In the 1960s, counterculture poet Allen Ginsberg spoke to the student body at the University of Buffalo. As was his style, his speech was laced with profanity and sexual crudeness. His presentation was supposedly about exposing the underbelly of society in America. As the crowd cheered Ginsberg on, one exceptionally brave student stood up and asked: “Mr. Ginsberg, Delaware Park is a beautiful place here in Buffalo. It contains a wonderful zoo and botanical gardens. Everyone knows that a large sanitary sewer runs beneath the park. Everybody knows it’s there, but they enjoy the park anyway. Would you suggest that we dig it up and make the sewer a featured attraction in our beautiful park?”
You could have heard a pin drop. The typically bombastic Ginsberg was momentarily silenced.
On a recent sit-com episode a grandfather shouts out, “That cake looks like a vagina”. And the canned laugh-track plays loudly. In a cartoon based sit-com an adult leaves the bathroom malodorous for the next occupant and again there is the resounding laugh-track. On another recent show a young boy asks an adult male if he wants to play a game and then proceeds to slug the adult in the crotch when the adult doesn’t know the game. And again the laugh-track plays loudly, all the while principals and teachers all over the country report students frequently striking… principals and teachers. Hmmm? One has to wonder where the kids got the idea that hitting adults was permissible.
Hitting a teacher? Used to be unheard of! Especially when said teacher was an adult and possibly a nun or priest, three respected authority figures (adult/teacher/priest) all rolled into one.
“The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without actually seeing any” – Fred Astaire
It used to be that certain content and commercials were never aired during “prime time”, those times when impressionable children (who have yet to develop the discretion, decision-making capabilities, and maturity) were watching. Now every child of ten knows that the majority of men over fifty have erectile dysfunction, women have painful intercourse after menopause, elderly adults wear “pee-pads”, and genital humor is something with which to taunt your peers.
What we are experiencing is a race to the bottom, where the only winner is the lowest common denominator in human behavior. Let’s see who can be the most crude, the most vulgar, the most disgusting. And, as in all sea-changes in culture, very few will recognize or acknowledge this downward spiral until it is too late.
Censorship is a much maligned word, whereas the words freedom of speech are most universally praised. In the First Amendment to the Constitution the Founders wrote: “Congress shall make no laws… abridging the freedom of speech, or the press….” – thirteen words that have for many come to mean it is a person’s fundamental right to say anything to anyone at any time – and it will have no unintended personal or societal consequences.
And there’s where we need to revisit the Boiling Frog Syndrome post, dated February 2, 2015, to see how the myriad small things that we do, the small decisions that we make, can unwittingly cause the big disasters of tomorrow.
The days of the Hays Code for movies and the FCC regulations of television content have been pretty much dismantled by cable TV and pay-per-view. And yes, some of that stuff that Hays and the FCC came up with in the 50s and 60s was pretty darn silly. Yet silly as it was, it provided some modicum of oversight over programming that is today becoming just downright coarse, disrespectful, and disturbing proramming.
Here’s where the real problem lies: You see, if nothing is inappropriate then, by corollary, everything is appropriate. Put another way, if you stand for everything, then you are committed to (stand for) nothing.
We all know that a metaphysical sewer runs just below the patina of our otherwise civilized society. But why is it that today we have decided it is somehow necessary to dig up that sewer and flaunt it for all to see?
Where do you stand on this issue?
“Civility is more important than laws. Upon it, in great measure, the law depends. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Civility is what vexes or soothes, corrupts or purifies, exalts or debases, barbarizes or refines … like that of the air we breathe.” – Statesman Edmund Burke