My own personal paragons

By Chuck Sigars | Sep 04, 2013

I’m writing this over the Labor Day weekend, and so to honor the sweat and toil of my columnist forefathers, who wrote based only on their own education, erudition and observation, I’m not going to use the Internet.

I’m not going to pretend to know something I don’t. And it turns out there’s a lot I don’t know.

In my defense, I can’t be aware of everything (my wife disputes this). There do seem to be huge gaps, though, and while I could fill those in quietly and behind-the-scenes, leaving you none the wiser, I’m going Google-less for the duration. It’s a sign of respect.

So here we go: I don’t really know who Miley Cyrus is. I know that she’s a young woman, who apparently achieved some fame as a child actress, or maybe a singer. Her father is Billy Ray Cyrus.

And here we go again: I don’t really know who Billy Ray Cyrus is, either. I know the name, I know he’s some sort of musician (country music, I think), and I know he had a big hit song a long time ago that was called “Achy Breaky Heart,” although there may be a hyphen in that (Note to editor: Please don’t fix this. I’m making a point).

Wow. I miss the Internet already.

I also know what “twerking” is, but of course that was before my Internet blackout. Upon reading the news of Ms. Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs (Video Music Awards. I had to look that up, too.), like millions of other people I searched for an answer, and I got one. So now I understand.

Twerking is not new, by the way. The word is new-ish, but the dancing? It’s essentially what my grandfather would have called “hootchy-kootchy,” a term I really like.

Say it to yourselves. Imagine a headline from last week that said, “Miley Cyrus entertains VMAs crowd with some hootchy-kootchy.” I think we would all have moved on by now.

Assuming I have a point, it would be that I’m not particularly interested in Miley Cyrus, and see no reason why I should be.

I suppose it’s possible that her contribution to culture demonstrates the moral decline of this nation’s 20 year olds, but people have been talking trash about 20 year olds ever since there were 40 year olds. At least I’m pretty sure that’s true. One of you Google it for me.

What did sort of intrigue me about the Twerkaclypse was Miley’s dad. A day or two after the big event, apparently Billy Ray made some statement or tweet about how he approved of his daughter’s hootchy-kootchiness.

But, hey, he’s a dad, and also an entertainer. I completely understand how his public face would be all grins and “that’s my girl,” showing support and putting up a fatherly defense.

And for all I know he meant it. Show biz folks, you know. Some of them are pieces of work.

But I watched enough of Miley Cyrus’ performance to understand the fuss. I thought it was kind of vulgar, but again, nothing new.

Normally you’d have to pay a cover charge and/or be at a bachelor party to see something similar, but let’s not get our underwear all bunched up.

She’s an adult now and can grind all she wants. We don’t have to watch. And her father approves. End of story.

Except, I wondered: What about her teachers?

Miley Cyrus may bask in her father’s uncritical adoration, but surely she had a third-grade teacher at some point, and that’s what I’m talking about.

I’m old enough (if maybe not as understanding) to be her father, but still: Whenever I do something dumb, or tasteless, or embarrassing, or just plain wrong, I don’t imagine the faces of my parents nearly as often as I think of a whole slew of teachers.

Teachers who took the time to correct me, inspire me, lead me by their example, and yeah, teach me.

I had some unremarkable teachers and a few bad ones, but by and large my formative years were formed by exceptional men and women who labored to give me an opportunity to be better.

When I casually ignore grammar just to be cute, I see Mrs. Thomas looking over the top of her glasses at me. When my diction, as usual, is south of comprehensible, Dr. White’s disapproval is as fresh as it was in 1977.

When I stumble around a piece of American history I really should know better, I imagine Mr. Cain.

Mrs. Thoreen. Mr. Greene. Mr. Porter. Ms. Page.

Mr. Kemper, whose influence stretched beyond geometry class into mentorship, whose disapproval, even today, would horrify me. There will be no hootchy-kootchy from me, in any form, and mostly because I couldn’t stand disappointing him.

This is the week the Backpack Express takes off. School has started again, and I know something that these impossibly young students waiting at the bus stop do not: This year, many of them will meet some of the most important people in their lives, and it will be in a classroom.

And their approval or disapproval, even imagined, might be a more powerful force than even Ms. Cyrus and her enormous tongue understand right now. Let’s hope she gets embarrassed a little and learns something.

I know I have. I added twerking to my daily routine; it’s a great aerobic workout. I’ll just do it inside from now on. Stupid neighbors.

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