Cultural Rot

My wife and I often joke that we are going to raise our children Amish so as to shield them from our depraved culture.  We jest, but there’s a sliver of truth in our jesting.  And of course  Donald has written a series of excellent posts here at TAC on the signs of our cultural decay.

It’s not exactly a newsflash when a bunch of cranky bloggers at a website called the American Catholic bemoan our hedonistic culture.  But when others of a less socially conservative bent join the fray you know that things may have reached a breaking point.

Ace of Spades is a conservative blog, though one that tends to a certain amount of, err, frivolity with regards to cultural matters.  I don’t think Ace deviates from most social conservatives on the core issues, but you wouldn’t necessarily expect a rant like this one a site like his.  But Ace completely lays into the singer Katy Perry and the awful message that she spreads to our youth.

Ace posts the lyrics to one of Perry’s new songs:

Let’s go all the way tonight
no regrets, just love
We can dance until we die
you and I will be young forever

You make me feel like
I’m livin’ a
Teenage Dream
the way you turn me on
I can’t sleep
Let’s run away and
never look back, never look back

To which he adds his commentary:

She is plainly attempting to mimic the basics of Like a Virgin here, lyrically. Like a Virgin was also a metaphor — kinda — about very young people having sex and how awesome it is. I say metaphor, because Madonna said “like a virgin;” that is, she wasn’t actually saying she was a virgin, but was so hot for this guy she felt like one.

Similarly, Katy Perry isn’t saying she is a Teenage Dream, but she feels like one, because she’s so horned-up and stuff.

But I do not think her legions of tweener girl fans are going to get this very thin distinction (and Katy Perry doesn’t really mean them to). They are not going to take from it that this is an adult woman saying she feels so hot ‘n horny she feels like a Teenage Dream, but is in fact not a Teenage Dream at all; they are going to make this their anthem, and become someone’s Teenage Dream.

And she’s telling them how awesome that is. And how teenage sex is just so awesome that even when adults want to discuss awesome sex, they talk about it terms of teenage sex, the most awesomest awesome sex of all.

And yeah, for that reason, the song will sell well, and it will be proposed as theme for junior proms across the country (and will mostly be rejected by faculty… mostly).

. . . This was just evil for evil’s sake. She wanted to be even more famous than she is (and she is already quite a bit more famous than her present, but very limited, talents would recommend), and she decided to grab at that on the backs of tweener girls, already immersed in a culture that tells them virgins are weird and having sex is what the cool, popular kids do, with almost no pushback against this message at all.

Later Ace discusses how this juxtaposes with the mockery heaped upon Christine O’Donnell for having the temerity to say that maybe – just maybe – kids should take it easy before they hop into bed and that masturbation is – GASP! – a sin.

It’s in this context that I would advise all those people who think Christine O’Donnell is “weird” and “judgmental” and “too religious” for expressing her take-it-slow views on sexuality. Young girls — really young; tweens — are being sold this crap day and night by an insidious, viciously cynical pop culture that says it’s never too young to be someone’s Teenage Dream.

Is it so awful that some people want to push back on this and try with what tools they can to raise the average age of first sex up to the “prudish, judgmental, no-fun” range of 16 and 1 month?

I think this last point is particularly salient.  It’s not just that the culture celebrates, as Aerosmith would describe it, “young lust,” but that it actively mocks anyone who dares criticize the hyper-sexualization of our youth.  Anyone who holds to traditional morality is derided as a religious fanatic.  So we have dopey bloggers writing books that seriously compare religious Americans with the Taliban and insane Congressmen who accuse their opponents of wishing to harm women simply because they cited a biblical passage about marriage.

The most frustrating aspect as that this all transcends politics.  Oh, sure, there might be a left-right divide when it comes to social issues, but this is really beyond the political arena.  I know that we all tend to – okay, I tend to – think of most issues within a political context, but the fact of the matter is there is no political solution to the likes of Katy Perry telling her teen fans all about the joys of sex.  No matter how much we might try to censor such vulgarity the reality is that without a total ban on such content such stuff is simply going to be out there for consumption.

We have to confront the fact that we have a mass media, an entertainment industry, and even to some extent an educational system that is actively hostile to traditional morality.  When confronted with such a reality it becomes tempting to throw one’s hands in the air and, as my wife and I joke about, go join the Amish and shut out the rest of the world.  But as Michael Steele said at a Knights of Columbus lecture I once sat in on, we are called to be signs of contradiction in this culture.  We can’t just shut the windows, bar the doors, and pretend that the outside world doesn’t exist.

So what is the solution?  Again, that’s the thing – there’s no easy fix.  We are confronted by the existence of a little thing known as original sin.  Man may not be a depraved animal as some philosophers have stated in the past, but as James Madison noted, we’re not exactly angels either.   All we can do is to instill the opposite message of what the purveyors of cultural filth transmit and hope that our message overwhelms theirs.  Meantime, maybe we can take some solace that even if the self-proclaimed “morons” who read and contribute to a not-exactly socially conservative website appreciate the problems, then we’re getting somewhere.

