Last week, as I drove the kids to school, the sun was shining for what felt like the first time in years and the mood in the car matched the cloudless sky and the radio was on and our heads were bopping along to the beat and then I heard the lyrics – really heard them – only a split second before Miguel turned to me and said, “Who’s Jeffrey Dahmer?”
The lyrics in question are from Katy Perry’s song Dark Horse and rapped by Juicy J:
“I call her Karma – she eats your heart out like Jeffrey Dahmer.”
Kids are inundated with messages from pop culture. Even if you keep them from television, movies and pop music, they still get multiple messages about alcohol and drug use, sexuality, and violence. They absorb it through omnipresent advertising and hear about it from kids at school. In a society so driven by media, it feels inevitable.
My kids have access to television and movies, though they also have limits, and I have let them listen to pop music. I say “I” because this is a point on which Luisa and I have never quite agreed. She is not always comfortable with the music I allow but I have always wanted our kids to have competency in pop culture for social reasons and I also believe that I am in the perfect position to teach them to think critically about the messages they get from it.
So, I have used pop music to talk about objectification of women, double standards for men and women with regards to sex and sexuality, and about the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol. I want it to be clear that I have no problem taking on difficult issues and explaining them to my children.
But I was not prepared to explain Jeffrey Dahmer to my kids.
I told them the truth is the simplest way I could – Jeffrey Dahmer killed many people and what he did was horrific and had no place in a pop song.
Later that night, Miguel sat at the dining room table doing his homework while Zeca and I played a game. He does most of his work on the computer and has a tendency to get distracted by Minecraft videos which is why we have him use the computer in a common area – to keep him on task. I took Zeca up to bed and he came upstairs soon after and said, “Mama, I did something I shouldn’t and I don’t want you to be angry because I need your compassion right now.”
He burst into tears and told me that he had Googled Jeffrey Dahmer.
I spent the next hour consoling him while trying to explain the inexplicable. There is a gradual loss of innocence and then there is this – something dark and twisted that steals innocence in an instant. I never imagined that I would have to explain pedophilia, cannibalism and serial killers to my son because of a pop song. My son, who is nearly the same age as some of Dahmer’s victims. I am grateful for small things in this situation – grateful he found no images, grateful that he sought me out to process what he had read. But those are little consolation.
I take responsibility for my part in this. I let my kids listen to pop music. I left my son alone with access to the internet. But it It wasn’t that long ago that Katy Perry told teens they were “fireworks” and encouraged them to “show them what you’re worth.” When did the standards of human decency drop so low that lyrics about a man who raped, murdered and ate parts of his victims are now mainstream? I was forced to explain to my son a world in which that type of horror exists but it’s almost harder to explain a world in which that horror is a punchline.
At the end of our conversation, Miguel asked, “Why? Why would someone put that in a song?” I have no answer to that.
FEATURE PHOTO CREDIT: MUSICBOXMIX