If birth control were retroactive...

By Shelley McKinney
web posted August 28, 2000

This column is offered to all of you who have been almost exclusively caught up on the merry-go-round of coming election in past weeks. What you see before you is just a little reminder that our "popular culture" is getting more painfully, stupidly ludicrous by the minute.

I had a friend once whose mother was fond of ominously saying "If birth control were retroactive, you'd be outta here just like that," clicking her fingers decisively to illustrate the point of how quickly the welcome disappearance could be accomplished.

I always thought this was extremely funny and exhibited a certain dark humor on the part of an adult. The one thing that kids know -- other than that their own and everybody else's parents are older than dirt -- is that grown-ups tend to be dour and humorless beings who, for instance, are singularly unappreciative of waking up in the morning and finding that their trees have been draped with lavish festoons of toilet tissue. Any sign of a sense of humor in a parent was a sign of hope for our own futures.

But that all happened back in the days when people actually grew up. In these enervating times, we have a large number of people who get taller, heavier, grayer and older without ever showing signs that they have had a fleeting encounter with maturity: I feel certain that these are the adults I see in the video rental store on Friday afternoon carrying out four different South Park movies, or I Know What You Did Twenty Summers Ago or the latest piece of dreck starring Adam Sandler. They are the ones who thronged to the television sets last week to breathlessly see which Survivor would win a million dollars.

Iuma Dylan-Lucas ThornhillTwo people who seem to be part of this group just had a baby of their own. They are from Hutchinson, Kansas, which is a place where you might conceivably expect people to have more common sense than those who live on the more liberal coasts. The couple, whose names are Jessica and Travis Thornhill, received $5,000 for naming their newborn son after an Internet music web site. The baby's name is -- and those of you who take this sort of thing hard might want to sit down -- Iuma Dylan-Lucas Thornhill, after the Internet Underground Music Archive, or IUMA. IUMA's Frequently Asked Questions page on the web site states that the name is pronounced "EYE-UMA." Glad we got that straight.

The Thornhills got the $5,000 for participating in a publicity stunt sponsored by the Internet Underground Music Archive; any couple who names a newborn infant "Iuma" from August-November 2000 can claim $5,000 from the company. The Thornhills are one of four couples that have signed up, although they are the only ones as of yet who have actually had the baby -- the other three potential Iumas are still pending in utero. Three of the couples are from the United States, and one is from Germany.

In order to explain the company's mission statement and the "contest," IUMA general manager Antony Bryden said in a recent press release, "Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys have put our children in peril, but we can save our children before their tastes are soured by a bubblegum culture."

"A baby named 'Iuma,'" he continued, "will grow up in a loving home filled to the brim with the best new music on the planet." This seems like a good time to mention that IUMA has recently been the proud web host of a new musical group called Gangsta Bitch Barbie. I suppose we should all be very thankful that this name won't be winding up on somebody's birth certificate: compared to Gangsta Bitch Barbie, Iuma sounds relatively normal. And at least this promotion didn't require the baby's second name to be "Dotcom."

"My wife liked the idea," pleased papa Travis Thornhill said in another press release. "The child's grandma said that this baby would bring prosperity, and this contest could be what she was talking about. Plus, the kid will have a cool story when he grows up."

Oh, yeah, I can see it now.

"I was named after my great-grandfather," says young Evan Matthew Jones, twenty years hence. "My parents wanted the memory of a good and honorable man to live on."

"I was named after a web site," says young Iuma Thornhill, also aged twenty. "My mom and dad wanted $5,000."

Iuma's father, who is also the parent of an older son, says that he is going to bank half of the money for "his children's future." The remaining money will be spent as the happy family pays off some debt and considers purchasing a home, which will presumably be filled with "the best new music on the planet." I would never dream of hinting that Iuma's parents are filled with anything else.

And then there's the Internet Underground Music Archive itself, which is definitely full of something and I'm not talking about music. For a "cool" web site, they certainly exhibit some peppy prose, especially on the aforementioned FAQ page under the question "How did the idea for this contest begin?"

"We had a really small advertising budget. And we were looking for a way to let the whole world know about IUMA and IUMA artists. We couldn't afford TV or radio ads, and we couldn't afford giant billboards! Then we realized that these ads get far fewer impressions than someone's name! We decided to throw our advertising dollars into something that will have a lifetime of impact!" the statement burbles, and yes, those are their exclamation points. I know it sounds as if it were written by a sorority girl who chased a dose of No-Doz with a few espressos, but hey...that's what's passing for "cool" these days.

My feeling about this statement is that if the IUMA people want to get the word out about their web site, they should change their own names and leave innocent babies out of this. Naming a baby ought to be a thoughtful business and shouldn't be used as a goofy promotional gimmick. Simple navigation of the web site brings out IUMA staff names like Corky, Pamela, and Jeff...see what I mean? They all got to have regular names. Plus, if they change their own names, they'll be in more of a position to explain the alteration than Iuma Thornhill will, at least for a few years.

And I am dismayed that the Thornhills can so cavalierly use their own baby and the name he'll presumably be bearing in his life as a means to snag the cash to pay off some bills. The baby is the one who's paying this price; shouldn't all the money be banked in his name? This whole thing seems disturbingly like the Infant Version of Fox's ill-fated Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? In other words, an important thing undertaken for the most greedy and frivolous reasons.

This isn't meant to be a quibble with unusual names for children: there are many people who make the considered decision to name an infant something out of the ordinary because of a special meaning the name has, or perhaps because of the name's ethnic origin or religious significance. In cases like that, an unusual name is an expression of devotion on the part of the baby's parents -- a statement about the child's unique place in his family. But naming a baby after a web site? As part of a cheap stunt? Done not to express the child's individuality, but to advertise a business? Deplorable. And here I have always felt slightly disdainful of the people who name their babies after the characters on soap operas...

So it's too bad that little Iuma Thornhill's birthdate couldn't be altered somewhat with that retroactive birth control my friend's mother used to speak of, perhaps giving his parents time to think this whole thing through a little bit more before they do something that the child might well regret later.

Or maybe they could set up a special bank account so that the legal fees will be there later on in life when Iuma wants to go through the courts and change his name to Rick. Or...Mike. Jim. Brian. Chuck. Greg. Chris. Mark. John. Bob. Bill. Steve. Brad. Ted. Scott.

Anything but Iuma, child of the World Wide Web.

Shelley McKinney is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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