Pilot Guest Editorial

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Sludge on TV

In the April 13 Des Moines Sunday Register, there was an essay by Cal Thomas in which he proposed three basic changes that must be made in Iraq, if that country is to emerge from its recent past into a new age of freedom and prosperity. The second of these concerned education. According to Thomas, Iraqi textbooks and teaching tools "present a propagandistic view of the world that is angry, hostile and negative." Even in Islamic schools in New York City, one textbook that has been used for grades three through six says that Jews and Christians lead "such decadent and immoral lives that lying, alcohol, nudity, pornography, racism, foul language, premarital sex, homosexuality, and everything else are accepted in their society, churches and synagogues." Well, yeah. Maybe except for the part about churches and synagogues, pretty much everything else in that statement is accurate.

Look through any copy of television's evening program lineup. Most of the dramas center around the police station, the courtroom or the hospital. And who do the people who work at those places deal with? They deal with murderers, thieves, liars, rapists, alcoholics and their victims. Do you want to see more references to nudity, premarital sex or homosexuality? Watch the comedies. Put them all together and you have a typical afternoon "soap opera," or as I like to describe them, rich people acting stupid. Or, if none of this is graphic or explicit enough to suit you, just click on the Internet or take a drive to a nearby bookstore, tape rental or movie theatre. These are what we are broadcasting to the rest of the world as examples of American culture.

Can there be any wonder why they want to keep us out?

Children who grow up watching that kind of behavior on television grow up thinking that kind of behavior is to be expected as normal. I have seen actors say on television that the roles they play are not the cause of society's ills, that they are merely reflecting the way society already is and that most people can distinguish between acting in the entertainment media and reality, anyway. There is some truth to that. It gets to be a lot like the question of which came first - the chicken or the egg. But when the egg is rotten, someone has to break the cycle somewhere.

Television and movie actors and actresses are very highly visible, and children learn behavior largely by imitation. Given the role that the entertainment media plays in the raising of children nowadays, they should be held no less accountable than the parents. Popular cartoon characters have potty mouths and sass back to their parents. Barbie wears lingerie and enough makeup to be a hooker. None of this is going to topple Western civilization by itself, but collectively they do have an effect.

I remember a few months ago when Barbara Walters was about to assault us with yet another show about the life of Michael Jackson, or Madonna, or some other celebrity. They were going to air the show, she said, because that is what you, the viewer, want. Really? That is not what I want. Is that what you want? I have become convinced that if you give anyone in or near Hollywood a camera, they immediately turn into an idiot. Those in our society who are highly visible or are in positions of leadership should step up and raise the bar of respectability a few notches instead of seeing how low they can take it. Those who make their living in the media typically pander to the lowest common moral denominator because that, supposedly, is where the most money is.

Unfortunately, that lowest common denominator has been getting lower and commoner all the time. I can stick something down my throat only so far before it triggers the gag reflex. The cultural icons of today appear more and more to be the bad taste equivalent of sword swallowers.

When I was growing up, the Beatles were singing about love. Not everyone liked their music, but at least it was structured in an orderly manner, it utilized harmony, and it gave us some enduring melodies. Now any head-bobbing hormone case can get in front of a microphone on a late night television show and beat their guitar senseless while shouting about how angry they are. And then there is rap "music," which usually makes the guitar-beaters appear to be bonafide musicians in comparison. At the end of the performance, the show's host will invariably rush up and exclaim, "That was great!" or some other such adulation. Come on. When I was growing up, that kind of act would never have made it out of the garage or basement. Just once, I would like to hear the host be honest and say, "That was a piece of crap! How ever did you get past my booking agent?"

One of the reasons why people have historically come teeming to the shores and boundaries of this nation is that we are fortunate to live in a society and under a government that is very permissive of our freedom of expression. Unfortunately, not all of the expression that we get is worth watching or listening to. Like bad money that drives out good money, bad entertainment or culture tends to drive out the good. I think that Cal Thomas is right. Iraq needs a system of education that is more open and less prejudiced against anything that is not of Islamic origin. But we, too, need to watch how we educate our children. With freedom comes responsibility, and sometimes what we can do is not what we should do. I can eat and drink anything that I want to. I would rather drink clean, pure water than sludge. Wouldn't you?

Rodney Veskrna is a Pilot-Tribune reader and contributor from Albert City.