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TeeVee Mailbag XVIII: Won't Somebody Think of the Children?

Here at the ol' TeeVee Mailbag, we feel a particular affinity for the young people. Maybe it's because we remember what is was like to be young once too. Maybe it's our boyish exuberance and the sprightly way we greet the day. Maybe it's that restraining order, forbidding us from coming within 500 yards of the girls' locker room at the local high school a few blocks down the road.

Whatever the reason, we're big fans of the kids.

And for that reason, we look at today's youth with particular worry. Kids today, they're not the happy-go-lucky lot you and I were back in the day. In those carefree days of yore, the biggest concerns we faced were whether Darth Vader was really Luke's father (he was), whether the lyrics to "She Bop" were unimaginably filthy (they were) and whether the girls thought we were really boss (they didn't).

But now... now the lot of today's young person is a never-ending death march of misery. Whether it's peer pressure or violence or broken homes or creepy Web site guys hanging around your locker room, it's tougher than ever to be an adolescent.

Why, just take a gander at the typical young person nowadays. His sallow face is scarred with acne, her hair is stringy and oily and plagued by split ends. The fashions are abominable. And the music -- it's a wonderment that more young people aren't offing themselves by fourth period rather than being forced to live in the bleak world described in the lyrics of today's nihilistic Eurotrash pop stars.

But of all the woes visited upon the teens courtesy of the uncaring fates -- N'Sync, Mountain Dew, those baggy blue jeans that sag in the ass -- perhaps the cruelest is the advent of widespread Internet access. What was touted as a way for the young'ens to broaden their horizons and better their minds by downloading pre-written research papers off the Net has become a nightmare of Faustian proportions.

Today's wired youth wander blindly into cyberspace, mesmerized by the flashing lights and the beeping hard drives and the hardcore porn sites. But, totally unschooled in the mysterious ways of the Information Superhighway, they fumble all over themselves, committing one Net blunder after another. At worst, this makes the kids easy prey for the greasy-faced cyberstalkers who lurk in chat rooms, looking for hicks and rubes to lure to the West Coast with a free bus ticket and a vague promise of "making it big in the film industry." And at best, it means the bewildered teens will hector poor, put-upon Web page operators with reams of useless, incomprehensible e-mail.

We're particularly sensitive to that last issue here at the ol' TeeVee Mailbag. Because since we opened up shop some two-plus years ago, we've been deluged with enough muddled and sloppy e-mail from slack-jawed youth who fancy themselves the Horace Walpole of the Digital Age to wallpaper the TeeVee office three times over.

That is, if the letters came to us in paper format, and not electronically. But you get what we're driving at.

"Why don't you do more articles on Ben Savage?" our underage scribes demand. "Who should Felicity hook up with -- Ben or Noel? And where are those nude Tori Spelling pictures you jerks promised?"

To which we say, silly rabbits, nude pictures of Tori Spelling aren't for kids. They're for convicts. And, quite possibly, very lonely men.

But the point remains -- today's young people lack the communication skills to fully master the brave new world of electronic correspondence. Their letters are a rambling collection of verbal tics, of grammatical pratfalls, of awkward clauses casually strung together that seem to peter out long before the writer ever manages to finally put in to words just exactly what's on his or her... um...

We seem to have lost our train of thought. At any rate, the young people's e-mails blow.

Take this heartfelt epistle from reader Corey Van Dyke, who babbles:

A lot of young people enjoy this show. You obviously don't know much about TV.

That's the letter. No mention of the show in question. No brilliant point-by-point analysis, stripping bare our perfunctory dismissal of the show in question. Just two sentences, a logical fallacy, and our boy Corey was back to playing Doom on the ol' CD-ROM.

Well, after ruthlessly hunting Corey down and beating the truth out of him with the help of a couple of shots of sodium pentathol and a night under the interrogation lamp, we learned that the show in question is Hyperion Bay. Which is good, really, because we originally feared this could have concerned something important.

But, setting aside Corey's lack of full disclosure from the outset, what about his central thesis -- that, since a lot of young people dig Hyperion Bay, us Vidiots are no longer down with the scene, TV-wise.

Oh, Corey. Poor, gullible Corey.

