embarrassment

Exit 66. You don’t get to decide what I do or don’t find embarrassing or traumatic.

The other day, a news story that went viral, as the kids these days say, caught my eye.  Morris Bart is the eponymous head of a large New Orleans-based personal injury law firm that advertises on daytime television in Louisiana and surrounding states.  A toddler named Grayson Dobra absolutely loves his commercials.  When Grayson celebrated his second birthday earlier this year, his mother decided to give him a Morris Bart-themed party.  She made a cake and a t-shirt with Morris Bart’s picture on it.  She contacted the law firm, and while Mr. Bart was unavailable to make a personal appearance, he sent an autographed picture and a bunch of promotional merchandise.  (Here is an article from their local newspaper about Grayson’s party.)

My first reaction, as was probably the first reaction from many of you, was cheerful laughter.  Everyone knows some little kid who has a weird obsession, and many of us probably were that kid at one time in our lives.  I’ve had those weird obsessions before, and I’ve written before about one that I had when I was considerably older than Grayson Dobra.  Seeing pictures of Grayson Dobra’s Morris Bart cake are just adorably cute, when you think about what little kids are like.  It still makes me smile, and I’ve read the story several times in the last 24 hours.

But there’s a darker side to this.  I’m afraid for Grayson’s future.  Specifically, I’m afraid of what will happen if someday he outgrows his obsession with Morris Bart and wants to put it behind him, but his mother insists on dragging out the pictures from the birthday party on a regular basis, and reminding Grayson of his Morris Bart phase every time a Morris Bart commercial comes on television.  In this era of social media, hundreds of people see everyone’s embarrassing baby pictures, and the maternal tendency to smile and laugh at a child’s awkwardness.  I cringe at the thought that Grayson may someday not want to be reminded of this, but his mother insists with an excuse like “Oh, but you were so cute then!”  That kind of behavior is extremely disrespectful on the mother’s part, and it sends the message that the child’s feelings and personal boundaries don’t count.

Maybe I’m just projecting my own past onto the Dobras.  There have been plenty of times over the years when my own mother has insisted on bringing up embarrassing and traumatic things in my past because she thinks they were cute, or she thinks that I’m overreacting when I say I don’t want to talk about it.  No, Mom, I’m sorry, but you don’t get to decide what I do or don’t find embarrassing or traumatic.  (Mom, I know you read this, but I’m going to say all of this anyway.  I know, though, that you weren’t setting out to hurt me intentionally, and that it’s only human nature that what is not that big a deal to someone might be to someone else.  And I definitely do have to admit that you’ve been better about this in recent years, and that you did apologize after I wrote last year about the weird obsession from my early teens, so thank you.)

One of many examples that I remember well happened at a family gathering for Thanksgiving in 2000.  Mom was telling my aunt about something that had happened to me recently, I made it clear that I did not want to talk about it.  Mom kept egging me on to fill in my aunt on some details of the story that she couldn’t remember, and I kept saying I didn’t want to talk about it.  Eventually Mom and my aunt went into the other room, where Mom could continue telling the story out of earshot of me.  The message that this sent, of course, were that my feelings didn’t count, so Mom was going to keep disregarding my feelings out of earshot of my objections.  One of my greatest regrets in life is that I didn’t, at that moment, walk the couple miles to the Greyhound station and find a bus home.  That would have sent a much stronger message, that I won’t put up with someone being so disrespectful to me, and that I will take whatever steps are necessary to remove myself from situations like that.  I really wish I had done that.

Maybe Grayson Dobra is going to turn out just fine.  Maybe he will be able to let his Morris Bart phase go peacefully with the ability to laugh about it later.  And if he doesn’t, maybe his mother will be respectful when he says he doesn’t want people looking at those pictures anymore.  I certainly hope so.  Many of my friends have children around Grayson’s age.  I know you enjoy Facebooking and Instagramming your children’s cute embarrassing moments–and I enjoy seeing the pictures and videos as well–but please respect their feelings if they indicate someday that they don’t want you to share something.  I don’t want your kids to grow up thinking that you don’t respect their boundaries, because those turn into the kind of kids that hide things from you, out of embarrassment and shame.  Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot to hide that would have gotten me in trouble, but not all kids are like that.  Grayson and his family probably won’t ever read this, but if they do, I hope they keep this in mind.

