The half-life of a teen idol is a short one. When David Cassidy died, it was not surprising I heard from a specific cohort of people: female friends who were 13 years-old when I was, and a little brother who suffered the repeated refrains of “I Think I Love You” penetrating our common bedroom wall.
The phone calls, text messages and emails came, followed by my wistful smiles. If we were not suffering true grief, what we were experiencing was a more subtle loss. Ours was an acknowledgment of a bygone era, a small slice of time that tasted sweet and would always be remembered that way, a cultural touchstone that mattered only to those who had experienced the joy it precipitated.
David Cassidy wasn’t my favorite teen idol. First prize went to Donny Osmond, with his purple socks and toothy smile. Maybe it was because Donny’s voice hadn’t changed yet, but I could better relate to his version of puppy love. Yet, David was right up there.
Bobby Sherman had primed the pump. Then David and Donny came along. I owned a few Partridge Family and Donny Osmond albums. Theirs was the perfect music to dream by. Donny was sweet, and David was soulful. I’d lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling, considering what romance might look like someday when a cute boy gave me his heart.
I’d spend 50 cents for a fresh copy of Tiger Beat or 16 magazine, burning their promising “love guides” into my brain, inhaling important information about my crushes. How else would I have known that Donny’s favorite color was purple? Or that David’s real-life father was married to his television mother? Shouldn’t a potential girlfriend know these things?
Of course, she should. And I did. As did a million other girls my age.
And then that time was over.
The real world knocked on our doors. Real boyfriends showed up. Love no longer arrived as a glossy head shot with a shiny mop of hair. The new wrappings were even better.
Not that our teenybopper yearnings weren’t important. Those early infatuations helped develop our romantic expectations for the long term. Some girls held onto their wholesome dreams. Others gravitated toward hard rockers. I expected teenage boys to grow into worthy men.
Which may be one of the reasons I have been particularly disturbed in recent weeks. Why do we have so many famous men being revealed as horrific romantic – no, human – specimens? While I haven’t stood as witness to these individuals exposing themselves inappropriately or cornering a vulnerable person in an act of intimate assault, I believe the stories of the women and men who have come forward.
I shake my head when I read the ever-growing list of men accused of sexual misconduct. I internalize their shame and feel sorry for their families. How did we get to the point where so many talented and seemingly intelligent individuals thought they could get away with such brutish behavior?
We feel a twinge of shock over each new incident, even as we have become desensitized to the significance of the problem. I know these kinds of machinations are not new. But the current volume of accusations has been remarkable.
In a recent piece in The New York Times, columnist Bret Stephens wrote that “our culture could sorely use a common set of ideas about male decorum and restraint.” I agree. It’s crucial that we pull back the reins and reclaim the expectation that certain boundaries cannot be crossed; that behaviors of aggression and intimidation amplified through sexual want are unacceptable, period.
Unfortunately, we are unable to travel back to a time when the demarcations between right and wrong were more explicit. Lines are not as easily distinguished in a society whose role models are celebrities and politicians who conveniently move boundaries to accommodate their own actions.
David Cassidy eventually tired of his teen-idol image, taking steps to make sure his followers knew that he smoked weed and was sexually adventurous. By then, his core group of fans had begun to grow up and move on.
I grew up, too. While I met my share of cads along the way, I was one of the fortunate ones. On the spectrum of disappointing behavior, their misdeeds were garden-variety and left no lasting harm.
Danielle R. Shapazian is a nurse and writer who lives in Fresno. She can be reached at Danielle.Shapazian@sbcglobal.net.