You have to feel sorry for kids with parents of my generation. Well, a certain kind of parents, anyway. Our kids have it way harder than we did.
When I was a teenager in the ‘70s, it wasn’t terribly difficult for a kid to shock her parents. Our parents were products of the ‘50s, and even though they’d lived through the ‘60s, they still cringed at acid-soaked, psychedelic music. They knew with the certainty you only get from watching network specials about the drug problem in America that pot leads to hard drugs as surely as Mary Tyler Moore leads to Bob Newhart. When they walked past the midnight show of Rocky Horror, saw the boys in line dressed in corsets and fishnet stockings, and realized where we’d been going all those Saturday nights, their faces took on a really satisfying look of revulsion. And when punk rock came in - well, we were like kids in a candy shop of horrors.
Since then, we’ve been through everything from slam dancing to Beavis and Butthead, goth to South Park, grunge to David Lynch. By now, we’re jaded old folks who just can’t work ourselves into a froth over Lady Gaga’s bondage videos, celebrity beaver shots on the Internet, mindlessly misogynistic rap music, or Jackass 3D. We may not like it, but we’re not delivering that deliciously clueless, self-righteous rage that teenagers naturally crave. Sure, there’s politics to get worked up about, but despite its name, the Tea Party is not THAT kind of party and holds very little appeal to the average teen.
Which is why, a while back, my kids and I found ourselves brainstorming a new pop trend that would actually drive parents of my generation completely insane; something that we simply would not be able to tolerate with equanimity. I don’t know which of them came up with it, but here it is:
Imagine this: Your kid latches onto the latest music/fashion/pop culture trend. One day, she comes home from the mall wearing a purple, green, orange, and black patchwork top with a giant red ruff around the neck; “matching” baggy pants held up with wide red suspenders; and fat black shoes twice as long as her feet. Her face is covered in white greasepaint, with a wide red grin painted around her mouth. Her head is shaved down the middle, with two enormous tufts of frizzy hair sticking out on either side, dyed fire-engine red, a tiny hat with a plastic flower perched on top.
And then there’s the music, because every youth trend has to have a soundtrack. Imagine Clown has become a genre on the charts, just like rock, pop, and rap. It consists of loud, raucous circus music played in power chords on electric guitars, with the addition of a newly popularized instrument - the electric hurdy-gurdy. The vocalists all sound like Krusty on meth, and the lyrics are about lions biting the heads off tamers and the Flying Wallendas plunging to their deaths.*
The possibilities are endless. Dance style? Tripping over your gigantic shoes. Club decor? Circus tents filled with sawdust and elephant poop. Catchphrase? “Hi, boys and girls!”
And think of the subgenres that will give Clown kids that important opportunity to split up into high school cliques, each convinced that their version is the one, true Clown: Hobo; Pierrot; Rodeo; Harlequin; Mime; Jester. Each will see the others as commercialized sellouts.
Before long, Old Navy and Target will be selling sanitized, middle school-sized versions of Clown fashion, complete with T-shirts bearing phrases such as: “Downtown Clown;” “Jester’s Best;” “Hoboner;” “Mime Time;” and the ever-popular, “Bozo for President.”
Yup, Clown might just about do me in and turn me into my mother. I might even find myself at the breakfast table snapping, “Get a haircut!” or “Go upstairs and change right this minute!” When the kids come home late, I’ll be checking them over carefully for stray streaks of greasepaint and searching their pockets for red rubber noses. Next thing you know, I’m in a pink sweater set and pearls, speaking at schools and churches about the moral decay of our youth.
Come to think of it, please don’t show your kids this blog.
*Note: After I finished writing this, I did a little extra Googling and discovered that the Drive-By Truckers actually have a song called The Flying Wallendas (video here and lyrics here). Only it sounds more like the Grateful Dead than the Dead Kennedys, so some Clown band will have to do a hardcore cover.