberal on gender issues.  As a parent of three daughters – aged 10, 8, and 8 – let me also hypothesize that it might tend to make one more conservative on First Amendment issues.  A little introspective psychology after the jump.

One thing that having kids has sensitized me to is the coarseness of much of our national conversation.  It’s not that I’m especially prudish.  I’m fluent in the language of sailors, and it generally takes some doing to offend me.  I fully recognize that this is the world my daughters will have to live in, and that it is important that they be prepared for it rather than walled off from it.  (I should also note that I sincerely hope that my reactions would be the same were I to have three sons instead of three daughters.)

We watch very little TV in our house, but for the last couple of years my oldest daughter has been very interested in football (to the point where she’s been more interested in watching it than I have).  There are, of course, all sorts of reasons not to care for much of the advertising that accompanies NFL broadcasts.  But I really, especially could do without the Viagra ads.

And then there’s popular music.  For a while, I felt like I was holding my own in the war against the pop industry.  My iPod still has the playlist we listened to (at their request) whenever I’d drive my daughters somewhere, which featured a pretty nice assortment of appropriate Americana/folk-type songs.  All it took to undermine my efforts, it turns out, is a friend with a sister in middle school.  And now the request is for Top 40 radio.

So what’s the big deal?  Well, here is the Billboard Top 10 from 1978, when I was 10:

01. Shadow Dancing » Andy Gibb

02. Night Fever » Bee Gees

03. You Light Up My Life » Debby Boone

04. Stayin' Alive » Bee Gees

05. Kiss You All Over » Exile

06. How Deep Is Your Love » Bee Gees

07. Baby Come Back » Player

08. (Love Is) Thicker Than Water » Andy Gibb

09. Boogie Oogie Oogie » A Taste Of Honey

10. Three Times A Lady » Commodores

To a ten-year-old ear, sustained listening to these songs would likely create the impression that the really, really important thing is dancing.  The Exile tune, which I don’t remember ever having heard before I tracked it down online today, is considerably more adult-themed, but also seems likely to strike the ten-year-old ear as boring.  And while I understand that maybe some of the dancing referred to is, you know, metaphorical, any of that shot way over my ten-year-old head. 

Here, for comparison purposes, is the current Billboard Top 10: 

  1. Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You) – Enrique Iglesias
  2. Grenade – Bruno Mars
  3. F**kin’ Perfect – Pink
  4. Hold It Against Me – Britney Spears
  5. Born This Way – Lady Gaga
  6. Firework – Katy Perry
  7. F**k You (Forget You) – Cee Lo Green
  8. Rocketeer – Far East Movement
  9. Hey Baby (Drop It To The Floor) – Pitbull
  10. Yeah 3X – Chris Brown

The bottom half of the top 20 includes Avril Lavigne’s “What the Hell,” Rihanna’s “S&M,” and two tunes by Ke$ha, who’s not really my top choice for a role model. 

A quick skim of the lyrics to these songs reveals that dancing (often less-subtly metaphorical) remains a high priority for the youth of America.  But still, if I may, WTF?  Would it kill us to draw a line somewhere short of F-bombs in the titles of the Top 40?  (All manner of questions getting begged in that sentence, I realize.)  Their presence makes my screening job easier, sure, but my daughters can also read and turn out to be curious about what it is, precisely, that F.U. stands for, which is not really a conversation I expected to be having this early in their lives.  I don’t mean to dissuade any kids from coming onto my lawn or anything, but maybe this is a handbasket and is that some sort of flame-filled region we seem to be headed toward?

As the recent blogospheric discussions of Tiger Mommery seem mostly to conclude with respect to parenting generally, one does one’s best in the face of all of this.  I listened to my share of garbage as a kid, and that very same iPod contains bad words aplenty and lots of music that I expect my kids will enjoy later in life even though they are not ready for it now.  The FCC appears not to have my back, and so the discussion of what F.U. stands for will have to take place, whether I am ready for it or not.  Even so, from where I sit it’s quite tempting these days to wonder where Tipper Gore is when you need her.


Posted by Chad Oldfather on March 9, 2011 at 02:13 PM | Permalink


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Some interesting bits from the lyrics:

Iglesias: I know you want me
I made it obvious that I want you too
So put it on me
Let's remove the space between me and you
Now rock your body
Damn I like the way that you move
So give it to me
'Cause I already know
What you wanna do
. . .

You got that body
That make me wanna
Get up on the floor
Just to see you dance
And I love the way
You shake that ass
Turn around
And let me see them pants
Britney Spears: If I said my heart was beating loud
If we could escape the crowd somehow
If I said I want your body now
Would you hold it against me

Cause you feel like paradise
I need a vacation tonight
So if I said I want your body now
Would you hold it against meCee Lo Green: I see you driving 'round town
With the girl i love and i'm like,
Fuck you!
Oo, oo, ooo
I guess the change in my pocket
Wasn't enough i'm like,
Fuck you!
And fuck her too!
I said, if i was richer, i'd still be with ya
Ha, now ain't that some shit? (ain't that some shit?)
And although there's pain in my chest
I still wish you the best with a...
Fuck you!
Oo, oo, ooo

Yeah i'm sorry, i can't afford a ferrari,
But that don't mean i can't get you there.
I guess he's an xbox and i'm more atari,
But the way you play your game ain't fair.