Gaze into our black eyes and blacker hearts for a second, Corey. Do you see in us any sign that we care what the young people think? I mean, even when we were young people, our likes and dislikes diverged wildly from the rest of our peer group; so much so, in fact, that we were brutally ostracized and turned into the bitter, hateful cretins you see before you today. One of us, for example -- all right, it was Michaels -- made no bones in junior high about his appreciation for the music of Dan Fogelberg. And because of that, he didn't wind up kissing a girl until he was 19.

Think about that before you go to bed tonight, kids. If one unnamed Vidiot -- and we can't emphasize enough that it was Michaels -- cared so little for his standing amongst his peers that he openly embraced songs like "Leader of the Band" and "Run for the Roses," what makes you think your cross e-mail will get us to change our opinion about Mark-Paul Gosselaar and all his wacky adventures? Our kindness and generosity of spirit?

Think again, punks!

So, yes, poor Corey's letter is a mess. But is it any different from the tens of dozens of other e-mails from young people that pour into the TeeVee Mailbag on an annual basis? Not by a longshot.

As a service, then, to our younger, more easily confused readers, we proudly present TeeVee Mailbag's Three Important Life's Lessons to Keep in Mind When Sending E-Mail. Read on, young grasshoppers, and light the dark, empty corridors of your mind with the bright and shiny kerosene lamp of knowledge.

Reader Mike Phaup dropped us a line to denounce Philip Michaels -- the guy with an affinity for 1970s AM-lite rock back in junior high -- and his hateful screed about the 1960s and Baby Boomers. Phaup -- who's not a teenager, but sure does write like one! -- really put us in our place when he sneered:

There is a reason you ungrateful little turds are called generation "X", it's short for "wrong".

Oh, but we are grateful, Mike, for all that Baby Boomers have done for us. They made it cool to shirk social responsibility in the name of personal freedom! And thanks to the Baby Boomers, it doesn't matter how spectacularly we fail or how many lives we destroy so long as our intentions were more or less noble. And every time you're struck with the sudden realization that you could very well die thanks to some unchecked sexually transmitted disease, be sure and whisper a quiet "thank you" to those poster children for '70s hedonism, the Baby Boomers! We sure do.

Which brings us to Lesson Number One about e-mail kids: Always respect your elders.

Reader Stefan D. checked in to ask us a question worthy of the most pointy-headed intellectual.

Do you guys know how many TV's the average consumer buys in a lifetime? What is the trend?

That's simple, Stefan. The average consumer buys 79 television sets in their lifetime. This figure has fallen from a few years ago now that TVs are more durable. Back then, the average consumer was looking at buying upwards of 113 TVs from cradle to grave.

And, of course, Stefan, the standard rule of adding one inch of screen size for every year of your life still applies. That's why, in some rest homes, certain octogenarians enjoy tuning into Lawrence Welk reruns on TV sets that top 86 inches.

That brings up Lesson Number Two: Never pose a serious question to a bunch of smart asses.

Finally, reader Andrew Wells drops us a note condemning Philip Michaels, who just seems to be having a really bad month when it comes to reader mail.

I appreciate sarcasm, cynicism and cut-downs a lot. I love the TeeVee web site. But I think you crossed over the line with your mockery of Falwell. I don't like what he represents either, but you were just plain insulting. I know you don't actually give a damn; I just wanted to tell you anyway.

Oh, but we do give a damn, Andrew. As a matter of fact, we've had our eye on that Michaels character for quite some time.

Sure, it was cute when he made light of Calista Flockhart's rumored eating disorder. And his piece on Irish stereotypes where he maligned nearly a dozen races, creeds and nationalities, well, we chuckled as much as the next guy. That time he denounced Dan Aykroyd as a big, fat fraud? Perfectly above board.

But to poke fun at a public figure who simply suggests that a children's TV show character might be gay... goddammit, that's uncalled for. That's the straw that broke the camel's back. It'll be a cold day in Hell before we run another one of Michaels' pieces, that's for sure. He can listen to those Dan Fogelberg records all day and all night for all we care. His hurtful words will never offend our readers again.

And that's the final listen on e-mail, young people: Learn to accept criticism gracefully.

Additional contributions to this article by: Philip Michaels.


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