2009-05-27 / Opinion

You're so Vain. And so Busted.

by Alex McRae

Pop culture and pop music tell us more about a nation's mind-set than a library piled with papers scribbled by social workers who don't have a clue about life outside the ivory tower.

Sometimes, the messages are mixed. While 1960s rock music promoted everything from anarchy to free love to drug use, Motown Records was cranking out rhythm and blues love songs from groups like The Supremes, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

Loads of '70s music was dedicated to disco. But during that decade, we began to hear something a bit new. Instead of pushing peace, love and pharmaceuticals, the music reflected a desire to focus on the self and not necessarily in a good way.

When Carly Simon hit the charts in 1972 with "You're So Vain," music fans speculated that Simon was singing about everyone from ex-lover Warren Beatty to ex-husband James Taylor to Daffy Duck (really).

Simon's inspiration didn't matter, though. What did was the fact that the song promoted the notion that vanity was finally OK.

That's one lesson the country took to heart.

Throughout the 80s, 90s and into the current decade, people became increasingly obsessed with themselves. Books like I'm OK, You're OK flew off the shelves. Pop psychologists made fortunes peddling platitudes about "taking time for yourself."

In the past decade, it's been appalling to watch as way too many mothers who missed the Hollywood boat dress their daughters like tarts and then try to outdo little Janie in the neighborhood slut parade.

And it's not just the beautiful people who worry about their appearance. Now it seems like everybody wants to be ready for their close-up in case People magazine drops by for a drive-by camera assault.

A recent survey of young people revealed that their main goal in life is to be noticed, to be famous and to look great doing it.

This may explain why inmates in a Wisconsin jail are screaming for new mug shots.

Yes, folks, several inmates at the LaCrosse County, Wisconsin, jail have pleaded for new booking photographs, so they'll look good when their mug shots are posted on the Internet.

The Internet mug shots first appeared last month. Locals love it and are flocking to check out the "Who's in Jail" link at www.lacrossecounty. org/sheriff.

Inmates don't mind the mug shots being published, but several have asked for better pictures.

"They're a little self-conscious," said Sheriff Steve Helgeson.

The sheriff's office has not decided whether or not to improve the mug shots in order to make prisoners more palatable to the adoring public. But the fact that the idea even came up is a little creepy.

For as long as most of us can remember, being jailed was a reason to be embarrassed. Now inmates are not only not ashamed to be jailed, they want everyone to see how good they look while they're in the lock-up.

What's next? How about a new TV show called "Inmate Idol."

Once upon a time, society cared more about what you did than how you looked. Now, as the camera commercial says, "Image is everything."

I can't think of anything much shallower. Or much sadder.

(Send your e-mail comments to: alex@newnan.com)

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