Celeb pop culture & media tipping point of toxicity

lohan, ap creditR-E-S-P-E-C-T. Aretha earned it. Lindsay wants it. Paris lacks it. Beyoncé & Britney had it, hit some high notes, then vamped it away.

Our media culture is so fraught with ‘trashy party girl’ celebrity coverage and peekaboo wardrobe malfunctions papering the blogosphere, it’s no wonder kids’ behavioral cues are getting fouled up beyond recognition.

What goes into kids’ minds is as important to their health as what goes into their bodies, Common Sense Media blogged in How Media Impacts Kids’ Health.

“The media focuses on allegations of wild-child behavior “because it sells,” Director Emilio Estevez said, in defense of his star Lindsay Lohan in the movie buzz about his upcoming film, Bobby, launching Nov. 23.

His marketing statement is sad but true too, and needs some unpacking.

Developmental psychologists (and newest Shaping Youth advisory board members) Sharon Lamb, Ed.D & Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D do some heavy lifting on topics like these in their new blog and new book, “Packaging Girlhood.

Let’s face it, the exploits of “girls behaving badly” are slurped up like an Icee on a hot day; not a single ounce of healthiness, but über-satisfying to the masses in search of looky-lou voyeurism…

Girls are sold heavy doses of materialism wrapped in the concept that power comes from fame and appearance, most often associated with being a model, actress, pop star, or diva.

Paradoxically, ‘celebutantes’ and crash-n-burn flame-outs also sell themselves in raunchy photo ops, ads, and burger promos while simultaneously power-whining about their horrid reputations.

There’s complicity here, people… Own it.

Lindsay’s AP coverage yesterday says she “hates her party girl image”–

We parents do too. Especially those of us with daughters who use Parent Trap and Freaky Friday as slumber party staples.

Gosh, Linds, sing it to Oprah all you want…But you can’t honestly expect us to believe ALL of those undie-less, glazed-stupor, free-swinging fashion statements were created in PhotoShop, can you? Even those cyber-proficient ad geeks take a break from tweaking celeb images now & then.

Why are celeb exploits so intriguing to the public? Seems to be a twisted blend of aspirational marketing and macabre misstep-stalking, like a ‘life’s most embarrassing moments’ teen quiz.

I did an informal walk-around observing teens and tweens at leisure; poolside, waiting rooms, salon chairs and such…91% of them were scanning entertainment rags.


Is it new media’s digital revolution that’s setting the stage for viral pass-around of the most crude ‘must-see’ celeb faux pas? Densensitization? Profit-motives to turn up the volume on the outrageousness?

Essence magazine opined, “These days we expect a certain craziness from our stars: DWIs, beating down of maids, rehab visits, suspicious episodes of exhaustion, breast barings and all-around overexuberance seem like regular behavior for the rich and famous…”

…”Without the antics, what would a superstar be?”


C’mon, I’m far from a ‘whitewash the media’ bubblewrap the kids type. I’m firmly planted in the ‘sanity not censorship’ roots akin to Common Sense Media, and own my share of gritty film noir, edgy humor and satirical preferences.

But kids’ entire worldviews are being skewed and tainted toward ‘acting out.’

It’s already showing up in their socioemotional states…so what will kids be like as teens once reared on a steady diet of “tawdriness as a given?”

As Sharon & Lyn’s book conveys, preteens are being targeted with innocence and edge; “cute angel” undies and dolls in bikinis mixing pretty drinks and lounging in hot tubs. It’s party girl redux, really.

What happens to the subtle tenderness of a first kiss now blasted away by harsh lust, body parts flung in faces, provocative crotch shots and power poses?

Will kids even have the joy of experiencing first love at all, or will the sensual innocence of hand-holding fast-forward to base carnal knowledge?

This is where society as a whole loses ground.

As Packaging Girlhood says,

“What used to be sexual innuendo and suggestive is now crass and direct and contains references to a variety of sex acts.”

“There’s been a shift in the selling of the teenage image from sweet and sexy to a growing interest in the out-there sexy, porn-influenced version of teen girlhood.”

whew. So it’s NOT my imagination.

Teen-star powerhouses come of age with reckless abandon, and meltdown very publicly and predictably.Take Britney’s latest news.

Her attempts to pull up the rudder in her own PR nose-dive, with a divorce do-over and comeback kid earnestness, will no doubt be heralded as a Phoenix from the ashes.