I picture the fool that falls in love with you
(oh shit she's a gold digger)
(just thought you should know nigga)
I've got some news for you
Yeah go run and tell your little boyfriendPitbull: Hey baby girl what you doin tonight
I wanna see what you got in store
Hey baby – givin it you all when you’re dancin on me
I wanna see if you give me some more
Hey baby – you can be my girl I can be your man
And we can pump this jam however you want
Hey baby, pump it from the side bend it upside down
Or we can pump it from the back to the front

Posted by: Stuart Buck | Mar 12, 2011 10:01:07 PM

I'd like to say this happens every generation, but goodness. Still, those Minnesota indie rock bands weren't exactly clean living role models, or anything.

Posted by: David Zaring | Mar 12, 2011 1:43:33 AM

Ah, "MacArthur Park": the "cake out in the rain" lyric may be one of the very worst lyrics in the history of rock 'n' roll. And although I'm a fan of the genre (as Fred Willard says in "Spinal Tap"), it has some pretty stiff competition.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 10, 2011 5:23:54 PM

I'd be more worried about the porn tube sites your daughters will be visiting in a few years.

Posted by: Da Biz | Mar 10, 2011 1:11:56 PM


According to Wikipedia, MacArthur Park is about the end of a love affair:

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Mar 10, 2011 11:53:12 AM

Yikes, typos: "content" not "conteng" and "sexualization" not "sexulization." Apologies.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 10, 2011 10:46:44 AM

(1) The top 10 is almost always awful.

(2) Kids today have easy access to vulgar language and sexual conteng in many ways other than songs. The internets, cable TV . . . it's a different world out there in pop culture for kids.

(3) The difference is especially noticeable for the "tween" set. Speaking as someone who was a teenager in the late '70s, trust me, we weren't a naive and sheltered bunch. But the overt sexulization of 10-15 year old girls in pop culture today is new and disturbing.

(4) I've told my 7-year old son that when he sings "Little Lion Man" by Mumford and Sons he has to say "messed it up this time" instead of "fucked it up this time."

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 10, 2011 10:44:21 AM

My favorite song back then was Donna Summer's whine about leaving a cake out in the rain and how it took her so long to bake it etc etc. (MacArthur Park was the title, I think). To this day, I haven't a clue what she was talking about (couldn't she just go to a bakery?), but I must admit it was a far more innocent topic than the usual tripe that is released under Britney Spears' name (I no longer trust that any of the top-10 artists are actually singing).

As for my almost nine-year old, she indeed does know most of the curse words, although I think she learned them from her school bus rather than from listening to Ke$ha or others. (The bus is where I learned my curse words too.) My daughter's favorite songs come from Glee, which are also somewhat adult-themed, but often more palatable. For me, the more disturbing aspect of pop culture is the extent to which my daughter's favorite Disney teen stars have started to make (in our words) "bad life choices."

Posted by: Miriam Baer | Mar 10, 2011 10:25:16 AM

I was 7 when that 1978 playlist was popular on the radio, and I think I memorized every word to all of those songs. But I don't think I had any idea what any of the songs meant. They were just melodies and words.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Mar 9, 2011 7:56:32 PM


I just wanted to say how awful the music was when you were 10 and how awful the music your daughters might be exposed to today remains. I know, I'm an old fart.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Mar 9, 2011 6:31:50 PM

Bruce, you seem to be suggesting that there is something wrong with disco.

Also, you're no doubt right about differences in the calculation - though Billboard's top "radio play" list, which I would gather to be calculated with less if any emphasis on sales, is largely the same as the top 10 I identified. I'm not sure it affects my point, though, which is that someone turning on Top 40 radio in 1978 would get bad but relatively innocuous music, whereas today one gets bad music laced with F-bombs, etc. Of course, there's also the fact that nowadays broadcast radio is far from the only place to go to listen to music, which really changes things.

Posted by: Chad Oldfather | Mar 9, 2011 2:57:57 PM

In defense of today's 10-year-olds, all 10 of the 1978 songs are either sappy or, you know, disco.

On a more serious note, I think the "Top 10" reflects a different group of purchasers than it did in 1978. The paying public is skewing way older.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Mar 9, 2011 2:38:16 PM

My nine year old still thinks the "f-word" is fart. You've got three years, Hillel, but probably not four.

Posted by: Jake Linford | Mar 9, 2011 2:26:46 PM

My nearly six-year-old son is under the impression that "the s-word" is "stupid." I wonder how long before he is disabused of that notion.

Posted by: Hillel Y. Levin | Mar 9, 2011 2:19:56 PM

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