Me, Myself, and I

If you took your teenage daughter to the movies this summer, what did you see? Laura Sessions Stepp, who frequently writes on trends among adolescent girls, saw something that bothered her. But it's not what you might think. In a thought-provoking article in the Washington Post last year, Stepp wrote, "If you're a young Hollywood heroine today, you lip-sync your way to rock stardom overnight . . . win passage of a bill by giving [cosmetic] makeovers to members of Congress or solve murders by posing as a stripper cop . . . You entertain, but you don't inspire, at least the way movies used to." For these young women, she says, "Power lies largely in how you look and what you buy . . . Perfection through consumption, that's the (young) American Way." Many of us are concerned -- and rightly so -- about teen culture's promotion of sexuality and violence. But I think Stepp has put her finger on a problem just as important: the encouragement of selfishness among our youth. Movies like the Charlie's Angels franchise, Legally Blonde 2The Lizzie Mcguire Movie, and other popular summer fare may pretend to teach about independence and maturity. But the truth is that real "character development" is out; consumerism and feel-good messages are in. Or as Stepp puts it, "Life revolves around these young women." For the most part, instead of stories about girls who grow up facing real challenges and learning how to help others, we get fictional girls whose main concern is me, myself, and I. And that pervasive message is not doing real girls any good. There's more than one factor at work here. For one thing, at a time when many adults act more irresponsible than teenagers, or want to stay juvenile, our definition of maturity has changed. For another, feminist leaders have long been putting pressure on both our educational system and our popular culture to try to make up for a supposed lack in girls' self-esteem (which is actually based on distorted data). But the biggest factor may be that teenagers today have more spending money than ever before and have proven themselves vulnerable to marketing campaigns, which means that those campaigns grow more and more aggressive. And it's good marketing strategy to present the consumer with an image of herself the way she'd like to be: glamorous, independent of parental and moral restraints, easily able to overcome all obstacles. It's not good marketing strategy to suggest that she still has a lot to learn about the world, that there's life beyond adolescence, and that developing strong character is more important than instant gratification. I'm not saying that every movie has to be serious; everybody needs a little comic relief now and then. I'm just saying that when frivolity and egotism become trendy among such an impressionable age group, we need to pay attention. Christian parents in particular have a duty to inoculate their children against these kinds of trends, for in our worldview, there is more to life than self- interest. We believe in the value of good character, humility, and self- sacrifice for the good of others. Let's make sure we're communicating what we believe to our kids and grandkids. This commentary first aired on November 17, 2003. For further reading and information: Laura Sessions Stepp, "Hollywood's Material Girls," Washington Post, 3 August 2003. David Sterritt, "Who's the adult in this picture?Christian Science Monitor, 22 August 2003. David Edelstein, "Girls Gone Wild," Slate, 20 August 2003. Two alternatives to the typical girl movies are Whale Rider and Rabbit-Proof Fence. Kay Hymowitz, "The Weaker Sex?City Journal, 27 February 2002. Christina Hoff Sommers, "Politics Dressed Up as Science," Atlantic Monthly, May 2000. "The Merchants of Cool," Frontline, PBS, 2001. Gina Dalfonzo, "Complicating the Issue: Women and Worldview in the Movies," BreakPoint Online, 30 June 2003. Kim I. Robbins, "Lethally Blonde," BreakPoint Online, 18 July 2003. Charles Colson, Answers to Your Kids' Questions (Tyndale, 2000). Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews (InterVarsity, 2002).


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary