Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Like OMG!

In my fledgling days in radio I got a number of request calls for certain novelty song by Frank Zappa. I had no idea at the time that I was taking part in a shift in the portrayal of women in our mass media culture. The year was 1982. The song was "Valley Girl."

During the 1970's feminism had been the rule of the day. Women sought equality in every sector of life: equal pay and nonstereotypical roles in the workplace, at home, and in the media. Helen Ready sang "I Am Woman." Cher told Sonny to hit the road. Maude was more than a match for Archie Bunker. And Billie Jean King handed Bobby Riggs his male chauvinist hat on the tennis court. Woman were not to be disrespected anymore. Women were smart. Women were strong. You don't tug on Superman's cape, and you don't mess with Linda Carter as Wonder Woman either.

That all got flushed down the toilet with a single weird novelty song and a 14 year-old girl named Moon Unit.

Zappa's song was meant as a poke at the SoCal subculture known as Valspeak: a corruption of the English languish bred in the well groomed San Fernando Valley where female teenage angst usually centers around not having enough shoes or just the right color of nail polish for a sweet sixteen. These girls, born in the mid-1960's, had somehow grown up knowing nothing of Vietnam and thinking Watergate was some form of birth control. Zappa was astounded by the shallowness of these people's lives, and his daughter was able to supply the lingo that brought it all to life. He never intended to have by 1983 every girl in high school sprouting "Gag me with a spoon."

But that's what happened. The age of irony and arrived, and those who were in on the joke inflected their daily conversation with Valspeak the same way we might do the Homer Simpson "Doh!" when we make a mistake or do Doctor Evil's slow "Rrrriiiight," when we hear something nonsensical. We never meant for it to become a national trend, and we certainly never meant to make this a role model for our young women. But the damage had been done.

Soon, Madonna was proclaiming herself to be a Material Girl in a video that echoed Marilyn Monroe singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." Cyndi Lauper took it in a slightly different direction, but basically the message was the same in "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." Julie Brown sent it all up again with her novelty song "I'm a Blond." As time wore on supermodels became full-blown celebrities, Paris Hilton became famous for no apparent reason, and female tennis stars now emit such extreme vocalizations during a match that I blush and hit the MUTE button when my wife enters the room.

Guys are not totally blameless. Somewhere along the line it became OK to call women "chicks" again, but in our defense we picked up on it only when women started calling themselves by that name. (ex: The Dixie Chicks) And speaking of country music, nobody was more surprised than the group Confederate Railroad back a few years ago when they released a song called "I Like Women Just a Little On the Trashy Side" and fans started requesting it at their concerts. Female fans. Dressed, you know... a little on the trashy side. You've come a long way, baby - in the wrong direction.

So, the next time you turn on your TV and scan into something like The Hills, Laguna Beach, Top Model, Gossip Girls, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Dating in the Dark, or anything where girls are sitting around having OMG moments over what dress to wear and what purse goes with her Benz, just remember it all started with "Valley Girl." It's the Zappa Curse, and we're still living with it.

Here is the original just to prove my point. Tell me this isn't the prototype for every girly reality show on the air. At least it's less than five minutes. That's more than I can say for its television offspring. Rated PG for being a bad influence and for being like grody to the max.

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