One of the best things about having a cellular phone is getting into the car after grocery shopping, calling my house and instructing one of my children to turn on the oven. This cuts about eight minutes off the time it takes to get frozen lasagna on the table.
"Preheat the oven to 400 degrees," I say to my eldest daughter as I load the bags of food into the van.
"OK, but there's a problem," she says. I hear the electronic beeping of the oven dial in the background.
"There's a problem with the oven?" I ask.
"No, with the TV. Nickelodeon is playing the new 'My Scene' movie, and when I told Amy to turn it off, things got ugly around here," she explains.
"Say no more." I brace myself for the inevitable whining and begging I will face from Amy, my 8-year-old fashionista, when I walk into my house.
Barbie is her barometer of style, and the "My Scene" movie is Barbie's new animated adventure in Hollywood. This is the first full-length feature based on the My Scene doll collection, but as my older daughter correctly guessed, it is not a movie I would allow.
In case you don't know, My Scene is Barbie's new milieu. Having long ago dumped the antiquated and uncool Midge and Ken for hip girls including Chelsea, Madison and Delancey and guys named Hudson, River, Ellis and Sutton (all names that suggest the question, "Do the creators of these characters ever get out of Manhattan?"), Barbie underwent a complete makeover from glamour icon to urban trendsetter. She has become "way cool," according to my daughter.
Unfortunately, being "cool" is what makes "My Scene" off limits for my daughter. This is because "cool" means immodestly attired, boy-obsessed and media-saturated. Barbie's values seem intact (she's unfailingly kind, puts her friends first and serves as the voice of responsibility among her crowd), but her lifestyle is everything I'm trying to teach my third-grader to avoid.
Not that Barbie and the My Scene characters are the most objectionable of today's fashion dolls. That distinction would go to Bratz, a collection of dolls that appear to have collagen-injected lips to offset their eyeliner tattoos. The manufacturer claims the Bratz motto is "the only girls with the passion for fashion," but this is true only if fashion includes stilettos.
I'm not kidding. Just go the Bratz Web site (www.bratzpack.com) and check the page titled Flaunt it! Or Forget it! Just to be sure girls who visit the site don't get confused about what's cool, Flaunt it! offers this fashion advice: "Express your rock style by wearing: denim fitted jacket, knee-high stiletto boots, vintage concert tee, hair with highlights and lowlights."
The page also helpfully tells girls what to avoid: "True rockers would never wear: pastels, butterflies, capri pants, flower prints, mesh Chinese slippers and glow necklaces" (whatever those are).
Did I mention this is Internet content based on a line of dolls? For children? I didn't know you could buy stilettos for children.
I'm convinced our culture puts too low a value on childhood innocence. Otherwise, why would the Web site for Barbie's "My Scene" movie explain in a story synopsis on its Web site (www.myscene.com) which animated characters from the movie are "hot" and who is "crushing" on whom? The very notion that my child might use the word "hot" to describe anything other than the temperature in July makes me cringe.
A growing body of evidence clearly confirms that our children absorb the messages transmitted in the pervasive media they encounter for roughly a quarter of their waking hours, from television shows and commercials to movies, Internet sites and electronic games. The attitudes and behaviors depicted in the media can serve as strong examples of what the culture promotes as normal and appropriate and even admirable.
"My Scene Goes Hollywood" is none of those. It's a cartoon movie about a group of hyperconsumers whose greatest fantasy going to Hollywood becomes a melodramatic reality. As a morality play, it boldly states that if you find success but begin to think you're "all that," your friends will be annoyed with you.
The more I learn, the more I believe insidious influences such as "My Scene Goes Hollywood" will erode my daughter's innocence unless I build a hedge of protection around her. Given the pervasive presence of media (dolls that beget TV shows that beget Web sites that beget movies), that hedge needs to be pretty high, but sheltering my children from some of what the media offer is an exercise in parenting that is worth my best effort.
I'm thinking about this huge cultural conundrum as I unload the groceries from my van. Any moment, I expect to hear Amy's side of the "My Scene" debate, when I'll be faced once again with explaining why it's not something we allow at our house.
But thank goodness, she already has headed outside to join the neighborhood children playing football across the street. So much for Barbie.