Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Culture Gag Ate My Brain: My Super Sweet 16

I am not proud that sometimes I become a cultural rubbernecker. I can assure you that there are cultural train wrecks a plenty. Wherever they exist, my husband and I seem to find them (Shout out to Flava Flav). One day my hubby found MTV's "My Super Sweet 16" and we watched with our mouths open in absolute astonishment. The show follows a 16 year old girl as she plans a Sweet 16 bash more elaborate and expensive than most weddings.

First, here is how my Sweet 16 went down. In May 1982, I turned 16. I got a surprise party at my house with about a 10-12 friends, dinner at a local pizza parlor, cake, and a sleepover. My parents probably spent 50 to 75 bucks. When I turned 16, I got the use of the family's 1977 Ford Pinto Wagon. It was fun. I lived in an affluent neighborhood at the time, and most people I knew got similar parties and got hand-me down cars. The more wealthier kids got their parents' BMW or Mercedes from the 1970s, but most kids got cars described as "beaters" that were sometimes older than we were (ie. pre-1966 cars). Parents back then had the good sense that teenagers have no business having a new car.

So it is with this background I have watched "My Super Sweet 16" with a mixture of amazement, disgust, concern, and a weird sense of fascination.

One thing I have noticed is that the parents of these girls seem to be divorced. It may explain why in almost in a daze-state they agree to spending 50k for renting a venue for the party or spending 38k on a new Lexus, or flying their daughter to Paris to get a dress when all they get in return is whining, tantrums, disrespectful talk, an overinflated sense of entitlement, and total lack of appreciation for the money being spent. The best these parents can do is grimace and say half-hearted, "that's a little expensive, isn't it?" This flaccid attempt to reign in the spending completely crumbles as they cave in and spend the money anyway.

A thought comes to mind that these families don't pay enough taxes.

I keep waiting for a parent to say "enough." I keep waiting for them to point out that what they are spending on one night for a sixteen year old is what some people pay to buy a house. There is no attempt by the parents to impart any values on their daughters.

These girls seem to use the fact that they are going to have this "awesome" party to wield social power. One girl has kids who want to come to the party to dance for her. There is a desire to have a party where you are not anyone unless you are invited.

Some people may say that I am just jealous class warrior and if I had the money, I would do the same thing. My main question in response would be, "As parents, what kind of people do we want to raise?"

If I had that kind of money, I would rather see that money go to seeing my offspring travel and see the world to get perspective on how people are forced to live. If we had that kind of money, we could afford him taking his friends to travel, but we would want them to travel with social responsibility. If we do our jobs right as parents, he will chose eco-friendly and socially responsible travel. Instead of spending a lot of money entertaining people you will never talk to, we would like to teach the benefits of focusing on spending time with few good friends who share our values and are from different walks of life.

The saving grace about this show is that the producers seem to be aware of the vacuous absurdity of these teenage excesses. The car or dress they want get post-production video sparkles around them. They show these girls in all their ugly glory even though they spend an average annual salary dolling themselves up. I watch it because we do live in an affluent area where we will run across those types of people, so it reminds me to do the work with our son to inoculate him from such hormonal need for conspicuous consumption.

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