Monday, January 31, 2011

Calling All Ladies and Gentlemen . . .

John Jacob Astor IV, who is
said to have put on his tuxedo during
the sinking of the Titanic, so he could
die "like a gentleman."

Read carefully -- there will be a quiz.

Today, I was in the drugstore with my little boys. At the check-out, there was a line of magazines, right at their eye level. Each magazine was graced with a picture of a beautiful woman. Most were wearing low-cut dresses, but one of the women was seductively opening her shirt, exposing most of her bra; her head was thrown back, eyes mostly closed, mouth barely open.

Recently, on the radio, I heard a song. The singer used the "f-word" but they "edited it out," so that he only said: "fffk," in the song.

On Nickelodeon, the children's channel, there is a show called "Victorious," about a bunch of kids in a performing arts high school. Victoria, the main character, sings a song called "Freak the Freak Out." Some lyrics: "What I'm gonna do now is freak the freak out."

In another show on that station, "iCarly," two young teenagers, a boy and a girl, had a bet. The boy lost. He had to put the dishwashing hose attachment from the sink down his pants. The girl turned it on. With CGI, camera fixed close-in, they made it look as if a wet spot were spreading out on the front of his pants. On the same show, one female character makes it a habit of reaching down boys' pants and giving them "wedgies" -- we watch her pull up their underwear, close-up, on most occasions.

The other afternoon, I was flipping through the channels with my kids sitting next to me -- about four o'clock on a Saturday. We flipped past a show which purveyed "shocking videos." They showed a clip of five men beating up a woman on a London street. Then, on the channel I quickly escaped to, there was a football game with two teams of women clad in lingerie.

On an afternoon soap opera, a couple was in bed. They were passionately kissing and breathing raggedly. It was clear they were naked under the covers.

Ready for the quiz?

True or False:

1) There is no real difference between a beautiful woman clad provacatively and one who is disrobing seductively on a magazine cover.
2) The phrase "freak the freak out" is appropriate on a station geared toward young kids, because no actual curse is uttered.
3) It in good taste to show close-ups of a young girl grabbing the underwear of young boys.
4) It is in good taste to show a close up of a boy's pants getting wet, because the wetness is not caused by urine.
5) Women playing football in panties and bras is less degrading to women than nude pictures in Playboy.
6) It is fine to get entertainment by watching a woman get beaten on "reality shows", as long as the viewer realizes that beating women is wrong.
7) "Bleeping" curses out of a song makes that song completely appropriate for all audiences, even if the word still sounds almost the same in the absence of its only vowel.
8) There is nothing wrong with two actors mimicking the sex act on afternoon television as long as you can't see the naughty bits.
9) You are fine with the messages all of the above send your real or hypothetical children.
Your answers to these questions will determine whether or not you have been effectively desensitized by the media. It will determine if you are willing to let what is allowed to masquerade as what is appropriate. The overall results will determine if we, as a culture, have lost the ability to discern between what is "in good taste" and what is not. It will determine if we are willing to fully abandon the traditional meaning of the terms "ladies" and "gentlemen."

I once heard a football coach say "character is what you do when no one is watching." Maybe it is also what you do when everyone is watching. Maybe the media are like children doing naughty things because no one specifically told them not to.

If we lose good taste; if we lose decorum, we lose a little humanity. We become less civilized in little ways. Let's not start dragging our knuckles now.

If you are thinking of attacking my points by saying that these little things are not important in the face of the real atrocities in the world, save it. A human foundation of personal standards might just be the base an insane world needs. If our ship is going down, let's get ones who need help into the lifeboats and let's put on our finest evening clothes so we can die like gentlemen and gentlewomen. It could be the last face we get to show the future.


