The Prom and Wedding Racket

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Prom couple

Prom couple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my minor regrets in life is not attending my high school prom. At the time I was in a Fundamentalist religious group that opposed dancing, I was too shy to ask anyone out, and I did not have the money to go anyhow. Then, in 1980, the prom was a nice event and students dressed up for it, but it was not the ostentatious showy event the prom has become today.

My wedding was on a modest budget. My wife bought a beautiful white dress that served as a wedding dress. I wore my suit and tie. Church members made the wedding cake. It was a nice wedding, and even though it was not fancy, it was just as much of a wedding as one in which a family paid tens of thousands of dollars. Weddings like mine are becoming rarer, with a slew of wedding planners out there to make sure that families spend as much money as possible, and wedding shops willing to take their money.

A prom is a special event, but it is basically a date to a high school dance–a special date, for sure, one that is a great complement to the one who is asked. It is fair to expect those attending the prom to dress formally. In my days a suit and tie was acceptable, although some better off students would rent tuxes. Now proms have become rackets in which attendees demand the best dresses and tuxes in order to keep up with the other students. Shops who rent and/or sell prom outfits are quite happy with the new arrangement. Instead of being a nice date, proms become a way to show off and “keep up with the Jonseses.” The prom then becomes an ostentatious event for middle class parents to show that they can dress their child just as well or better than their neighbors. Poorer students who wish to attend the prom may pressure their parents, already strapped for cash, to rent expensive outfits. Acceptance is so desired by high school students, and this will trump common sense almost every time. The winners are the businesses that make million of dollars exploiting the immature insecurities of parents who are often no more mature than their children. Prom clothing is even marked by the year, like cars–“These are the prom dresses for 2012.” “God forbid that we’re a year out of date.” The parents will make excuses about elegance and how it is so good to see their child dressed up so nicely–I do not know how much of that is sincere and how much is male bovine excrement. I think it is more of the latter.

Weddings have become a racket as well, with families often spending ten thousand dollars or more on them. The money could be better spent in the form of a check to help the new couple get an easier start on their own. Instead, families must scrape, plan, rehearse and rehearse, buy the fanciest wedding dresses, buy or rent the fanciest bridemaids’ dresses, in order to feel superior to their neighbors–“Oh, did you see the Smith’s wedding. Her dress wasn’t half as beautiful as what y daughter is wearing.” The silliness of it all is humorous to watch, and the makers of wedding outfits are laughing all the way to the back. Businesses have a right to solicit business, and if they appeal to man’s baser instincts, it is not their fault that people yield to their baser instincts and buy more than they should need. I do not know how many times I’ve seen a family spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding, only to see that marriage dissolve in divorce less than a year later.

Sometimes it amazes me how much many American people are suckers.

Lack of Respect and the Coming Chaos

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Lord of the Flies

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Children throw trash on a lawn. Pit bulls, allowed to run loose, scatter the trash. Children walk across other people’s property, opening unlocked gates to fences and not closing them. Dogs run through one of the gates, dig into the recent grave of a beloved cat, and almost get to the body. When locks are put on those gates, children begin to dismantle the fence in the front yard. In exasperation, the sheriff is called.

This happened to a person I have known literally all my life. To some people, such actions may seem minor in a society in which violent crime is rampant. Yet big things can begin in small ways. Behavior that at first seems like childhood pranks can, without parental guidance, blow up into more serious behavior. And adults who do not care whether their dogs run–two of which attacked the owner–are dangerously irresponsible and reveal a lack of respect and caring for their neighbors.

When I was a child, if I ever disrespected someone else’s property, I would have gotten the belt from both my parents. But I never did show such disrespect–because it is how I was brought up. Most children in the United States, except for the children of those we used to call “trashy” people, were taught to respect other people’s property. If they have permission to take a short cut through someone’s yard that is one thing. To believe that they do such “because they want to” reflects the “me me me” attitude of both parents and children in many families. “I want to take a short cut through my neighbor’s property. So I will.” “I want to steal crops from his garden. So I will.” “I want to borrow items without returning them. So I will.” “I want to take an item from his mailbox. So I will.” “I will” is the product of pride, the primal sin–in the Christian tradition, Satan rebelled against God with the attitude, “Not Thy will, but mine, be done.” Human beings are fallen creatures, and human nature has been damaged (though not destroyed) by self-will. It is difficult to keep selfish desires under control–which is why parents used to take a firm hand in disciplining their children. Now such discipline should never become abusive, but it should be consistent and combined with moral teaching. Part of that teaching is that no one is owed anything by other people, that one should respect other people and their property, and that one should push aside one’s immediate desires for the greater good. The notion of being patient and delaying gratification seems to be missing from many people today, both children and adults. That is a path to barbarism, to Thomas HobbesState of Nature, in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” This is a Lord of the Flies world in which eventually the civilized and good people, such as Piggy in William Golding‘s novel, are killed, and children hunt with a stick shorted at both ends. Civilization lies on a thread, and what seems to be petty bad behavior can be the knife that cuts through the string of civilization. I can remember in Athens, Georgia, jogging with my Walkman, and children shouted “Look at him, wearing headphones like a girl!” I never would have dreamed saying that to an adult when I was a child. And children who do not respect adults will not respect anyone else.

Prime Minister Cameron of the U.K. recently said the riots were due to a “moral decline.” Despite pseudo-scientists mocking Mr. Cameron, he is correct. The rioters made self-centered, immoral decisions–because they were not brought up to respect other people. I fear for the future of Western Civilization–Western Society may end up in a situation like the chaos of the eight century, with only small groups of monks (or others who want to preserve civilization) keeping the light alive through the darkness of chaos and crime outside. God help us.

Parenting and “Me, Me, Me”


Echo and Narcissus as Amaterasu and Susano in ...

Image by timtak via Flickr

In my encounters with both university students and with younger children, I have found that the majority of young people these days are far more self-centered than previous generations. They really believe that the world revolves around them, that if they want to do something, they should do it no matter what it is, and that all that matters is “me, me, me.” University students line up side by side in the hallway and get miffed if I say, “Excuse me” and walk past them. Neighborhood children walk through neighbor’s back yards without permission, leave the fence gates open, and take whatever they can from the gardens–with no feelings of guilt afterward. They believe that it is their right to walk on another person’s property and to steal the products of his labor. They believe that everything is owed them.

This is no surprise since I have taught long enough to see such traits in people who now have college-aged children. When the parents believe that everything is owed them, and give without limit to their children without teaching about work and responsibility, it is no surprise that the children are even worse than the parents. The fundamental ethic among many Americans is “If I want it, I should have it.” Each generation from the baby boomers on has been filled with people with such an attitude.

It is probably too late for parents to do anything about children who are older–if they have a crisis in their lives they may change for the better. Parents should strive to teach the virtues of hard work, responsibility, and integrity, and set an example for their children. Selfishness permeates American society, but parents can do their part to stop the downward trend by rearing their own children not to believe they can take whatever they will. Many young people today have not succumbed to the trap of “me, me, me.” Hopefully the trend that began with the baby boomers will stop so that the next generation is more altruistic than the previous one. I am not optimistic, but hope is also a virtue.