Thursday, July 21, 2005

Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children?!

I don't usually like to copy other blogs' posts, but I'm going to make an exception in a minute because Matthew Yglesias wrote something really fantastic in today's Tapped, which I catch up on every few days.

I'm reprinting it because I believe really strongly that the common beliefs that things are constantly getting worse for America's children and that popular culture is a big reason for it are both patently absurd.

My opinion on the second point solidified a few months ago when I wrote a review for Variety of two books: "Over the Edge" by Leo Bogart and "Everything Bad is Good for You" by Steven Johnson. (subscription required to read it, alas)

The former is a screen about how bad pop culture has gotten and thus is corrupting the children exposed to sex, violence, and other awful stuff. Johnson's book argues that pop colture (TV and video games and, to a lesser extent, movies) have gotten much more complex and are in fact way better for us and might even be making us smarter. Here are, as Andrew Sullivan would say, the money grafs:

One gets the sense that Bogart sits in his office reading articles and is so shocked -- shocked! -- by what the kids today are watching and playing that he felt compelled to write a whole book about a world of entertainment he doesn't really understand.

Johnson thoughtfully engages the modern media and goes beyond the tired argument over whether Hollywood has gone "too far." His book should make us rethink the way we judge popular culture.

While I'm not sure if it's actually making us smarter, I agree with Johnson that pop culture, in moderation, is overall having a more positive impact on today's children than negative. Yes, going outside and using your imagination is important. But what's wrong with solving a puzzle in "The Legend of Zelda" or following the development of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" (a very smart show about teenagers that has violence and is, therefore, technically "bad" for kids)?

This ties into the larger point that things aren't so bad for kids today. It's actually a better time to be young in America than it ever has been. Take a look at what Matt wrote:

WHAT ABOUT ALL THE GOOD NEWS? As I've tried to emphasize in a variety of ways, most of the hype about indecency and the "coarsening" of popular culture is aimed at solving problems that don't exist. For example, just the other day the government released "America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being 2005." The news, which has received almost no coverage, is almost uniformly good. "Teen births are at an all-time low" despite Desperate Housewives. Illegal drug use is down. Smoking is flat after several years of decline. Alcohol consumption is flat. In 1993, for every 1,000 juveniles, 52 committed serious violent felonies. In 2003, the most recent for for which data is available, it was down to 15 offenders per 1,000. This despite the Grand Theft Auto series.
Liberals and conservatives alike "know" that our public school system is failing and only drastic changes can turn it around. Except they aren't failing; NAEP scores are up in both the short-term and long-term views. What has gone up in recent years is child poverty, which is a serious problem the nation would do well to focus on. Indeed, if we had fewer children growing up poor, we'd probably do even better on these other behavioral indicators. But hassling video game manufacturers isn't going to make that happen.

--Matthew Yglesias

The fact is, this is a great time and a great place to be young in America. Unless you're poor. Then you're better off in one of the more socialistic developed countries, for obvious reasons.

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