The Post-Modern Preteens

By Baker, Will | Whole Earth, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview
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The Post-Modern Preteens


Baker, Will, Whole Earth


What comes out of the mouths babe is stuff like this: "Hey Dad, know what?" "Mmm?" (Look up from paper.) "What?" "Chicken butt." (Fierce snorty giggles, receding.)

Or:

   A-B-C-D-E-F-G Wash those cooties off from me.

Or:

   Hey girls, wanna have some fun? Here comes a boy with his pants undone.

There is a lot more, and much worse. Folklore, I suppose, which some people write dissertations about, though a person doesn't require scholarly guidance to get a grip on lines like these. What one needs, to deal with the children of America, is the stomach of a camel and the nerves of a warthog.

I realize I sound cantankerous. Well I am. And with good reason. I happen to be living with two children whose combined age is eighteen, members of a neighborhood pack that might all together add up to my own seniority, and the experience has given me a long, dreadful look into the dark heart of our nature, and left me deeply concerned for the dignity of our species.

I won't ruin your dinner by going into too much detail, but must simply remark that between the ears of an average so-called child is a chamber rank as a medieval dungeon, crowded with the imagery of bodily functions and obsessed with plots of mayhem, torture, and perversion. It is permanent Halloween in there; and--an especially ghoulish touch--a lot of the chainsaw and eyeball material is accompanied by rollicking melody or orgiastic chanting. The prepubescent mind also ranks with the Neanderthal when it comes to political incorrectness.

Strong words, I realize, which demand the support of credible examples. I have to warn you the texts below are not suitable for children (who, however, apparently circulated them in the first place). They were obtained firsthand from jump ropers and soccer players, or overheard outside rude hideouts. In the spirit of the Starr Report, I include verbatim transcripts which demonstrate a range of offensiveness.

   Cinderella dressed in yellow
   Went upstairs to kiss a fellow
   Made a mistake
   And kissed a snake.
   How many doctors did it take?
   1--2--3--4--5--etc.

   Mailman, mailman, do your duty
   Here comes a lady with an African booty.
   She can do the pompoms
   She can do the twist
   But I bet you five dollars
   She can' t do this:
   K-- I-- S-- S KISS!

   The first Old Maid from Canada
   Said mine's as big as the moon;
   A man fell in in January
   And didn't come out `till June.

These lines are by no means the worst recorded. I could have skipped to the third Old Maid from Canada, whose exploits make Bill and Monica's cigar caper look like an intermission skit for the Senior Prom at a Bible College. But I wanted to show how even everyday schoolyard lore reveals disturbing overtones. Like the image of kissing a serpent, which suggests both Satanism and obvious Freudian smut, and the allusion to STDs (why else the doctors?). Or the unconcealed racism of the second item, which by the way is flexible enough to include any number of ethnic labels (though rules of scansion have favored those of three syllables: Mexican, Italian, Fijian, etc.), and shows how the quaint cliche of little Caucasian girls made of sugar and spice and everything nice has deteriorated into a vision of rainbow gangs of mini-harlots organizing to out-smooch their rivals.

No surprise that the informants for the first two selections (estimated average age: eight years, seven months) were wearing wraparound shades and tight bellbottom trousers. They bopped and shimmied during their numbers, tossing their long hair to keep it away from the gum they were aggressively chewing. The unwashed and indescribably coarse rural youths who were caught singing the last entry were also predictable. Like their hero Huck, they have always been in the dirt, literally and figuratively, and will probably stay there for the rest of their lives.

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