can you tell when a culture is changing? When something that was once normal suddenly seems wrong. This can be good — grown African-American men no longer called “boy,” grown women at the office no longer automatically called “girl” — or it can be ominous. The story below is silly, but ominous. Our culture has nurtured the knee-jerk suspicion that anytime a man is interested in young people, watch out.
Dear Free-Range Kids: Something happened the other day that made me think of your blog.
In honor of the 30th anniversary, I was re-watching “Back to the Future” with a 23-year-old friend (I’m 34) who had never seen it. We were mere minutes into the first film when she said, regarding Marty and Doc Brown, “That’s an inappropriate relationship.”
I was taken aback. I have been watching these movies repeatedly my whole life. Their relationship never seemed odd to me. If anything, I wished I had had a genius time-travelling scientist friend to call my own. But some time in the 11-year gap between my age and my friend’s, the social norms had changed in such a way that the friendship between a grown man a teenage boy had become something that stood out as suspect.
I wonder if this script would even get the green light now, or if it would have to be re-written to make Doc into Marty’s step-dad or something ridiculous.
Just thought I’d share. — Shari Creamer
I wrote back: Actually, that IS fascinating. When she said “inappropriate” was she truly disturbed, or was she just joking? Did she realize that treating all adult-child friendships as suspect is a new thing? What was “inappropriate” about it to her? Just very curious!
She said that a young boy going over to a doctor’s house, and also meeting him at 1:30 in the morning, would be cause for the police to come knocking on doors because everybody would automatically assume their relationship was sexual.
When I asked her why she felt the impropriety stood out to her and not to me (this is the really interesting part), I didn’t get the answer I was expecting. I thought she would mention our age difference and that public ideas about what was proper had changed since I was young. Instead, she mentioned her education (women’s studies and social work) and her volunteer work (rape crisis counseling), and said these made her more aware of and wary of inappropriate relationships. In other words, the impropriety was there the whole time; I just wasn’t trained to notice it.
She did enjoy the movie though, so it couldn’t have bothered her that much. — Shari
As a gal who took some women’s studies classes back in the day and was also a rape crisis counselor for a little while myself, it worries me that this woman feels she has been trained to “see” something — exploitation, sex, danger — that actually isn’t there. There’s insight and then there’s, “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I do worry that we are creating a whole lot of hammers with our culture’s emphasis on worst-first thinking and our belief that young people are in constant danger. L