Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Message on the Shirt

Several days ago, I saw an article about country singer Jason Aldean, his wife, and their two kids (ages two and three).  I admit I'm not a fan of country music, but I always like to see what celebrities are up to, given that I teach courses in popular culture. So, imagine my surprise to see the Aldean family proudly modeling a line of anti-Joe Biden shirts, a line that includes a shirt that reads F*** Joe Biden (with the word spelled out). 

Before some of my conservative friends get upset with me ("You wouldn't complain if it were a pro-Biden shirt!" or "You wouldn't complain if it were a F*** Trump shirt!"), let me repeat what I said on social media as soon as I read the article:  Actually, I would complain. And here's why:  the Aldeans have two kids, who are two and three years old. They did not ask to be models. They did not ask to be representatives for their parents' political views. In fact, I'd be surprised if they knew much about Joe Biden, other than the (obviously) hateful things they've been taught. 

I am absolutely fine with Jason Aldean disliking Joe Biden. I am absolutely fine with him expressing his views on politics, or any other topic he wants to discuss. Ditto for his wife. But they are adults. They (theoretically) know why they believe as they do. I may not agree with their beliefs, but I respect their right to have them.

However, as parents, they should be setting an example, and using their kids to sell political merchandise isn't the kind of example that's good for those kids. What they are being taught at a young age is to hate a guy who never did anything to them, a guy who doesn't even know them. They are being apprenticed into a worldview where one side is good and the other side is evil, where a shirt that expresses strong views against the current president is considered an adorable thing for a little kid to wear.          

But it's not. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think little kids should be involved in the political battles of their parents. I think little kids should be... little kids. They should be playing with their toys, learning the ABCs, helping to walk the family dog... and learning how to be kind. Evidently Jason Aldean and his wife believe they are teaching their kids a valuable lesson, but I think they're teaching them the wrong one. 

In the world today, we have enough hate, enough divisiveness, enough pointless social media arguments, enough angry talk shows, and more than enough myths about how "our side" is the best, and everyone on "the other side" is the worst. Why do kids need to learn this? Why can't they learn respect and tolerance? Why can't they remain innocent, just for a little while? Too often, society forces kids to grow up too fast. Parents shouldn't be accelerating that process. And the way I see it, that's exactly what the Aldeans are doing. And I wish they wouldn't do it.        

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Let it Be

As I am writing this, it's nearly time for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. For Jews all over the world, it's a day of self-reflection, fasting, prayer, and communal worship; we ask for God's forgiveness, and we pledge to do better in the year ahead.  Because of the pandemic, many synagogues are still limiting attendance, and many are also offering online services. Last year, my husband and I virtually attended services at the Aventura Turnberry Synagogue in North Miami and the Central Synagogue in New York City. Agreed, it wasn't the same as being there in person, but the services were beautifully done and we was grateful to watch them.  

There is one other thing I do every year on Yom Kippur: I not only refrain from eating; I also turn off all my devices for that 24-hour period. No computer. No email. No checking my phone for messages. No engaging in discussions (or debates) on social media. I put it all aside for that period of time. 

You may have heard of a "media fast," and in times like these, I think it's a useful exercise.  As we have all become increasingly more attached (addicted?) to our devices, many of us can't imagine going without them for a few minutes, let alone an entire day. I know people, including students of mine, who check their email constantly. I know people who are perpetually looking at their phones-- even at lunch with friends. (Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon, but I can't imagine what is so urgent that one has to constantly keep an eye on that phone... I mean, if you are a doctor who is on-call, I totally get it; but if you're eating lunch with friends, why not focus on the people you're sitting with?)

So, I'm about to turn off all my devices. It's an interesting experience, going old-school.  I find it makes me more aware of what's around me. Sometimes, I go for a walk and watch the birds; sometimes I spend time reading (I have a number of books about religion and spirituality, and it's nice to read them without any other distractions). I chat with my husband.  And sometimes, I just sit and think. Given the many electronic stimuli we're all accustomed to, doing this may sound boring, but I can assure you it's not.

Research shows that while our devices are convenient, they have also changed us-- sometimes for good, but sometimes not. And while the Day of Atonement is my good excuse to turn everything off, it seems to me that we could all use a day when we go outside, appreciate the natural world around us, and stop worrying about the emails and instant messages we might be missing. 

And so, despite the busy and pressure-filled lives so many of us lead, I invite you to engage in your own media fast. You may find yourself noticing things you previously took for granted. You may at first feel annoyed, but you may also find that it's nice to not have to worry about returning messages or arguing about something on Twitter. Sometimes, it's nice to just step back. Sometimes, it's nice to just enjoy the peace and quiet. Sometimes, it's nice to just let it be.