You can almost set your clocks by these teen train wreck careers, yet no one appears able to look away. Often media fuels the drama, and even sets up the derailment, ready to roll cameras at the clean-up…

Seasoned publicist Michael Levine said Britney “went from being a pop icon to an emblem of white trash in a matter of two years.”

Doesn’t matter if it hurts, maims, destroys, damages, cripples conscience, or usurps the emotional integrity of kids, or the ingenues themselves; the public’s taste seems to reward ‘the tackier the better’ in the name of the almighty greenback.

Media and marketing are stoking this polluted coal fire and it’s choking our sensibility as to what even constitutes ‘news.’

Now it’s simply “the norm” for global news purveyors to dwell on these exploits, without even a hint of a yellow journalism moniker. We’re talking AP & CNN here…not the Star, the Enquirer or some People exposé…

Here’s AP reporting on the Spears/Federline fiasco:

“The country was captivated — apparently with equal amounts of horror and delight — watching its pop princess pair up with a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking backup dancer from Fresno. The two even documented their domestic doings in a self-filmed reality TV show, “Britney & Kevin: Chaotic.”

Ah, I get it. They put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional, right? How healthy can we get?

But wait! Now see how blatantly media and marketing kicks this paragraph into overdrive, evoking a tabloid spin by adding parenthetical brackets & links: “(Watch what K-Fed said about the relationship recently; see the new thin, trendy Britney — 1:21)” and “(Watch pre-breakup clips of the couple and Britney appearances — :46)

Ugh. This is CNN International feeding the gluttony for all things celebrity…And why?

“Because it sells.”

What about healthier role models? Positive players on the media scene? Smart thinking?

Nah. “Wouldn’t sell,” they say.

Here’s where I’m gonna buck the tide big time:

If healthier role models, ‘be yourself’ messages, and fresh-faced kids “won’t sell…”

Could someone please explain to me why Disney’s squeaky clean, “High School Musical” became a runaway hit for kids of all ages in multiple countries, multiple languages and made gazillions of dollars?

What about all those feel good moments of “Extreme Makeover Home Edition?”

And, ahem. What’s the highest grossing top rated worldwide box office hit of all time?Titanic. It’s the love story element, folks. “The greatest of loves can only be measure against the greatest of adversities, and the greatest of sacrifices thus defined.”

Teens crave it. Adults want it. And sadly, it’s a rarity to be found in our crass culture anymore.

Kids really DO want to be kids, despite the toxic coverage out there.

It’ll take awhile to see a HUGE cultural backlash, but there’s already a massive mindshift brewing, and it’s slowly coming from the kids themselves…

Our research for Shaping Youth is tracking industry trends from digital formats and distribution to studio struggles and finance…the dollar-driven successes are pointing more toward mass than crass…

Using the Disney High School Musical phenom again, consider the mouse factory dropped a meager $4 million into their upbeat, (some say syrupy) direct-to-cable effort. The payoff?

36 million unduplicated viewers tuned in for the movie. It’s aired 12 times in the U.S., skyrocketed sales and generated gobs of revenue across multiple platforms.

From DVD and CD soundtracks to book sales, downloads at Apple Computer’s iTunes stores, international-television distribution, and soon, a stage adaptation and sequel already in preproduction…

It’s quite clear to me, positive messages CAN sell.

C’mon Hollywood…As the popular HSM tune says, “Get ‘cha head in the game.”

Excellent resources for deconstructing the celebrity scene:

1.) Courtney Macavinta, co-author of RESPECT, has “5 ways to boost a girl’s self-respect” posted on her Respect Rx teen blog this week. Nice counter-point to the pervasiveness of diva downfalls in the press right now.

2.) Audrey Brashich, author of “All Made Up: A girl’s guide to seeing through celebrity hype” is my interview next month for a special preteen focus group review on body image and media.

Audrey’s also one of our Shaping Youth board advisors, as a former model and industry insider herself.

If you have a daughter that hasn’t read this yet, it’s a book club pick for sure. Here’s more on Audrey’s blog about celebrity pop culture.

3.) Esteemed co-authors of Packaging Girlhood now have a Packaging Girlhood blog! It will no doubt become a useful ‘deconstruction’ resource well beyond ‘celebrity’ fascination.

4.) Last but certainly not least: An excellent ‘tween’ tool for direct, hands-on, interactive media literacy is My Pop Studio created by the esteemed Media Lab who happen to have extensive AMLA credibility.

More about them later, as I’ll be featuring a multi-part series deconstructing the messages conveyed on My Pop Studio quite soon. (I’m using a dozen preteens in a ‘focus group’ format in December.) Stay tuned….



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