Every Friday, my syndicated newspaper column appears in a variety of papers. Here's today's!
Earlier this week, singer Taylor Swift was accepting an MTV award when rapper Kanye West leaped on stage, grabbed the microphone, and pronounced that singer Beyonce should have won instead for her video Single Women. Apparently he thinks Taylor Swift may be cute, but she won’t endure. Beyonce’s message, to him, is timeless.
Obviously West does not live in a house with teenage girls.
When I was a teenager, we all idolized red-headed Molly Ringwald, who played down-and-out characters rebelling against their parents’ generation and writing their own rules on love. She was cool. She was hard. She was edgy, and we adored her.
Today edgy is so passé. After all, you can’t get much less edgy than nineteen-year-old Taylor Swift, but her music has taken the female world by storm. You may not know who Swift is, but you’ve likely heard Love Story, her own version of Romeo and Juliet, while out driving or shopping. You can’t avoid it.
And while all Swift’s songs talk about love—and how if you don’t love the real me forever, you’re not worth my time—something strange happens whenever Love Story plays and teenage girls are in proximity. The girls don’t just sing along; they belt it out. And then, just when you think they can’t get any louder, the decibel level suddenly shoots up for the line: “He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring and said, MARRY ME, JULIET!!!” In Swift’s world, and to these teen girls, Romeo and Juliet doesn’t end in tragedy. It doesn’t end in edgy relationships, or “shacking up”, or in a fling, either. Instead, Juliet gets the whole white dress treatment. Romeo even asks permission from her father to marry her—and the teenagers don’t flinch at this “archaic” throwback! Romance, tradition, and marriage, are back in style.
Movies for girls this age mimic Swift’s preferred storyline. Last year’s Enchanted left my girls—and many of their friends—swooning. A fairytale comes to life, with various characters bursting into song to declare their undying love. Then there’s Penelope, Pride and Prejudice, or the more mature but still wedding oriented 27 Dresses and Bride Wars. Younger kids are getting in on it, too. What about High School Musical? It may not include wedding bells, but the romance is awfully squeaky clean. This is no Degrassi Junior High. Even in music for the pre-teen set, the mega-selling Jonas Brothers are about as far from gangsta rappers as you can get.
Our culture has told our teenage girls from the time they were born to dream, and to dream big. You can have it all! But what they keep coming back to is that white dress. They want the happily ever after.
It’s a noble dream, but there’s a problem. There’s no point in standing up there in your white dress unless there’s somebody standing next to you in a tux. These girls need boys to buy into the “happily after” as well, and that can be tricky with video games demanding all of their attention. And all of us need to learn that wishing and dreaming about love isn’t enough; a marriage is successful not just when we marry the one we love, but also when we continue, day by day, to love the one we marry. After all, real life isn’t a fairytale. It’s hard work, but that just makes it more rewarding.
Maybe we could all use a little more “love story” and a little less cynicism. If all we do is dream, though, and we don’t live it out, then perhaps Kanye West is right and Swift will be swiftly forgotten, along with the romance she tried to revive. Somehow that doesn’t sound like much of a happy ending at all. I really hope my girls, and their friends, do better.
Can anyone relate? Does anyone else have teen girls who go crazy over Love Story or You Belong to Me? I have to admit to singing quite loudly at Love Story, too!
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Labels: columns, culture, marriage, teenagers