Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why I Hate the Jonas Brothers

The Jonas Brothers

This is a look inside the experience of a young woman. This is a story about doing what guys do when approaching feminism for the first time—stepping outside your comfort zone—told through my very feminine experience of having a teenage crush. But instead of starting by telling you whom I liked, I’ll start with—

I hate the Jonas Brothers. I also hate the rest of the Disney manufactured teen/tween heartthrobs. Virginity rings? Do they enforce curfews as well? It wasn’t that long ago when I myself was a teenage girl with a throbbing heart, but the big-ticket item that made my idols worth my while was that they scared the crap out of my parents. What’s the point in longing for someone who panders to your parents? who’s sold with a child safety device?

I know much has been said of Gen-Y’s puny need for rebellion, but this takes the cake. I am a Gen-Yer and I find the appeal of such celebrities disturbing. Teenagerdom is one’s movement from child to adult. Thus, a legitimate teen heartthrob is supposed to exist outside the normal purview of a teenage girl. He’s supposed to represent a life apart from the one you have, a more unsheltered adult life. He’s got an undeniable magnetism, some sort of talent (usually something entertaining), and he’s fucking badass. He’s the type of guy that gives your parents full body shivers merely at the thought that their daughter finds him and, more importantly, what he represents, appealing. They raised you ‘better’ than that. They raised you to cross your legs, to say no to drugs, to do well in school and to want nothing more from a boy than to hold his hand. But this ain’t no twelve-year-old boy; this is a motherfucking rock star and he doesn’t hold hands.

Then there’s the obsession. It’s not a teenage crush unless there’s obsession. You start imagining what your life would be like if you actually had access to this person. You start dreaming of a life away from your annoying parents’ house, where no one tells you when to come home and people take you seriously because you’re mature enough to hang out with your crush and his crew. No one in these daydreams asks what a thirteen-year-old girl is doing at this party or on this tour because, on some level, you’re not thirteen anymore. You’re grown up just enough to suit your dreams, and everyone in them seems to know this.

So you get inspired. You take up guitar, singing, acting, fashion, painting (because you know only you can deliver the perfect album cover) because he invokes desire in you, and, often for the first time, a palpable aspiration to be great at something because, if you achieve it, you know great people inevitably brush elbows with one another. And, of course, by elbows I mean tongues and genitalia because rock stars like you aren’t interested in anyone’s elbow.

Crushes fade eventually, but the dream of a life of your own in which you achieve greatness outside your childhood home and without anyone’s permission stays with you. The rush that accompanies your intense desire to accomplish something impressive and fulfilling stays with you. All this was jump-started by your teenage crush because he challenges you to grow as a person, to explore what talents you have that could match or exceed his, to become independent, to leave your parents’ comfort zones in order to explore your own possibilities, which, in your still thirteen-year-old mind, you really believe are infinite.

Later on, when you look back at these crushes and wonder, as an adult, what the appeal was you realize that you’re still challenged by this person. Maybe they made you think about whether, how, and why your attitude might have change toward them when they came out as gay (George Michael and Lance Bass). Maybe they put your patriotism in perspective when they started mouthing off against the country you shared (Johnny Depp). Maybe your old crush, like mine, challenged you to consider that drug addicts and people who suffer from depression and mood disorders (Kurt Cobain) might actually contribute something important to society because the experience of your earliest and most earnest pursuit of personal growth is part of the risk-taking, dynamic individual you’ve become. You’re a person that can now appreciate the safety your parents gave you without throwing anything in their faces. Your parents realize that, despite how scary your growing process was, you are exactly what they raised you to be: a self-sufficient adult. Something not exemplified by a bunch of children who tour with their parents and mislead kids into believing that a career comes with someone to hold your hand (the Jonas Brothers).

Where is the challenge to anyone in the Jonas Brothers? Where is the opportunity to leave your comfort zone and dream of a fantastic grown-up life? There seems to be only a pat on the head and the reassurance that you never have to grow up or take risks, especially those risks that jeopardize other people’s willingness to like you. They teach that likability is one’s most important asset because celebrities like the Jonas Brothers are meant to be liked by everyone. What real teen idols teach you is that not everything is meant to be liked all the time, and that some things are more important in life than pleasing everyone around you.

I didn’t realize I was growing at the time I had my crush; I don’t think a lot of girls do. But I can look back and see how far I’ve come as a result of it. I guess the most surprising thing about stepping out of one’s comfort zone is that sometimes you don’t even know you’ve done it until you realize you’ve outgrown your old perspective. I can articulate this now the same way some of the guys I know can describe coming to feminism. “What’s the big deal,” they say. “I just took a class, just talked to my daughter, just became friends with someone different from me.”

I can tell you, from this side of it: learning is huge.

4 comments:

Marie said...

Footnote: I have nothing against childhood, but teenagerdom is not the same as childhood and deserves separate treatment.

Also, the examples of drugs and sex I use in this piece are those that were relevant to my story. For someone else's story, they could just as easily been swapped out for 'irregular church attendance and wearing shorts.' This is just to say, they vary with each person.

SnowdropExplodes said...

"...told through the very feminine experience of having a teenage crush."

Wait, what, having a crush is a "very feminine" experience? So what was that thing that I had then when I was a teenager? Or is it just another example of how I fail to conform to gender?

Marie said...

Perhaps it would clarify matters if I rephrased it, "MY very feminine experience of having a teenage crush." The teenage girl crush is an institutionalized teenage girl experience, at least since the days of the Beatles, in a way different from that of teenage boys. In fact, I'll edit that in right now.

I'm not denying guys have teenage crushes, I'm suggesting they're from a different perspective than a teenage girl crush. Additionally, since when weren't guys feminine also?

What were teenage boy crushes like?

Marie said...

To add to my above comment, I think what I meant under calling my crush 'feminine' is that it was a truly 'girly' experience of mine. And it was 'girly' in the traditional sense at a time when I was having a lot of trouble appreciating my girl/womanhood. At that age I wore boys clothes head to toe b/c I didn't feel like I fit in with other girls and the crush experience was my angle into a more feminine experience.

Which brings a few questions to mine:

-Why is it not called 'drag' when girls/women dress like men?

-Is there something missing from the traditional teenage boy crush experience? I'm thinking institutionally, here. Like the institution of the pin-up girl and the girl next door that guys that age are typically faced with. (Notice how nicely those two options fall into the Madonna/Whore dynamic, the girl next door often being the nice-girl Madonna and the pin-up often playing into the Whore. And consider how often teen movies play with the idea of that dynamic.)

Gentlemen, feel free to fill in where tradition is selling you short.