Kids are one step ahead of Britneysaurus

Two very large, scary things jumped out at the nation's children recently. First, there was Disney's new "Dinosaur" movie. Then teen idol Britney Spears released another pop album entitled, "Oops - I did it again." That may be as close to an admission of guilt as we'll get from either of them. Both the Disney movie and the Spears persona are violations of nature. In "Dinosaur," the ancient reptiles appear to talk. In her music video, the nubile fashion model appears to sing.

Parents are understandably worried about confusing their children. Disney has been criticized for the alleged scientific inaccuracy in "Dinosaur," but sitting through the whole film gives a pretty accurate sense of 65 million years passing. (The Kansas Board of Education has already filed an objection, claiming that the movie takes only 6,000 years.) Besides, we can't prove that cute, talking monkeys didn't help herbaceous dinosaurs survive the meteor showers that plunged earth into a deadly Ice Age.

Similarly, some consider Ms. Spears's provocative music routines misleading for the adolescent audience she attracts. But Spears objects to that characterization. Striking her signature Lolita pose in the pages of "Rolling Stone," Spears whispers coyly, "I don't want to be part of someone's Lolita thing."

Oops, she did it again.

Parents, ever sensitive to looking like dinosaurs who can talk, need to remember that kids aren't nearly as foolish as adults. After all, those weren't children paying $80 a share for eToys last fall. No kids voted for Jesse Ventura. Presumably, no one under 21 is buying all those Ab Masters that keep the nation's garage sales in such good shape.

A random survey of the kids in my kitchen - based on scientific principles approved by Disney's dept. of paleontology - suggests that America's youth might be sharper than America's advertisers hope. A hundred percent of my daughters' friends suspect that Jurassic lemurs couldn't talk. A similar number suspect that tiny midriff T-shirts couldn't be comfortable.

In most cases, our elaborate schemes to demolish kids' entertainment look a lot like Wile E. Coyote's sure-fire plans. (Has anyone over 15 figured out the V-chip?)

In the jungle of consumerism, we're not going to bring down the T. Rexes of pop culture in a frontal assault. Besides, evolution favors the smart over the strong. Encouraging a sense of humor and a critical sense of the way corporations manipulate us is like eating the T. Rex eggs. It's much safer, and it's much more likely to keep the beast from reproducing.

Just because they jump when the carnivore attacks or bounce when the teen idol squeaks doesn't mean kids are taking either one seriously. As Britney croons, "I'm not that innocent."

*Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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