Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pictures And Words

If there is television in a public place permanently tuned to CNN, there is no escaping the interminable spectacle of celebrity obsession. Eight out of ten times, I happen by the water-cooler, I am brought up to speed on the latest in the lives of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. For the longest time, I wondered what useful purpose this continuous stream of information about Spears, Lohan et al served in my life. I was about to find the answer in my own television-less household this past weekend.

J goes "Eww Gross !" anytime she sees an on-screen kiss. When I ask her what about a kiss grosses her out she does not say much except that "it is disgusting" and then curls up her nose in distaste. I figured in the absence of a man in the household and opportunity to see two adults being affectionate with each other, her world view was getting a little distorted. I felt a need to try and remedy her skewed perception.

So I had a conversation with her about how love and affection is displayed differently depending on relationship and age. A man and a woman kissing could be a beautiful thing in the right context and inappropriate - even immoral in others. J asked why a mother does not kiss her child like the man and woman did in the movie. I tell her that it was not the way maternal or filial love is expressed in the natural order of things. These are among the many boundaries that human beings have set upon themselves and we consider it morally (and sometime even religiously) offensive to have them transgressed.

And then conversation headed to the appropriate age for an intimate relationship and the importance of restraint and choosing a mate with care. How life will bring a plethora of opportunities for short-term, instant pleasure that would result in longer-term regret and suffering.

I told J she could choose to live recklessly in her youth, absolutely enjoy what the moment had to offer and regret once youth had faded. Or she may choose to curb the impulse to live like there was no tomorrow, forgo the fun that most of her peers were having in the interest of something more fulfilling and long lasting. Around this point, I started losing her attention and decided a picture is worth a thousand words.

A quick Google search yielded a set of time-line pictures of Britney Spears and Madonna. Then I showed her the picture a childhood friend had sent me of our fifth grade teacher from her recent trip to our town in India. She had scanned a class picture with the same teacher and commented "Can you believe how she hasn't changed one bit in twenty years !!".

This was an "ordinary" woman who lead a simple, uneventful life raised a couple of wonderful kids and seemed to have stopped age in its tracks. She looks just as serene and peaceful today as she did so many years ago. She must have done something right with her life. The question for J was would she rather look like our fifth grade teacher forty years out our or like the celebrity train-wrecks she had seen.

But for the popular media's celebrity obsession and determination to chronicle every second of their existense, it would have been impossible for me to so easily prove my point about devolution resulting from driving through life at high-speed and recklessly.

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