30 Responses to Cultural Rot

  • WJ says:

    I agree. But sex sells. And, in my opinion, the hyper-sexualization of our young at the hands of the entertainment and media and clothing industries is but one facet of the growing branding and corporatization of children, which starts at a very young age. (Cf: this excellent article: http://www.truth-out.org/040309J)

    I actually think that this is an issue in which social conservatives have more in common with traditional leftists (not liberal democrats, mind you) than either have in common with liberalism, properly understood.

  • CatholicLawyer says:

    It is interesting to note that most states have laws against “contributing to the delinquency of minors” and this appears to be directed towards minors whereas other media/advertising/music/speach can claim it is not directly targeting minors so they are not contributing. This type of stuff will never be removed from the public area but at least we/the public can express our dislike/disgust with it.

  • cminor says:

    Yeah, but she seems to be doing everything she can think of to slouch toward Brittany-dom. They have in common that both are of at best modest talents, though I think Katy is the better singer. She’s not good enough to make a career on musical talent alone, however.

    Commenter #67 at Ace of Spades made what I thought a rather adept point:

    “Why do leftists think that the best way to ensure sexual freedom is to encourage people to engage in sex that is risky and self destructive?

    That would be like the NRA promoting the second amendment by encouraging people to start shooting at everything.”

  • The link Henry provides is revealing. Both Perry & Gaga have roots as more demure singers-but they didn’t have success and altered themselves (choosing hyper-sexual personas in order to sell records). It really throws into question whether practicing Christians can succeed in the mass media-and if not, why do Christians continue to indulge in that media?

  • Mike Petrik says:

    As much as I am generally critical of mass media and Hollywood, I do think Christians can succeed there. What is tougher is succeeding when the art form is an explicitly Christian one. Eventually, a so-called “Christian artist” is pigeon holed into an unsatisfactory limited market and decides he needs to change his image. Doing that with effectiveness may require doing a 180. The bottom line is that I think it should be perfectly possible to be a mass media artist who is also a committed Christian, but it is much harder to be a so-called “Christian artist.”

  • Paul Zummo says:

    I guess it depends on what you define as success. Certainly specifically Christian artists – be they music, literary, or other – won’t be sell as much as secular artists, but I suspect that one can still have a relatively successful living as one.

  • John Henry says:

    Certainly specifically Christian artists – be they music, literary, or other – won’t be sell as much as secular artists, but I suspect that one can still have a relatively successful living as one.

    That’s certainly true, but a lot of them are artistically compromised by the ‘Christian music’ industry. They can’t explore new ground outside of the kids-in-youth-group/forty-something-mom demographics without losing their record deals, and this has a predictable effect on the quality of the music they produce (it’s generally boring, predictable, and formulaic).

    It’s certainly riskier and more difficult for bands composed of Christians to try and make music outside of the CCM industry, but I think those that do make much better music (even if they have less success without the captive CCM youth group audience). And, of course, there are bands like U2 which show that Christian musicians can be successful if they are really good at their craft.

  • Mike Petrik says:

    I agree, Paul, but such artists must live not only accept far less pay they must also live with not being taken seriously by much of the artistic community. For instance, in general serious followers of rock music do not think highly of so-called Christian rock bands, even if those followers are themselves seriously Christian. Much of this reputation disparity may not be deserved, but no doubt the disparity is difficult for ambitious artists to live with. To be fair, many Christian rock bands probably couldn’t be successful in the broader market, but some certainly could if they abandoned their Christian-focused art. The fact that so many of these groups nonetheless continue as Christian artists is testimony to their faith and commitment.
    Finally, I would note that the best Christian artists are those whose Christian artistry is not very explicit. Think Graham Greene or Flannery O’Connor. There creative works would not have been as successful if they had been more explicitly Christian. When the art form is explicitly Christian it usually suffers from being not all that interesting.

  • John Henry says:

    I had the same thought in reverse, Mike. The Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene point is a very useful comparison. In literature, as in music, there are ghettos; honest art that is well done can usually win a hearing.

  • John, Henry, Paul, etc.

    I think those are good examples. I tend to agree with the idea that most explicitly Christian music/movies tend to be very formulaic and not so good (though there are exceptions). Indeed, Tolkien thought this to be almost a rule, which is why he despised Narnia.

    But I think that for a Christian artist, even one not advertising as “Christian,” the bar is higher for success. They have to be great. Whereas, if one is secular, the bar is lower (Perry, gaga, spears-no one, I hope, will be listening to their music in a hundred years).

