Cruel intentions?

Vanessa Pralle

Have you ever watched MTV’s “My Sweet 16?” You’d know if you had; from the galvanizing clips of newly teeth-straightened teens whose clothing budgets could feed a third world village to the ubiquitous hissy fits, temper tantrums, and shrieks of “Oh, Daddy!” uttered by the prima donnas when denied a Range Rover (brand new, because used cars are dubbed “icky”), you immediately know you’ve entered a realm of brattiness that makes Villanova students look impoverished.

A few nights ago, my roommates and I sat down to watch the latest debutante preen for her big day – no, not wedding, but, yes, her sweet 16. This week’s princess insisted on hiring her date along with a brigade of back-up dancers, as her over-zealous and obviously incredibly bored mother looked on with glee.

Our sophomore in high school forces the poor guy to parade around in a faux Prince Charming attire to accompany the Fairy Tale theme, complete with horses pulling a giant Christmas ornament carriage. It was amusing, to say the least.

Then, things got bad, or should I say mean? The camera zooms in on the birthday girl sprawled out on her bed along with a slew of like-minded cronies, devising a list of “The Losers.” They relish in making jabs at the potential “Loser” candidate, as though sharks nipping at their prey, until deeming her “stupid,” “pathetic,” or “she is just, like, such a LOSER!” accompanied by the quintessential Clueless “L” on the forehead.

Fast-forward to the party itself where the princess is sprinting as though it’s midnight only to inform some girls that they’re not “on my party list! So what the hell are they doing here?!”

hen other party attendees are interviewed, they display giddy smiles, oozing with ominous anticipation for the potential “fight.”As I’m witnessing the events unfold, I cannot but help begin to feel slightly nauseous and utterly disgusted.

It’s one thing to be a spoiled, hedonistic brat, but it’s another to intentionally inflict pain onto others just for fun.

Throughout the show, I’m half hoping the mother will intervene, scolding her daughter for her malicious ways, but mom is too busy salsa-ing with Prince Charming.

I contemplate this indifference to vindictiveness after the show has ended while looking through the TV guide where I notice this phenomenon with numerous shows: “Desperate Housewives,” “Laguna Beach,” “American Idol.” They all rivet and entertain us by providing elements of sinister cruelty laced with splices of prurient humor. Whatever happened to good old “Saved by the Bell” or “The Cosby Show?”

Have Americans become so de-sensitized to violence, prejudice and cruelty that we no longer desire the “feel-good” shows or is it just that our lives contain so little substance that we have to live vicariously through others’ inherently spiteful ways?

A few weeks ago, I was in Philly, relaxing on a bench awaiting the arrival of the R5 to bring me back to school. Next to me, a 93 year-old woman sat, decked out in knee-highs along with a very grandmaesque blouse. She leans over to my boyfriend and asks, divulging a thick Canadian accent, “Would you please read this to me (eh)?” With a shaky hand, she gives him the newspaper.

It’s something about how officials admitted that the lack of preparation for Hurricane Katrina cost the loss of lives. After Matt returns the paper, she regards me, nearly four generations removed from her, with cloudy grey eyes and declares, “We live in such a mean world now.”

I’m not trying to preach at the pulpit as a pillar of morality because I’m guilty of nastiness too, but I fear that our society, with media in particular, is rewarding and perhaps promoting acts of cruelty at the expense of others.

I have trouble believing that we’re merely passive participants watching TV – there must be something that filters into the psyche or unconsciousness that deems that behavior acceptable. Maybe it’s the same bundle of neurons that whispers to change the channel when uncomfortable images are broadcast in our line of vision.

In the words of my Christian anthropology teacher Dr. Sherretta, “You don’t see cats sitting around, congratulating each other on shredding a mouse.”