As a tyke playing with my Barbies I would dream of a world far, far away from my tormentors and the confines of my parents’ home of a magical place called “adulthood.” Oh, adulthood (or even teen years in some cases). It just HAD to be better than the hell hole known as elementary school and junior high where I had little to no friends. (Thank you Marla for being down when no one else was.)
Because I had no frame of reference at the time, everything I knew about being a teen or adult came from popular culture. My parents’ version of adulthood sounded woefully boring. (Hard work? Sacrifice? Bah!) But TV had such wonderful, much more unrealistic ideas to put in my noggin.
Unfortunately these visions left reality terribly disappointing. Here are the top five things that ruined growing up for me as a kid (and a few that still affect me today).
More after the jump.
1. The music video for “Rush, Rush” by Paula Abdul, starring Paula Abdul and Keanu Reeves
In 1991, Keanu was just that dude from Bill and Ted, but Paula (along with Tevin Campbell and MC Hammer) were my world. I was only 13. I’d just written my first “novel,” a cringeworthy homage to film noir — a genre I would continue to visit as a writer.
I say the word “novel” loosely as I would never, ever release that horrid book to anyone. (It was all written in long-hand in notebooks.) I’d also experienced my first crush on a guy who would never, ever know I was alive save for that one day in the seventh grade when he was nominated for eighth grader of the week and I was seventh grader of the week. His only words to me were “damn, that’s good,” when he learned I was chosen because I had a 100 percent average in my science class.
For some reason, I don’t remember anything about the experience save for how happy I was that our pictures were next to each other on the bulletin board for a week.
Because I had the puppy love bad, was a hardcore Abdul fan and a lover of all things 1950s related, I think I squeed my little heart out over the video for “Rush, Rush.” The clothes! The homage to James Dean! Keanu! I kept seeing my hair in a pony tail, rocking a sweater set and running around with my friends, racing cars late at night then having some smoochie, smoochie time with that shy, introspective boy of my dreams. Or just the dude I had that crush on.
Alas in all my adolescence never once did I experience anything remotely close to this. I wasn’t allowed to date until I was 18, and even then I wouldn’t call what I did “dating.” Is it a date when your mom drives and the boy had to be pre-approved like a credit card?
Upside, none of Mama Snob’s girls got preggers in of high school. Down side, none of Mama Snob’s girls have hubbies OR kids as grown ass women.
But we got those degrees! Heck, one of us has TWO.
Musical runner-ups: The Soundtrack to “Mo’ Money” and “Boomerang” were also emotionally devastating when I found no “Ice Cream Dream” and no one sang “My Dear” to me or told me how they could never buy my love. It was also equally devastating to realize to listen to the entire Boomerang soundtrack which was much more exciting than my algebra homework, driver’s ed and taking typing classes at the community college in the summer time.
2. TV show “Saved By The Bell.”
I knew that shit wasn’t jack like actual high school, but you can’t blame a girl for hoping. Once again, it didn’t help that my parents basically kept me on lock for nearly all of high school. I got to go to games and dances and was in drill team, but I was mostly vicariously living my high school years through others … on television.
“Saved By the Bell” was the world’s shittiest show that everyone watched anyway. No matter how corny the dialog, storylines and characters, just mainline that stuff to my veins like heroin. I will suck up the Sunny D flavored goodness. The show was a slap-sticky, hamfest starring actors who all (magically) have made sporadically employed since the show. That’s how many of us watched it, that everyone (save Lark Voorhies, of course) is still semi-employed. They all still have some degree of name recognition because there was nothing else to watch after school.
But the world of “Saved By the Bell,” where the only adults were teachers, kids ran amok having kooky adventures and everyone got to be a cheerleader — even the supposedly brainy Jessie — left me disappointed. Spontaneously dancing and singing “I’m So Excited” did NOT win you friends. (Believe me. I tried it.) There was no hanging out after school with anyone thanks to my jailers … I mean parents. And definitely no kicking it with a jock, a blond-haired mack, the trendiest black girl in school, a brainy tough chick and whatever Screech was supposed to be. I was stuck wishing to be Lisa Turtle from afar, because despite the awesomeness of my floral ensembles in the 9th grade and ability to break into song and dance without provocation, no one thought I was cool.
Runner-Up: An episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” where Ashley Banks sang “Respect” to her parents and they actually listened. I watched this episode when it first aired with Mama and Papa Snob, sending brain waves and Vulcan mind melds to them begging them to take me seriously and let me date or go to sleep overs and parties. It did not work. They did not see the parallels between myself and Ashley’s life and Operation: NO ONE GETS KNOCKED UP IN MY DAMN HOUSE was still very much in effect.
3. The film “Jason’s Lyric,” starring Allen Payne and Jada Pinkett-Smith
I’m still waiting for Allen Payne to come rescue me from my banal existence. If any film could destroy you romantically, it would be this one. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched “Jason’s Lyric” (hundreds?) and each time I wonder where the hell is this man? Where is he? Does he exist? And if so, does he have a brother? Does he have two brothers because my sisters need dates too?
You don’t want to know how many times during my brief starter marriage that I looked at Sgt. Kabukimann and wondered “why” and “how” in the form or “Why isn’t this more like Jason’s Lyric? How are you not Allen Payne? How did this happen?”
Word to the wise, ladies: Never marry a guy who loves his Playstation more than you.