  • RL says:

    I think part of it is what art is. Granted I’m speaking in large part from my own tastes in rock, but I think the type of music that rock is is better suited for lyrics dealing with conflict, pain, and the more base emotions. I simply can’t see suitable and lofty lyrics about God fitting into that format. It may simply be because they can’t. I know people try to, but their lack of mainstream success may point to this disconnect.

  • Blackadder says:

    A distinction should be drawn between musicians who are Christian and musicians who make “Christian music” i.e. where all the songs are about Christianity. The latter is of course going to be limiting. I can see how the former would be the source of lots of temptations, but unless you’re a teenage girl singing pop music I don’t see being a Christian as being very hampering to one’s success.

  • cminor says:

    “It really throws into question whether practicing Christians can succeed in the mass media-and if not, why do Christians continue to indulge in that media?”

    Well, a few acts come to mind–Switchfoot and P.O.D., for example. To paraphrase what I said earlier, one can build a career on talent rather than shock value–if one has some. And Amen to the literary examples–I think writers/artists whose worldview permeates their work rather than sitting on the surface are actually more compelling.

    But the link which Henry so helpfully provided us has me thinking: is little Katy a living example of what is wrong with Sola Fide? She claims to believe in Jesus (also space aliens) but doesn’t seem to wrap her mind around the concept that that belief places responsibility on her.

    And–oh, my goodness–I had to look it up–she is a middle child. Suddenly, everything falls into place.

  • Paul Zummo says:

    One little funny anecdote before I get to my comment. As I was getting out of the Metro, what do I see but a poster for Saw – 3D. Fitting.

    Anyway, good points by all. I think it’s worth pointing out that it would be an improvement just to have art that simply isn’t hostile to traditional morality, and I don’t think one has to be an overtly Christian artist in order to produce a message that is at least not offensive to traditional mores. For example, U2 is widely successful and I can’t think of anything in their collection that I’d have to shield my child from – unless you think “Elevation” is not subtle enough. They’re but one example, but my point is that I’m not necessarily looking for specifically Christian-themed stuff (though that’s a plus), but it would be nice if most of pop culture didn’t seem to preach a message antithetical to what I hold dear.

    It’s also worth emphasizing that acts like Katy Perry target a young audience. As Ace points out it’s not that she’s an adult artist who kids happen to like. She intentionally markets herself to young girls and is teaching them that it’s okay to throw all morals aside in pursuit of living the “teenage dream.”

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    Some interesting pop culture perspectives by none other than Alice Cooper — yes, THE Alice Cooper, who also is a born-again Christian:

    http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=12960

    “He no longer performs some of his older repertoire. Any song promoting promiscuous sex and drinking “gets the axe,” he said. “I’m very careful about what the lyrics are. I tried to write songs that were equally as good, only with a better message.”

    http://www.christiantoday.com/article/alice.cooper.opens.christian.recreation.centre.for.troubled.kids/7124.htm

    “Speaking about the value of boundaries for kids, he (Cooper) said: “Kids love boundaries. We used to fight against them. But in all reality, what we really did want was to know where we could go.”

  • Dave Hartline says:

    Henry’s link reminded me of a Katy Hudson story (before she was Katy Perry) I linked to on the Catholic Report a couple of years ago. It was an archived story in which the reviewer was saying she would be the next great Christian singer. The Christian music scene sputtered and she took road too often traveled.
    http://www.thefish.com/music/reviews/11618329/Katy-Hudson/

    The difference between her and Alice Cooper which Elaine excellently alludes to is that Alice had a lot of right and wrong drilled into him. Eventually he realized the lessons from his youth and went back to them (though Alice’s faults often lie with his blood and gore stage shows, rather than with pomiscuity in his lyrics.) It sounds like Katy’s religious background was not as structured as Alice Cooper’s was. I wonder if the old “I am saved mentality” truly makes some people think they can backslide and do just about anything and still make it to heaven, no questions asked. It would appear that these folks left Matthew 7:21-23 out of their Bibles.

  • Donna V says:

    Remember the Diana Ross and the Supremes song “Love Child?” A woman insists on waiting for marriage because she knows the shame of being an illegitimate child and does not want any child of hers to bear the same stigma. My, how quaint. What “progress” we’ve made in 40 years.

    Elaine: I knew Cooper was a preacher’s son, but didn’t realize he had returned to Christianity. I wasn’t crazy about his music when I was a teen, but I always liked him for doing stuff like being on Hollywood Squares and for making it very clear that the on-stage, rather scary “Alice” character was only a character. The off-stage Alice was always quite open about being a rather amiable “square” sort of fellow who voted Republican and liked to golf – with Barry Goldwater.

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Donna V & Elaine,

    When I lived in Phoenix (where Mr. Cooper resides) Alice Cooper was a prominent pillar of the community. It was made clear he was a family man and he held strong conservative values. The people of Phoenix loved him for that.

    And yes, his onstage persona was only a character.

    He seemed genuine to me.

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