I’m not a big fan of Pearl Jam, but Eddie Vedder wrote a line in the band’s most infamous song, “Jeremy,” that’s always struck me as brilliant. The boy was something that Mommy wouldn’t wear …
Jeremy was a real-life teenager in Texas who was being raised in an upper-middle-class family, but he was a misfit. He wasn’t the accessory that mom and dad had planned on for their social-climbing suburban status, hence the bitingly poignant line by Vedder. Jeremy knew he didn’t measure up, too. So one day, he shot himself in the head, in front of his classmates and teacher.
The song got unfairly and inaccurately blamed for the Columbine school shooting. Jeremy didn’t shoot anyone else. He ended his own life because he didn’t fit into the box that others had constructed for him. It’s a shame that so many people missed that message, because it was worth noting.
Parents who use their kids as accessories or live vicariously through them are way more out of control now than they were in the early ’90s, when that song came out. Back then, we just had to endure the tales of the tikes’ accomplishments during family gatherings and in those long, nauseating narratives in Christmas cards that gave an overview of the year.
These days, we’re subjected to it every day on social media. You know the parents. Everything their kid does gets documented for the masses. Every. Single. Thing.
The goal behind it all has nothing to do with getting recognition for the kids. No, the not-so-subtle mission is to get praise and attention heaped upon themselves.
Disclaimer: Facebook is a convenient tool for keeping a time-stamped diary and for keeping grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and baby mommas/daddies who live far away in the loop. Everyone who posts prideful things about their children aren’t superficial, but all superficial people do post prideful things about their kids.
Social media has become the gathering place for the terminally superficial. I have such contempt for people whose primary goal in life is to maintain carefully crafted images. Because of that, it fills me with glee any time it all comes crashing down on them.
This college admissions scandal has made for a delightful spring break for this working father. It’s pulled back the curtain on so many of these artificial people, and that’s a beautiful thing. I literally LOL’d when I saw that one of the cheating mothers is a life coach who is on camera telling a client to “never lie on a resumé” and the daughter of another, who is a popular YouTube “influencer,” saying that she enjoyed answering questions from other young girls who were looking for advice or “stressing” over getting into their college of choice. I almost ROFL’d when I saw that this young woman was on the school board president’s mega-yacht for spring break when the news broke.
I could write a half-dozen columns responding to the previous paragraph alone. If you are the kind of person who believes you have to get into the “right school” in order to be successful, then you better follow that tried-and-true track for life: Get into said school, buy or network your way into the best sorority/fraternity possible with like-minded superficial people, latch on to one or two who are in a position to help you, get hired by the “right company,” then join the “right church” and become a part of the “right civic club(s)” and volunteer for every committee (you don’t have to actually do anything; just cite your super-busy full calendar of other charitable work for your absences).
Disclaimer: Plenty of good, sincere, dedicated people who have followed that track to success are not superficial, but all superficial people do follow that track.
Some people on one of the morning news shows were trying to make William Singer, who helped facilitate all of the false admissions, the bad guy in the scandal. Admittedly, I don’t know all of the facts. I can’t manage to get through one of the reports without getting angry or laughing hysterically. But it seems to me that this guy was simply the middleman for a demanding, well-to-do market of people who wanted to be able to go to dinner parties and to Fakebook and boast about how their kids got into the best school.
He’d toss several thousand dollars to a coach of a low-profile sport, Photoshop a few images of the kid participating in said sport, have a Harvard-educated ringer take the SATs for them, and, voila! Instant Perfect Life for Instagram!
What a great lesson for the kids: It doesn’t matter what you are, it only matters what people think you are.
Actually, that is a valuable lesson for people in the world today. Empires have been built on image alone. It’s happened in virtually every community in America, including ours. Keeping it real doesn’t seem to be a recipe for success, because it’s not what we see.
But the truth is, self-made successful people worked their way through whatever school they could get in, two-year or four-year, and went as far as they needed to in order to make a good living. Or they went to trade school or went through an apprenticeship to learn how to provide a valuable service that the superficial people would have to pay them to do. They just get paychecks, not prestige. And that’s something the superficial people simply couldn’t endure.
My glee will be short-lived, I’m sure. Before long, the national news outlets will start doing stories similar to this column about the pressures of society and how tough it is for the poor little millennials.
One or two of them will probably start making a living by parlaying their shame and embarrassment into a lucrative business. I have no problem with that. It’s a legitimate life issue that they’re dealing with, so at least it would be authentic. Maybe they’ll see how that feels and change the family tree
Mark Thornton is chief of the Leader-Call. Email him at email@example.com.