Aside from all the sex in that movie (never have two black actors ever got it on so much in one film. Loved it.), there was a really sweet romance going on there, not to mention a great back story about loss, abuse, salvation and redemption. It was the ultimate “man-up” movie about brotherly fidelity and where does “my brother’s keeper” end and “I need to take care of myself” begin.
But forget all that. They had sex in a MEADOW! And look! He tried to give Lyric all those flowers but she just took one, like, “You’re OK, but I don’t know you, so I’m going to let you know not to come around here unless you’re serious” and I was like, damn, that was cool. Nothing like me and Sgt. Kabukimann’s courtship which involved constant fighting with my parents and ultimatums (“If you loved me you could totally accept the fact that I hate your mother and will never, ever talk to her. Now wear this hideous kente cloth dress as a wedding gown.”) And even though Jada kept going, “I can’t! I won’t!” her body kept going “I can and I will” because he was awesome.
And all the dialog was great even though I didn’t know ANYONE who talked like Jada Pinkett-Smith and Lisa Nicole Carson’s characters — quoting poetry and being all deep WHILE rocking the world’s most INSANE ponytail weave and dragon lady nails!
She was tired of dating brothers in the war, ya’ll!
Needless to say, this destroyed everything for me and how could it not? I was looking for a guy who’d meet me where the sun leaves its damn footprints across the damn sky. Not a guy who thinks a fun time is me watching him play Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 at the arcade. This movie is just impossible. Unlike the aborted mess that was “Poetic Justice,” “Jason’s Lyric” was both beautiful and sad and quite frankly one of the greatest black film romances since “Carmen Jones,” only Jada’s not a tease and makes to the end of the movie un-choked. (She does take one for the team though.) It even had a good soundtrack and I will still bump “You Will Know” to this day and poor out a little liquor for D’Angelo’s once promising career.
Still waiting, Allen. STILL WAITING!
Runner-up: “Ghost,” “Love Jones” and “Mo’ Betta Blues” all have similar affects on me, especially the end scene in “Mo’ Betta Blues” where Denzel begs for Joie Lee to save his life.
4. Prince’s “Purple Rain”
How can I still mourn what I never knew? I was too young for the full awesomeness of 80s Prince. My parents wouldn’t let me watch “Purple Rain.” (It wasn’t a piece of Disney packaged, G-rated fare.) I eventually saw the film as an adult and became a hardcore Prince fan, but I know I missed something in 1984. I’ll just never know WHAT. Sigh …
Runner-up: 1980s New York. Yeah, too young to experience that. Had to settle for newspaper clippings, New Jack City, the music, Beat Street, Club 54 documentaries, 60 Minute profiles and Bret Easton Ellis novels.
5. Lois Lane/Brenda Starr
I’ve always wanted to be in journalism, so my favorite comic book characters have always been Lois Lane and Brenda Starr, the two tough newspaper reporter chicks and one, the long-time girlfriend of Superman. Sadly, actual journalism did not provide me with my equivalent of “Superman” (that would be a very introspective and kind SWAT officer). Or Brenda’s stupid Mr. Eyepatch guy. But journalism did live up to a certain level of excitement and drama that I still miss. From that wonderful rush of a hot story to the fact that no one has time to be polite because we’re all to pressed to make deadline.
It’s weird to miss something that was both great and psychologically abusive at the same time. (Oh, the yelling and the mind-games and the physical exhaustion!) After all, being a reporter was the only job where I was willing to work late for free because I thought it was my civic duty to get a story in. Alas, while Lois and Brenda had their own cartoon-tastic adventures I had to worry about real issues, like occasional unemployment. (Wait! Brenda’s been downsized too!) Still, I wanted that fake, idealized life of a reporter, where it was a noble profession and people came up to you like you were the only hope to get the truth out there … while having really great hair.
For some shared perspective, here’s what one writer (the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Kevin Horrigan) had to say about one of my favorite heroines of cartoon journalism.
(T)o me, Brenda Starr was real. She embodied everything good and glamorous about my career goals, which were to travel the world and engage in exotic romances without ever actually having to work very hard. Oh, from time to time, she would come home to The Flash with a big story, but you never saw her interviewing a sewer commissioner or writing an obituary or covering a city council meeting.
She dressed in high fashion, traveled by private jet. Recently she was in Paris and Kazookistan, as usual looking for her deadbeat ex-husband, Basil St. John, with whom she remains tragically smitten. In recent years, Brenda was given a promotion to editor, in which position she did even less work than she did as a reporter.
That part, at least, was true to life.
See? That ruined me. That stuff about Brenda (and Lois) ruined me right there. Where was my stupid Basil St. Eyepatch? Where was my jet? Where was my glamorous life? Being a journalist is about the most unglamorous job you can have. You’re broke. “Free food” are your two favorite words in the English language. You always think your editors are plotting against you and you spend so much time at work you date, break up and date again all within the confines of the same newsroom making the place a damn episode of The Office-meets-The Young and the Future Unemployed.
Sigh. Those were the days.
Runner-up: Anne Hathaway’s character from “The Devil Wears Prada.” I wish that WHOLE MOVIE for myself. I really, really do. Only I would have totally gone over to the darkside. Her boyfriend and friends were acting like unrealistic, crybaby assholes. As long as I didn’t turn into a complete douche, support my dream of becoming awesome, dammit! She could have been a halfway good person AND become the future of fashion journalism. No one was asking her to eat a baby for the bone marrow.
So what moments in pop culture ruined things for you? Please do share below.