Whenever those stories about scary-adult kids starts to make you doubt for the future of the world? Just watch an episode of Made. It'll make you believe. Seriously.
This morning, Anna sent me the link to a typically dispiriting 'kids today' tale of woe, from the Daily Mail, no less. It deals with the "rise of the child-woman" a terrifying breed of tweens who swathe themselves in Tammy Faye-levels of M.A.C. and obsess about calories and implants. Their mothers fall into the usual camps, depressing BFFs who buy their 10-year-olds pedicures, and bewildered types apparently lacking in any authority, who take a "what can I do?" approach to the precocious monsters who apparently sprung, fully-formed and scantily clad, from their loins and homes. So, nothing new there. Then BoingBoing put up a post to a series of thought-provoking photos of "dead-eyed" Russian children of privilege, which didn't do much for the day's portrait of the future of the world.
Whenever I am faced with one of these "news stories," in which the younger generation is presented as an ungovernable monolith sexting wildly in knockoff Louboutins , I mentally thank goodness, ironically enough, for that lead horseman of the youth-deadening apocalypse, MTV. Or, more specifically, for Made. It's one of the happier consequences of a recent bout with the Black Dog (as Churchill called his depression) that I rediscovered the venerable MTV makeover show in which, for you rock-dwellers, high-school kids realize a far-fetched dream with the help of a "coach" and a sizable MTV budget. And it's a bracing reminder that, even with high-budget editing, there are kids out there working hard, treating each other well, and surviving high school.
In the throes of sadness, I found that watching old episodes of Made (all backlogged on MTV.com) was the only thing that made me feel better - hell, that made me feel inspired! I started slow, with nerds-making-good, because I identified more with the quiet outsiders, even if I didn't fully understand their desires to become prom queens or members of their school's "streamer" teams (and wow, it's a crash course on regional customs, too.) For those who don't know the formula, kid faces skepticism and derision from family and schoolmates; coach takes kid in hand and makes him get out of his comfort zone; kid realizes it's hard and slacks off; coach loses temper and there's a battle of wills; kid buckles down and triumphs before amazed peers. There's generally some sort of goal kid and coach are working towards - be it a concert where a bookish loner will impress with his rap skills, a school pageant where an outsider shatters preconceptions about her social skills, or some kind of try-out. Even if a kid doesn't make the team or win the contest, they usually learn, grow and change enough that everyone feels satisfied, and it's never less than feel-good.
Having watched my way through every nerd-becomes rocker/bookworm-forms-dance-crew/outsider becomes ladies' man, I was forced to move on to popular-kids-challenging-stereotypes. To my shock, I found this subgenre even more inspiring! While it's easy to see why someone would want to become Homecoming Queen or learn to date, I found I admired the kids who (in the HS sense) had it made and opted to take on robot science or debate. While their challenges rarely result in spectacular results - these skills tend to be hard to master in six weeks - I was warmed by the unlikely friendships these resulted in between brains and jocks, cheerleaders and debaters.
Now, you might ask, who wouldn't want to be on MTV? And of course other kids are going to be nice to someone who's getting screen-time. Well, sure, and no doubt this has motivated a good number of the show's subjects. However, the reality of the work-load, the genuine difficulty of the goals, always tends to offset this. Do some girls agree to date the Made dork who obviously wouldn't give him the time of day otherwise? For sure. Do some people 'place' in competitions where they otherwise wouldn't? Probably. But less often than one might think! And what's heartening, always, is the genuine enthusiasm the other kids evince for their accomplishments. I'm not just talking about fellow students; the youthful commenters on the message boards are, generally, earnest and supportive, too. Maybe you're chalking this endorsement up to the vagaries of chemical instability, and I'm not saying this is something I'd have dived into with such enthusiasm had I been a bit heartier. But I'm glad I did. And I defy anyone to watch "John is Made into Prom King" without crying tears of relief, exultation, and true joy.