Exit 5. In my dreams it’s still the same.

Fans of ’80s rock music will recognize the title of this post as a line from this song.  I came across it recently after having not heard it for probably close to 20 years.

Fans of the Disney Channel in the early ’90s, on the other hand, will recognize the title of this post as a line from this song, which until I started thinking about this post, I hadn’t heard in even longer, for well over 20 years.

In the ’80s, I listened to a lot of pop radio and watched a lot of MTV back when they still played music videos.  Somehow, though, I missed Dokken.  But I was a huge fan of the Disney Channel in the early ’90s, and I didn’t figure out that The Party’s song was a cover until a couple years later.  The Party was, as I said, a Disney project, made up of cast members of that era’s Mickey Mouse Club, of which I was a huge fan in my early teens.  They had a few other minor hits besides In My Dreams, but they didn’t really get a lot of attention beyond the Disney Channel.  The five of them took turns on lead vocals, and as far as I know they didn’t play their own instruments.

Now I’ll be making a point with all this, but first, there is something you should know about me.  In my early teens, I listened to a lot of teenybopper pop, bubblegum hip-hop (MC Hammer and clones), and whatever else the radio and MTV told me was cool.  Around age 16 (which would be 1992-93), I made a very abrupt shift and turned my back on all that and started listening to rock, both classic rock and so-called “alternative rock,” which was a word used in the early ’90s that meant absolutely nothing.  I’ll call this my Great Music Shift.  The reason for the Great Music Shift, as best as I can remember and figure, was probably growing up and outgrowing childish entertainment combined with having friends who didn’t like pop or hip-hop.  At that age, I was influenced more than I’d like to admit by what those around me thought.

As an adult, I’ve spent a lot of time celebrating the nostalgia of my childhood.  I host an event at my house every few months which involves staying up really late playing old video games from my childhood while listening to music from my childhood*.  Pop culture from my generation has become sort of trendy in some circles these days.  (Now I’m starting to sound like James Halliday from Ready Player One.  I don’t have his millions of dollars, though.)  Some of the music that I abandoned after the Great Music Shift has found its way into my playlists for the sake of nostalgia.  Like this, for example.

And some of the music I hated back in the ’90s has found its way onto my playlists as well.

So all of this presents an interesting question: Despite all of this revival of what I did in my childhood, why did I not, until just a few days ago, so much as acknowledge the existence of The Party, given that I was a huge fan of theirs before the Great Music Shift?  Why have I continued to leave that fandom buried in my past, instead of putting them on my ’90s playlists?

My gut reaction is because I’m embarrassed to have been such a huge fan of a teenybopper pop group.  But the more I’ve thought about this the last couple weeks, I think that it doesn’t tell the whole story.  For one thing, it’s not like this is the only time that’s happened, and it’s not like I’ve kept all my musical guilty pleasures hidden.  I still have musical guilty pleasures today; some of my current real-life friends are probably about ready to leave a comment on this regarding Carly Rae Jepsen right now.

I think part of the reason I’ve left The Party in my past is because (in my opinion) a lot of their work really isn’t that good, or at least hasn’t stood the test of time.  In My Dreams was a great song, but Summer Vacation is just kind of cheesy now that I’m not 14 anymore.  And I kind of knew back then that not all of their songs were all that good.  So why, then, was I such a passionate fan of them at all?  I think part of it was the Hipster Effect.  Modern-day “hipsters” are often stereotyped as listening to obscure music and bragging about how they knew the early work of bands before they were cool.  And I knew of The Party before they were The Party, because I had been watching them on the Mickey Mouse Club since the show’s debut (or, technically, revival) in early 1989, over a year before they formed The Party.  And I enjoyed the Mickey Mouse Club.  It was a variety show for pre-teens and teenagers, a show just for my age group.  And it was pretty darn funny, at least as far as the sense of humor of pre-teens and young teenagers goes (although a bit cheesy at times).

