Another summer of freedom for teenagers is again tumbling to a close. After months of being late to bed and later to rise, children are agonizing over another year of organized learning about to begin. So the commissars of teen culture have thrown one last TV party - the "Teen Choice Awards," voted on by the readers of Seventeen magazine and broadcast on that antonym of wholesomeness, Fox.
If you're a boy or girl of 12, and you're about to take a plunge into the world of teenagerdom, what would television teach you about this miraculous time?
1. Dress light. No doubt in keeping with the awards' beach theme - after all, the award isn't a trophy, it's a surf board - the teen girls in the audience must have been required to wear bikini tops, halter tops, tube tops - whatever showed a lot of young flesh. Seventeen magazine is supposed to help teen girls negotiate those difficult developing years, but this TV showcase seemed less about female socialization and more about guaranteeing teenage boys wouldn't turn the channel over to preseason football. Even the female presenters and award winners seemed required to bare arms and midriffs. "Choice Female Athlete" and Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan came in a glittery bikini top and expressed how nice it was to get out of the ice rink and get skimpy for the cameras.
2. Obsess about sex. The "choice summer song" award went to the uncommonly melodic rapper Nelly for his song "Hot in Herre" [sic], in which he implores his woman "It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes," and the woman quickly echoes "I'm going to take my clothes off." Now there's a summer anthem for all the kids to sing.
If that tribute to nudity wasn't enough, former Fox star Jennifer Love Hewitt performed her new single, "Barenaked," what Ms. Hewitt would want us to think is a deep meditation on emotional nakedness, feeling vulnerable in a crazy world, and blah, blah, blah. In reality, it's a cheesy gimmick to get the actress into the top-40 countdown.
The new soul star Tweet was also in the house, but she didn't complete the titillating trilogy with her hit single, "Oops (Oh My)," in which the self-described "Southern hummingbird" keeps mysteriously, oops, dropping her shirt and pants on the floor around her man of the moment.
At least the program didn't repeat last year's "highlight," four drag queens impersonating the musical foursome who revived the call-girl hit "Lady Marmalade."
3. Do things because your parents won't like it. It's sad, but not surprising, that when it came to "Choice Movie Comedy," the light, classy Disney film "The Princess Diaries" (rated G), would get crushed by "American Pie 2" (rated R). Seventeen and Fox couldn't just applaud a film that Hollywood has rated as inappropriate for the very children watching these awards. They also gave it an award under the equally inappropriate category of "Choice Movie Your Parents Didn't Want You to See." If the film inspires teenagers into the joys of reckless sexual abandon, perhaps next year Seventeen will go a step further and create a category for "Choice Birth Control Clinic Your Parents Didn't Want You to Attend Without Their Consent."
4. Scream, don't listen, while others are talking. This isn't as weighty a lesson, but if these awards were about artistic merit instead of just a popularity contest, you'd think the producers at Fox would encourage the teen-crammed audience to stop screaming at the top of their lungs throughout the acceptance speeches. OK, so no one's going to deliver a Gettysburg Address, but one ought to be interested in what these role models have to say. For example, Reese Witherspoon was humble, even embarrassed to win the "Extraordinary Achievement Award" at the tender age of 26. Actor Adam Sandler used his acceptance speech to make nocturnal-emission jokes.
It would be unfair to suggest that all of the award winners typified a teenage wasteland of cultural rot. Singer-actress Mandy Moore won an award for the film "A Walk to Remember," a two-hanky weeper about an upright preacher's daughter who dies young. WB's family-friendly "7th Heaven" won for best drama, and Fox's relatively clean "Bernie Mac Show" won for breakout comedy. Sarah Michelle Gellar won for her phoned-in performance in "Scooby-Doo." (See earlier sentence on popularity contest over artistic merit.)
But these were the exceptions. The special merited airing, not as entertainment for children, but as a documentary for their parents to explain where, and how, their children are learning all those awful messages.