If I ever thought I’d be referring to Lady Gaga while living in Japan I always assumed that what with there being no shortage of bejewelled and bedazzled young fashion around, it would be in the ‘some Japanese girls dress gaga’ context.
I didn’t think that I’d be referring to a three year old girl.
A few weeks ago I began babysitting a little girl whose parents appear to be sailing through global economic chaos in the privileged and contained ship of a shiny twenty first floor penthouse. They are wealthy- really wealthy. I am not, per se, opposed to the well-carpeted rich, even if they do buy their gourmet meals in every night, have guitars as ornaments rather than instruments, and give their three year old daughter a room large enough, and stuffed enough with toys and wares to be termed ‘her house’, next door to ‘our house’. It doesn’t scare me that she will be brought up as a little princess, that she is allowed to eat microwavable macaroni cheese which has a salt content that could dissolve the contents of a blocked drain; it doesn’t scare me that she is still not potty trained to the point where she regularly has number two incidents indoors, or that when we watch Tom and Jerry together the ole’ Southern maid with the broom sadly reminds me of their ‘help’, Bessy (for the record, Southeast Asian).
What really scares me is her three year old relationship with Disneyland and Gaga-land.
Naturally (why this is natural would require another explanation entirely), she has an infatuation with Disney princesses, Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. The glitter, the glitz, the glamour. It might make me cringe with guilt as I notice more and more my own penchant for believing that someday my prince will come – and where that came from… but it doesn’t exactly fire me up with indignation. Last week however, as I struggled to get to grips with her refusal to do anything I told her to do, her father showed me his method for getting her to sit in her highchair for dinner: she will sit still if she is watching Lady Gaga music videos online. It makes her almost mute, apart from the tiny hurumphs of ‘papa, papa, paparassi’ and ‘pokeher face’. It makes her saucer eyes almost saucepan-like as she fixates on Gaga’s sparkling and frequently naked writhing body. ‘Oh no she has no panties on’ she lamented at one point with a Sponge Bob spoon half-heartedly dangling from her infant hand. This fired me up. As did the moment, all three of us watched ‘California girlz’ because her father ‘wanted to see if she liked Katie Perry too.’ He later muttered, ‘I don’t know why, but You Tube won’t play Lady Gaga’s videos, so I have to go on a different site for that…’ Because it is X-RATED man, what world are you living in?!
My dilemma as anyone who’s ever watched a music video with me is that I want to dance… Oh goodness I’ll be the first to sing all the lyrics to Bad Romance and usually have to stand up ready to bounce if Rihanna’s on MTV. And I’m also the first to worry, fret over, overthink maybe, the significance that these music videos are having on teenage girls today. It was bad enough when we were eighteen… But it seems that in the last few years music videos have become even more licentious – what happened to sexual innuendo and suggestion? Surely there is less and less fun in portraying sex if it is simply served up on our plates like a generic burger made from nondescript meat.
What I hadn’t even prepared myself for, in worrying over the signals that this is sending to teenage girls, was the impact it might be having on toddler-age girls… who love the pink coloured Disney castle, the little biscuits and tea sets of Alice in Wonderland, the shine and perfection of diamond chandeliers, tiaras and jewellery – who do not know the difference between that and the sheen and sparkle of Katie Perry’s sequin festooned hotpants and ice cream bra. Again, I cannot go down the gender debate road of why a three year old girl likes ‘pretty things’, but she does, just like I do; what she doesn’t have is the experience that comes with years, to discern between genres, messages, meanings. The swearing and the lyrics don’t matter as much; a three year old will forget them before it makes an impact on her understanding. What made me immensely uncomfortable were the obvious and easy parallels that she was drawing with this and her normal, girly, three year old Disney sensitivities. With the current trend for candy floss colours, butter icing, the revival of haribo for grown-up women, I fear that unless adults remember now that there is more to being female than sugared Disney-esque sex, the next generation of women are going to acquire a retrogressive mish-mash of gaga role models.