  1. One of the most wide spread serious issues that schools have is bullying. There are antibullying ads, commercials, hotlines and even celebrity endorsements but yet when children go home they watch tv shows like Wizards of Waverly place or iCarly. Both of which have harsh female charaters that tease the "geek" or "nerd" charaters. The teasing often includes both verbal and physical bullying with the positive re-enforcement offered by the studio audience's laughter. Other popular kids shows showcase different varieties of minature tyrants and oppresent leaders made into lovable charaters. If Seasame Street needed to change their cookie monster so that cookie are a sometime food to fight child obesity, why has no one asked these shows about their messages? Parents need to sit down and watch these shows with their children and discuss what their little brains are processing as normal behavior. Then ask themselves the following questions. Would I want my child to see anyone act like that in real life? Would I like to see anyone act like that in real life? If not find a new show or turn off the tv all together.

  2. Yup -- there are issues on lots of levels and bullying is one, for sure. Sam, on "iCarly" is sometimes a bully who gets laughs.

  3. I had a spirited debate with a person who is into acting and modeling about revealing modeling vs. playboy photographs. She was convinced that one could do nude, or scantily clad modeling, and it would be more dignified than playboy. I argued this point on the basis of, though playboy blatantly uses naked women to make money, they do it honestly and openly. No one walks into a playboy photo shoot and goes, "oh, this requires me taking off my clothes?" As opposed to modeling agencies where it could be brought on in a different approach all in the name of "art" and the "female form." They're still selling these pictures, in one way or another, to make money. They are not being hung in museums, they are being used to pedal jeans, or shoes, or laptops. Let's just be honest why we do things. We show disturbing images because they sell, and people like to object, but they still watch. In the end we are really only deluding ourselves into thinking that one thing serves a purpose it really doesn't. If we can pretend to defend it, we like to make things seem okay. Oh the prestidigitations we fool ourselves into believing. No the rabbit was never really in the hat.

    --Ponderously yours

  4. Great article, Chris! I think our kids grow up way too fast from all the media they are exposed to.

  5. Papi -- pristine ponderous prestidigitations, sir. Nudity has been a target for accusations of immorality for a long time. I see no problem with nudity itself (neither do, say, doctors or artists);it's all about context, as you say. I would rather my kids see a nude person on a show (say, a person getting out of the shower) than the two people in bed in my post.

    Krista -- Thanks! It is always such a shame when someone else steals the innocence from our kids for the sake of making a dollar . . .

  6. I am so badly brain-washed that, while instinctively I react as you do, I cannot quite bring myself to say that you are right. Or rather, I think you are right, but I fear an extreme reaction in the other direction, leading us back to an emotionally trussed-up world.

  7. That does tend to happen, doesn't it? -- the pendulum? If we could only, as a human community, just once, make minor adjustments instead of going to extremes.

  8. When a society refuses to place itself under Divine Guidance, this is what happens. And it happens incrementally so you don't really notice it until it's gone very far indeed. Great article, and I would have objections to everything you viewed and described. None of it is acceptable for the public view.

  9. That is the insidious part, isn't it? It is incremental and almost hidden; then, all of a sudden, we have gone from Astor to Gaga. Thanks!

  10. We were trained decades ago to laugh at the Astors in their tuxedos, revile the Puritans and Victorians and congratulate ourselves on being oh-so-much-more enlightened. Enlightened? We allow porn to be peddled everywhere; even self-described "kids' channels" have to be parent-monitored, and everywhere we look, from the supermarket to billboards, we are bombarded with imagery guaranteed to lessen our enjoyment of our marital lives. We're calloused and jaded, and over time it takes more and more to generate legitimate, authentic pleasure with our spouses. Enter: perversion, and the sad part is, we did it to ourselves by allowing ourselves to be overloaded. It's exactly the types of images you have mentioned here that does this. If you can manage to keep your children away from most of it, you will be doing them and their futures a very big favor.

  11. You're right: I think, there is, indeed, a good argument, that the outward modesty of eras like the Victorian might have lead to a good deal of fireworks behind closed doors. At least, I hope so. As long as that modesty doesn't lead to repression and an unhealthy aversion to sexuality, as zmkc alluded to, we're good. Thanks for the comment!

    As always, it comes down to balance . . .