I think there are two other things at work here in terms of why I’m so embarrassed about this, besides some of the songs’ lack of ability to stand the test of time.  As for exactly how embarrassed I am, I hadn’t listened to In My Dreams between 1992ish and two weeks ago after I came across Dokken’s version, and I hadn’t listened to any other The Party songs until just today when I sat down to start writing this.  Really, this has been a difficult post to share.  And what’s really funny about all this is just how these songs still come back to me instantly while listening to them for the first time in over 20 years.  Anyway, two reasons… one is that I went a little overboard with my fandom of this band.  There was a time when I knew all of their full names, dates of birth, and hometowns.  I wanted to hang out with these people, as well as the other Mickey Mouse Club cast members, probably because I didn’t have a lot of friends of my own at the time.  They were my escape from reality.  I did not obtain this information in a stalkerish way; the Disney Channel was a premium service in that time period, and they sent a magazine to all their subscribers, which often contained information about and interviews with the stars of their original programming.  But still, by adult standards, that just seems a little weird and creepy.

The other reason is my parents.  Mom and Dad made fun of these guys all the time.  Mom and Dad make fun of a lot of people, for being too fat, too skinny, too funny-looking, talking funny, having a funny name, whatever reason you can possibly think of.  And just about any individual who appears on television was fair game for them.  And this would make me self-conscious by extension.  Remember, the members of The Party were practically my imaginary friends, and Mom and Dad were always making fun of them.  Especially Damon.  For some reason, I felt ashamed to like something that Mom and Dad always made fun of.  So it was natural to leave this in the past once I stopped listening to their music.  (By the way, Mom reads this.  I’m not mad at you, I’m just writing about how I felt.  And if you try to embarrass me about anything on this post, just remember that I have plenty of embarrassing dirt on you, and I’m friends with a lot of your Facebook friends too, so hush.)

In retrospect, I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with having liked embarrassing things in your childhood.  I mean, some things really aren’t meant to stand the test of time.  Sesame Street is a classic, but it’s for kids.  I don’t know many adults who sit around watching Sesame Street on their own, when they’re not watching it with their children, and I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  Some entertainment products are meant to be consumed by children, or by teenagers, and their lack of appeal to other age groups or generations isn’t a weakness, nor is changing one’s tastes as part of the process of growing up.  It’s ok to relive parts of your childhood occasionally–the Backstreet Boys recently played live here, and while I have never been a fan of theirs, a lot of my twentysomething female friends attended that show and had a great time, good for them!–but you shouldn’t go overboard with that either, because no one was meant to be a child forever.

While thinking about this, I discovered something interesting.  The Party reunited (minus Tiffini) in 2013, now in their late 30s, and made this, and are slowly working on another album:

They aren’t embarrassed of their past either.  And this song is just as cheesy as Summer Vacation was almost a quarter-century ago!  So if they aren’t ashamed of their own work, what do I have to be ashamed of?  That’s why I decided to write this.  I have no reason to be embarrassed that I was once such a big fan of a teenybopper group.  It was music for teenagers in the early ’90s, and I was a teenager in the early ’90s.  The best way not to be embarrassed about something like this is to admit it and confront that fear.  Will I put any of their old music on my ’90s playlists?  Maybe.  Will I buy their new album, or look at any of their stuff from the ’90s from after I stopped listening to them?  Maybe.  But everyone has embarrassing stories about things they used to be in to as kids, and now I’m adding this to my collection of such stories.  I’m kind of wondering right now if any of my thirtysomething friends, or other readers of this blog, will come forward and admit that they were fans of The Party too back in the day.

And after all, I don’t exactly have room to talk about being embarrassed about listening to pop music, considering that I’m a grown man and I have a favorite Carly Rae Jepsen song that isn’t one of the 1.5** songs of hers that everyone knows.  And I’ll leave you with that.


* If you live near Sacramento and this sounds awesome, send me your contact information, and I’ll add you to the invite list for this.  Comments are moderated, so if you leave a comment with contact information, I’ll edit it before I publish it.

** “1.5” because Good Time is a duet.