Digesting the Terrible Teen Choice Awards

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I'm not going to waste my time trying to argue that it's perfectly acceptable for a 26-year-old to spend his evening watching the Teen Choice Awards. Let's just say that, yes, I did indeed watch the bubblegum/popcorn/Clearasil explosion last night and, as expected, was vaguely horrified.

Not that anyone over the age of 14 should plan on being intellectually engaged by an hour or two of mass-produced shrieking and Jonas Brothers album plugging, but this year just seemed particularly egregious. The three mop-topped savin' it crusaders were our noble hosts for the evening, periodically being dared by video call-in fans to do silly things. Like get fake tattoos of the next award winner! And hug as many girls as possible! Yes, there was a wacky hug dare that involved Kim Kardashian in a failed attempt at a cameo (no one recognized her, because really why would a 13-year-old girl with her braces pressed longingly to the TV screen bother to notice Kim Kardashian when right there next to her is chaste, floppy-haired sex god Nick Jonas?). But really, the Jonas Brothers brouhahas and Kardashian kerfuffles weren't the meat and potatoes of what was so chilling about the evening. No, there were two other reasons for that feeling of dread.

The first was Britney Spears. Well really it was Britney Spears by way of cotton-mouthed elf Miley Cyrus, who presented the BBQ'd princess with what was basically a lifetime achievement award. Britney Spears is 27. Britney Spears is 27 and was given a giant gold-plated (probably) surf board by the prestigious Teen Choice Academy as a way of saying "Congratulations, you are old and done." Which was awful enough. But even worse was that chipmunky Miley introduced Ms. Spears as her "role model." Which... OK. Sure Britney has had a wonderfully successful career for someone who can dance well and sing kinda decently, sure she once conquered the world with her whirling dervish of weave and jeweled bikinis, but presenting her as a role model for young kids? Are we there yet?

She hasn't exactly handled her life well (and didn't get much help from any of us). What with her cigrut smokin' and baby ignorin' and drinkin' and druggin' and head shavin' and all. And clips of a sweat-glistened Britney writhing in an old apartment building in the "Slave 4 U" video is something we're wanting to point out to our younglings and say "Yes, this"? That seems a bit tone deaf. And showing clips of old Brit at the 1999 Teen Choice Awards (the first ever!) to remind us (and her) that ten years have passed and we've all become terribly old was just cruel. They be-surf boarded Ms. Spears because she was the inaugural Teen Choicer--she was the kick off to this great, most recent youth consumer movement that has chewed up and spit out so many starlets and heartthrobs, decimated so many bank accounts, eroded and blown away childhood and replaced it with product-based fandom. The dark lords at the TCAs decided to honor that, I guess. To pat themselves on the back and give Ms. Spears a little thank you trophy for being their first and most-ruined and perhaps most unwitting victim. And that's just sad and evil.

So that was that. The other thing that rankled was this award called Choice Fab-u-lous. The nominees? Conspicuously queeny dudes like Miss Jay, Michael Urie, animate butternut squash Perez Hilton, and Lloyd from Entourage. So, yeah. The Teen Choice Awards decided to be bold and progressive and give out an award for Best Fashion Gay. And while I think their hearts were probably in the right place, the cause of gay rights isn't going to advance all that much if gays are pigeonholed into the swishy fabulous! category. It felt a bit like giving a Tony to a minstrel show. (It's a shame that Bruno wasn't around to crash the party.) That said, winner Miss Jay's speech included a nice shoutout to LGBT kids, which was nice. So, a coupla steps back, maybe, but probably one forward too.

Anyway. It's old and crotchety to shake your fist and say "Kids today," so I won't. It's also overreaching to say that the Teen Choice Awards are any realistic barometer of the state of American teendom. It's mostly just a lame promotional tool (Twilight boombalottie werewolf Taylor Lautner's embarrassing plug for New Moon being a chief example) that most people pretend never existed. But still there's something... Some small thing that points to a very specific ache in modern society. Some sense that time keeps frittering away and that our teenybop fever dances no longer look anything like what those tiny people (who were born in the frigging nineteen-nineties, ugh) are doing in big, overly-lit auditoriums nowadays.

Even if the only people who care about the ceremony were the couple thousand or so who were in the arena for the Sunday night taping, that's still a big group of girls (and, sure, some boys) who bought into it, who continually buy into it. Rooms full of adults have successfully told them what to like, and the real joy of being an adolescent--beginning to discover Who You Are--becomes less organic, less pure. And, really, less and less about choice.

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