Sunday, August 27, 2000

No limits

Rated 'R' for stupidity

        Pop Culture can't be trusted with the kids. He has Tourette's Syndrome and blurts disturbing profanities in the living room.

        Pop used to be a Gary Cooper cowboy hero. Now he looks like the old creep I saw on Everybody Loves Raymond the other night, winking and leering, making his sitcom sons squirm, bragging about his sex life with their mother.


        I'm not sure how Pop Culture got to be such an embarrassing degenerate. But he's still widely admired for daring to discover new frontiers of bad taste and
indecency in the arts, movies, comedy, television, advertising, music — even politics.

        When the president got in a jam, Pop Culture was there in his soiled raincoat to reassure a troubled nation that, “It's only about sex.” And we all returned to our regularly scheduled programs. South Park. Howard Stern. And others that gently lower standards like a limbo dance of declining morals. One week it's the word that rhymes with “rich” in a family show. Next week, they're all using the three-letter A-word. It's only a matter of time before they get to F in their Dictionary for Dummies.

        Wait, never mind: I heard that one several times on C-Span, while alleged comedian Robin Williams was entertaining our president.

        How bad is it? A national magazine asks, “Are there no limits? Filth, raunch, violence & hate rule pop culture — has showbiz gone too far?”

        And here's a shocker: That was in Entertainment Weekly, the hipper, younger, more sophisticated People of showbiz. It's like finding a cover story on chastity in Playboy.

        More fun, actually. EW's Lisa Schwarzbaum (Aug. 11) busts Pop Culture like a vice cop at a Hell's Angels kegger.

        What follows is not as explicit as her descriptions. But the fact that what's on TV is too offensive to describe in a newspaper says it all.

        Commercials for Nutty Professor II: The Klumps suggest oral sex.

        A Reebok ad endorsed by CBS shows a guy sucking snake-bite venom out of another hiker's “leg,” as a grossed-out woman jogger “shoots them a glance that says, "Get a room.'”

        MTV rapper Eminem's hot-selling CD glorifies “rape, murder, homophobia, misogyny, wanton drug abuse.”

        The worst of it, Ms. Schwarzbaum argues, is that we let it slide, because we're afraid to sound like “Bill Bennett with a wedgie.”

        “And this taboo against taboos amuses us in the short run but deadens us in the long run,” she writes. “So eager are we not to be the kind of rubes unsettled by provocateurs like Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor, so indulgent are we, in this peaceful, prosperous new century, of anything that at least doesn't bore us, that we're unnecessarily tolerant of raunch. The notion of indecency has become obsolete.”

        Ms. Schwarzbaum indicts all of us for failing to be more critical of “the tawdry, post-ironic, Rome-before-the-fall soullessness of so much that's offered up for us to buy today. . .”

        Guilty as charged. We thought it was cool to yell the four-letter cheer with Country Joe and the Fish at Woodstock. Now we wince and look the other way as we drop the kids off for Me, Myself & Irene because “Everybody's seeing it.”

        Our generation of moral agnostics would rather swim neck deep in lewd, crude and rude than look like a prude and admit that dirty jokes can't fill the empty spot in our lives where faith-based morals used to be.

        Ms. Schwarzbaum wrote, “The error of my ways may not be in launching this discussion, but in having been afraid to do so earlier.”

        You go, girl. Maybe the kids have figured out that Pop Culture can't be trusted. By anyone.

Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.