I don't mean to be a downer, but is this really the best message to send to our already overly confident young people? Yes, I understand that many of these songs have been directed toward the gay community and have served as a response (or maybe just good marketing) to the media coverage of gay suicides last fall. Were those kids confident? No. Does bullying happen? Yes. Does this need to be addressed? Of course. Our world, however, doesn't have to be so black and white. The only options aren't suicidal or perfection. The issue is that while I like many of these songs (except "Firework," which is just a shitty song period) and they are fun to dance to at the gay club, I wonder about the message of "you are fine just the way you are," because most of us aren't (even you Lady Gaga, but I love you anyway).
I've thought a lot about this in terms of the job I have. I teach a freshmen writing course at a for-profit school. A majority of my students can barely write. This is not an exaggeration. Many are at a very low reading and writing ability, yet most have an attitude that they are just fine the way they are and many are not open to criticism of any kind. This isn't something new. Many teachers have discussed the issues involving the "every student is special" movement, which has been going on for quite some time. If you are constantly told you are special and perfect, what is the motivation to learn?
The notion that everyone is special has also led to another common narrative that students will pull out anytime they see fit. Over a year ago, I had a student who refused to the meet the word counts on all of the assignments. The word count for most of my assignments are 300 to 500 words. She would write 150 or 200 and she kept losing points for doing so. She finally emailed me to say that she understood it was my opinion that the assignments should be longer, but she disagreed. She went on to say that she was really busy (a job and a family) and didn't have time to write anymore and that she would not change. I wrote her back simply explaining the demands of the school and how much time is required and that if she didn't have time to complete the assignments properly perhaps this wasn't the best time to return to school. This caused her to pull out what I like to call "the people like you" narrative. This is when students believe they are being attacked and that the attack is proof that they will succeed in life. She wrote me a long email back in all caps saying it was people like me that would make her succeed and that I was trying to keep her down, but she would not be kept down. Again, this was all over trying to get her to write 300 words. In the end, she plagiarized and failed the course.
In my experience, people need some more honesty in their lives. I'm not saying bullying or hate speech is the answer, but we have a population of people that see no need to change or grow and this is very concerning. We actually aren't all perfect. I'm not perfect. I work very hard to be a better person, a better teacher, a better writer, a better reader, etc. I've learned best from those willing to critique me and give valuable feedback.
I know some of you are reading this and saying, but it's just some pop songs. You are right, but these pop songs are everywhere and get ingrained in our brains and society. It also doesn't just stop with these songs. As a whole, we have become very cautious about giving honest feedback to each other. Everyone is afraid of hurting someone's feelings and anyone willing to give some critique of a situation or an assignment or a poem is often seen as an asshole. I touched slightly on this topic when I wrote my blog post about writing bad reviews.
The world is a cruel place and not everyone is cutout for everything. I would rather let a student know that he has some major writing issues than send him on his way only to see him crash and burn later.
Last night, I was watching the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, which is about street art (and so much more) and at the end one of the guys says how he used to think everyone should make art and he encouraged them to do it, but now he doesn't. To fully understand the context of that statement, you will need to see the film, but his point also works out of context. Not everyone is an artist. Not everyone is a writer. Not everyone is a poet. Not everyone is a scientist. Not everyone is a doctor. That's not to say we shouldn't, up to a point, encourage people to try things, but this over praising of mediocre or bad work is getting us nowhere. It is actually dumbing down our culture and making everyone think they will simply succeed in life because they are perfect for simply being born.
I'm all about empowering people, but I also believe in being honest. We can be positive and encouraging without simply slapping a "prefect" label on everyone. Our society needs to get better at taking criticism and learning from it. Of course, I understand that "you're fucking fine and I'll help you get better" doesn't make such a great song.
-Stephen (Working On It)