The Awful Truth

Relearning to Brainwash Our Nation's Youth

By Cintra Wilson
Published December 2, 1996 9:50AM (EST)

this has been an amazing couple of weeks for Atrocity. Atrocity seized the limelight like a coke-angry beauty queen. Children got the worst end of it, getting stabbed and smashed like flies and tossed off buildings every time you blinked by people who had barely recovered from childhood themselves. The value of children seems to drop in inverse proportion to the Dow Jones  as our stocks soared to record heights and our re-elected president stuck his tongue up a koala bear, the union of man with nature was whacked another 30 degrees out of balance. Trees bled black poison from their roots, rats grew human ears out of their backs, unassisted, and mean and dumb "teen vampire cults" had the run of Kentucky: "Shut UP, Mom! I am TOO a vampire! I was a DEMON in my LAST LIFE and I'm undead NOW so I don't HAVE to go to first period English if I FUCKING DON'T WANT TO! By the way, I need $10 for makeup."

Perhaps the vampires are on to something, and every parent who can't provide their children with limitless credit card use and fresh hemoglobin should be bludgeoned to death. But somehow I don't think so. America drifted so deep into the sweaty brine of moral atavism this last couple of weeks, it made me think
that we're probably raising our kids wrong. Teenagers hate themselves; life is cheap; murder is simple. They seem to think they want to go to Hell.

I think O.J.'s acquittal in his criminal trial sent an insidious message to the American psyche: Justice is a whore with a heart of grease. Not only can you be a killer, but you can lie with the rude obviousness of a shivering junkie and still walk away and play golf. We got crime but no punishment. This wasn't good for the American TV mind. In the first season of the show, we were introduced to a hubris-sick gladiator of a villain who got away with a barbarous act of motivated slaughter, and in the second season he's still wearing white shoes and smirking, and the Conclusion tabs of our brains are flapping around trying to find the Judgment slot. This season the bugger has to go down, and his coterie of loose-lipped rental women, who have been snogging him shamelessly through the ordeal, must have their plastic heads shorn, their breasts drained to their normal size and be required to flagellate themselves with long belts composed of his cancelled credit cards. If this doesn't happen during the civil trial, there is no telling what damage it will do to our collective moral equilibrium. Our own grandmothers may turn the electric carving knives on us all and dice us into cubes like holiday hams, just for the $60 in our wallets and our London Fog raincoats. I mean, we all suffer from these imbalances.

My pal with the Ph.D. in anthropology from Yale told us last night about some research done about the way Balinese parents teach their children to walk. In America, it seems, parents take their wobbling infant and sort of pose it on the floor and let it take a couple of steps before it crashes to the ground. The kid gets back up again, and the process starts over 
wobble, steps, crash, repeat. Western folk tend to think this instills a sense of down-home pluck in the infant  in life, you fall down! Then you get back up again! This, my son, is what it is to be human. In Bali, the parents hang a thin string horizontally at the child's level, so the child can hold on to it while learning to take his first steps, and this is how the kid gets spacially oriented  there is a guide; there is a railing. Balinesian children take their first steps feeling like they don't have to fall down.

This is the right kind of brainwashing. The wrong kind is described by Deepak Chopra, who uses an example from elephant training to illustrate how we imprison ourselves with imaginary constructs. When training baby elephants, trainers will use a piece of string and a little green stick. As babies, they learn that they cannot escape the confines of this little stick leash, so even when they grow up and could swing cars around their heads on chains if they wanted to, they will be completely held captive by a small piece of string on a green stick.

Balinese kids perhaps go through life feeling as if there will be a guiding line that keeps them standing. Maybe the imaginary line does keep them on the right track. Maybe being spoiled isn't so bad after all. Spoiled kids tend to grow up to be spoiled and demanding adults, but I have also generally found that they not only expect to get everything they want, they invariably do. A horizontal line of Absolute Gratification keeps the goods moving toward them.

I just saw the Almodovar star Rossi DePalma in my corner store  she's the one with the big face and enormous anvil of a nose  and she is devastatingly beautiful. Not so much because she's actually beautiful, but because she knows she is. Her presence creates a vortex in which beauty is undeniable. She moves on an unbreakable horizontal line of splendor.

Maybe we are trained to believe we must occasionally fail by the way we're taught to walk. Maybe if we could exorcise all of those green sticks from our collective unconscious we wouldn't have to fail at anything, ever, and there would be no mid-life crises or meaningless slayings or teen idiot vampire cults. Only a Maypole of invisible golden twine leading us all together inexorably towards Divinity.

Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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Children Crime Teenagers Vampires