Last year, I was at the supermarket and the No Doubt song "Just A Girl" came on in the background. Suddenly, my trudging journey past rows of canned peas was much improved. "Finally, they're playing some decent music in here," I thought to myself, triumphant that I had picked the one cool supermarket in town to shop at. And then it hit me. The grocery store didn't get trendy. I got old.
They say life begins at 40, which I always thought was just a platitude to make forty-somethings feel better about not being 20-something. But there is a lot of truth to the expression. By the time you reach that middle age marker, the world around you is now designed and controlled by people like you. Sure, politicians are by and large still a generation older, but the people programming the shows on TV, creating the advertising you see, and yes, picking the music pumped into supermarkets everywhere are your contemporaries. The end result is a warm and inviting pop culture blanket that swaddles you in the comfort of knowing you have arrived. Cue the Lexus with the giant red bow in your driveway.
The downside of this exulted feeling however is near constant disappointment in the world around you. I love watching Happy Endings but I have to remind myself constantly that these fun-loving misfits are not my peers; they're my past interns now all grown up. At lunch recently with my former boss, I lamented the current state of movie theaters. After listening politely to my eye-rolling rant about texting, loud hooligans and a woman who whipped out an iPad, he assured me that nothing about the movie going experience has changed since the invention of synchronized sound. I just notice it more because I'm old, old, old.
This all brings me to Beyonce at the Super Bowl. While Mrs. Carter herself may not be my contemporary, Rachel Campos-Duffy (formerly of the Real World, now no longer living in the real world) is. In the wake of what most critics have said was a very successful halftime show, Ms. Campos-Duffy has a different view and it is the same one we heard a few years ago when Janet Jackson unveiled the breast that destroyed America's innocence. Poor Ms. Campos-Duffy had to explain to her precious moppets in between an adorable pony selling them alcohol and millionaires paid to beat each other up that the lady parading around like a strumpet is a scourge to our way of life.
Naturally, she is ready for the criticism that will come her way as a former member of the Real World and she knows that some people will discredit her opinion having been a reality TV star. But she isn't hypocritical as much as just plain old. Ms. Campos-Duffy can wax nostalgic for the sweet innocent days of classic Madonna all she wants. And a belly button piercing or a tiny butterfly tattoo on your shoulder can seem positively innocuous compared to what is visible now any day of the week on a Starbucks barista. But none of that changes the fact that a generation ago, she and the things she loved were the worst things that ever happened to humanity and someone her mother's age (or possibly her own mother) was just as outraged then as she is now. For better or worse, the world we live in now is the one we created 20 years ago.
Never mind that so much of this misplaced upset seems inherently sexist, a tradition I would consider far more dangerous to pass down to your daughter. Justin Timberlake is the one who showed America the breast seen 'round the world; but while Janet Jackson was relegated to pop culture purgatory, Justin has had a thriving career. And I am pretty sure that was the same Super Bowl that featured a commercial where a horse farted in a woman's face. But yes, showing your daughter that the breast of a 40-year-old woman is horrible and shameful will definitely give her the kind of self-confidence needed to grow old gracefully and without plastic surgery.
You may feel it necessary to explain to your daughter that a scantily clad Beyonce, who performed with an all female band, is not a role model, but when the Rolling Stones performed, somehow you didn't feel the need to explain how decades of drug use can affect one's appearance. Beyonce runs her own empire, has a seemingly idyllic home life and has never found it necessary to shave her head and beat a parked car with an umbrella. Her life is so boring in fact, it seems unlikely she might ever have found herself cast on a TV show in which a whole season of misguided sexual escapades and severe alcohol abuse seemed to take place entirely inside one very dirty hot tub. So, yes, instead of finding a positive way to discuss Beyonce and her relentless hard work, dedication and success, by all means, continue to encourage 51 percent of the population to act like a helpless minority.
There are so many difficult things you could be explaining to your kids instead. For instance, why you think music keeps getting louder but everyone on TV seems to be speaking in a whisper. Or how come Danica Patrick has to be naked to sell web domains but Jeff Gordon never does. You could explain that eating fast food might not prepare you for the Olympics or drinking soda might not lead you to play in the Super Bowl. That every politician who says they support our troops might not actually be providing adequate veterans' benefits to them. You could wonder aloud that "Independent Woman" is a strange anthem for three women who risk their lives for a male voice on a speakerphone. Or as a friend from high school discovered after attending a particularly candid Catholic mass this past Sunday, you might have to explain to your inquisitive 6-year-old what the phrase "priest sexual abuse" means. Being a parent means having all sorts of difficult conversations. It is how you approach them that make all the difference.
So we have a choice, Generation X. We can move gently into middle age, recognizing with a slight chuckle that we are our own parents now, metaphorically shouting on the front lawn at the ruffians around us. Or we can fall for the false sense of security that our generational pop culture bubble has created for us and blindly complain that everything that came after us is the worst. It is the equivalent of speeding on the freeway but being certain that anyone going faster than you is a maniac. It is time to face the facts: The rest of the world isn't speeding up, you are slowing down. Yelling about it only makes you seem even older than you are. And sometimes a girl who runs the world is just a girl for a new generation.