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January 5, 2012

Your Child, Your Mouthpiece

She went off. And then she went viral.

Little Riley Maida of Newburgh, New York, made news recently with a video clip known as Riley's Rant. In it, the precocious 4-year-old stands in a toy store railing against toy makers for assuming that girls only want to play with pink princesses and boys only want to play with superheroes.

"The companies try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of the stuff the boys want to buy," she asserts, smacking a packaged doll for emphasis as her dad asks leading questions from behind the camera.

On YouTube, then Facebook, then in the news media (and, no joke, at the table next to me at a burger joint today) this four-foot feminist's invective made hundreds of thousands pump their fists and chant "Riley for president!" Diane Sawyer all but declared Riley a sage of the age.

But I had a different reaction to the clip. I thought it was icky. Also icky: the viral video of 8-year-old Elijah Cromer confronting gay-marriage opponent Michele Bachmann last month in South Carolina. The boy waited in line to whisper, "My mommy's gay, but she doesn't need fixing," while said mommy stood behind him, filming it all.

These gotcha moments are supposed to make liberals like me cheer. But honestly, I find them cheap and off-putting.

I happen to agree with both of the kids' sentiments: I treasured my Star Wars action figures as a girl, my sons are crazy about hot pink, and what really needs "fixing" in this country is the hogwash notion that heterosexual marriages need "defending" from anyone, for any reason.

But I don't like the way the points were made — by camera-ready kids parroting their parents' personal propaganda.

Just ... ick.

Even if these mouth-of-babes tongue-lashings were not as coached and/or staged as they really, really appear to be, it's clear the kids were spewing the impassioned viewpoints of their parents. (Have you ever seen a child in a toy store? They tend toward giddy and agog rather than deeply disappointed in the gender bias inherent in juvenile product marketing.)

I don't actually begrudge Riley's dad or Elijah's mom for teaching, or even preaching to, their kids about these issues. Good on them for arming the next generation with a healthy skepticism for the dogma of the day.

Forgive me, though: As long as we're empowering our progeny to question mainstream ways of thinking ... shouldn't we be teaching them to question ours, too?

It's not hard to indoctrinate our kids with our beliefs. It's not hard to get them to echo our ideologies back to us or megaphone them out to the world. In fact, it's very hard not to.

Here are these sponge-brained humans who take our every utterance for gospel. They're a delightfully captive audience, sitting beside us year after year as we hone our arguments ("And that is why I believe the pinky toe has become an expendable appendage in the modern age").

And that's okay. One of the unspoken reasons people have children is so we can feel like we're populating the planet with people who think as we do — who will vote as we do, and value what we do, and validate our convictions with their very existence.

But we ought to draw the line at sending our kids into battle for us, at turning them into mouthpieces or promoting them as puppets. It's lazy. It's cowardly. Worst of all, it smacks of a weak argument. Think of it this way: If you need an adorable disciple to convince society that you're right ... then you're probably not.



Hell of a good point, and solid Devil's Advocacy. I'd start the Slow Clap for this if there was anyone around to observe it.
Cody Parson

Sun, Jan , 22:15:44

When I read your first paragraph, I googled "Riley's Rant" and, reading the comments section in some blogs discussing it, I found myself thinking how pigheaded and presumptuous were the people who insisted that this girl had been coached, and nodding my head when reading the people saying that no child who didn't believe what she was saying would say it with such passion ... then I read the rest of your column; oops. But I still think that. The thing is, I agree about Elijah Cromer, who was very reluctant to ask his question, clearly was pressured to do so, and showed no such passion. But it simply isn't true of Riley, and I find it despicable that someone would make the charge against her parents without evidence. The fact is that you're wrong and should have done more research, which I just did simply by googling her father's name: http://www.dailydot.com/society/dennis-barry-riley-maida-toy-video/

Mon, Jan , 04:01:32


"If you need an adorable disciple to convince society that you're right ... then you're probably not."

This is quite fallacious ... you just noted that you AGREE that they are right, so clearly your inference holds no water. Whatever problems there may be with people sending their children into battle for them, they have NO BEARING WHATSOEVER on whether the position is valid or not; to put it in general terms, a bad argument for something is not a good argument against it.

And that's aside from the fact that all that happened here is that Riley's father pulled out the camera when his daughter went on a rant, with no intention of using it to prove anything to the world. Whether it reflects her parents views or not (and of course it does to some degree), it is dismissive in the extreme to give her spontaneous self-expression the treatment you have here, based solely on your own expectations of what children do in toy stores ... way to shove her into a box.


Mon, Jan , 04:25:04

Brilliantly thought out and brilliantly argued!
You are 100% spot on! YOU should be running for president (but you are probably too normal to win, or even want to in today's environment).
I often wonder.. why doesn't STARSHINE ROSHELL go viral? I'd like to forward your column to all my friends and family, anyway, if that is okay?

Ray Morgan

Mon, Jan , 09:51:27

Children should be brought up to respect authority while always questioning its basis. Likewise, no parent should brainwash their kids to parrot their own beliefs; I believe we have seen quite enough of this aspect in religion.
Parents are supposed to instill a healthy scepticism in their offspring which happens to include their own cherished beliefs.

Lee Jenkinson

Mon, Jan , 20:02:09

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