Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Bleak Sterility of llusions

I was thinking about illusions, but as usual, as soon as I started to consider Camus's bleak sterility of life without them, I grew depressed and craved chocolate.
And since one of my most cherished illusions at the moment is that the loss of twelve pounds has me looking rather sensuously anorexic, I have decided instead to write about role models.

When I was ten, I discovered those little orange biographies in our smalltown library. The series was called The Childhoods of Famous Americans, and I devoured them: Jane Addams, Jenny Lind, Sacagawea, Amelia Earhart, Betsy Ross, Louisa May Alcott, Florence Nightingale-- women who pushed boundaries, who struggled and achieved against tough odds. In the circumscribed world of the 50s, these books allowed young girls to dream that they too might be able to do more than get married or teach.

Today, I was asked to shelve a set of new juvenile biographies at the library. Expecting to see the next wave of inspirational stories to ignite the imaginations and ambitions of the next generation-- maybe the childhoods of Sandra Day O'Conner, Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, or maybe some less known women in other fields, like doctors, teachers, writers, business women--I eagerly examined the new arrivals.

And this is what I found:

Lindsay Lowan
Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen
Jessica Simpson
Britney Speares

Isn't Britney the one who can't remember to put on her underwear before she goes out?
Isn't Mary Kate anorexic?
And we want our daughters to emulate these women why exactly?

Looking further, we find under the category of Wannabe Pocahontases Who Believe That One Name Suffices:

Eve (who?)
Ciara (who?)
Nelly (who?)
Selena (who?)
Beyonce (yes! Have heard of her!)

Ands even more mystifying are the nonnames:

Soulja Boy Tell 'Em
Queen Latifa
Ice Cube
Ja Rule
And my favorite- Bow Wow

OKok, to be fair, there was a Condoleeza Rice, and a Nancy Pelosi, and a JK Rowling, who at least have lived long enough to outgrow acne and get driver's licenses. But what admirable behaviors have been pushed by these young people, if you aren't charmed by eating disorders, alcoholism and serial marriages?
So I read a blurb on one:

"Here is the life story of a young man who proves that by pushing your boundaries, you really can go far."

Ah, you are thinking, finally -- someone like Stephen Hawking, Clarence Thomas, maybe Saul Ramirez, the young soldier who lost both legs in Iraq and is struggling to walk again on titanium posts so he can rejoin his unit...

But no it's 22 year old Zac Efron, who "encouraged by his parents.. began doing community theater and eventually got an agent in Los Angeles. Twice a week, Zac and his mother made the hours-long drive from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles for auditions. TV guest spots and a role on the series Summerland followed, but his life would forever change when he was cast in Disney’s High School Musical."

Now I have driven in LA and it's no picnic, but I really didn't think I was pushing boundaries in any admirable way. And heck, Zac's mother drove him. But somehow, I guess this is supposed to inspire in the same way DAvy Crockett inspired my little brother to don a coonskin cap and pretend he was exploring the backyard wilderness with his BB gun.

Illusion is the erroneous perception of reality. Whether the little orange books presented an illusion or a reality, I am not sure, but whichever it was, most of the stories were about young people who had dreams and goals much bigger than themselves.
As I look at the above list I am struck by the limited nature of it, and how sad is that.

SO sad indeed that I am stopping and going in search of chocolate..

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