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One Worry

Apropos the great Yglesias-Sullivan debate that's been playing out on Tapped and The Washington Monthly, I think one thing the anti-culture liberals are tending to neglect is the risk that politicized denunciations of popular culture could easily get out of control. Most Americans are vaguely troubled by the imagery and so forth surrounding Britney Spears and that's a disquiet that most liberal intellectual types sympathize with. It's also the case, however, that most Americans are disquieted by the message of pop cultural products which indicate that gay people are okay. I think very few liberals will be happy when what starts with a pretty anodyne campaign against "garbage" in the culture turns on things that we think are worthy. Atrios has finally gotten wise to The Decemberists "16 Military Wives" video. Well, I bet that if most Americans saw that video, they would say it sends a bad message. It's a bit, well, anti-American. But I'm quite sure none of the folks urging Dems to stop standing up for the autonomy of the cultural sphere are going to be happen when the stampede turns into an attack on unpopular political views. I'm pretty sure the lyrics to "FYR" don't play well among married couples in the suburbs:

Ten short years of progressive change, fifty fucking years of calling us names. Can we trade title nine for an end to hate crime? RU-486 if we suck your fucking dick? One step forward, five steps back. One cool record in the year of rock-rap. Yeah we got all the power getting stabbed in the shower and we got equal rights on ladies night. Feminists we're calling you. Please report to the front desk. Let's name this phenomenon. It's too dumb to bring us down. F.Y.R. Fifty years of ridicule. F.Y.R. take another picture. . . . . Mrs. Doubtfire on mother's day. On-the-job stalker for equal pay. Toss us a few new AIDS drugs as national healthcare bites the dust. While you were on vacation black people didn't get reparations. You know these days no one's exploited. Sorry dude can't hear ya with my head in the toilet. Feminists we're calling you. Please report to the front desk. Let's name this phenomenon. It's too dumb to bring us down. F.Y.R. Fifty years of ridicule. F.Y.R. take another picture. . . . . . You've really come a long way baby. It's you, not the world, that's totally crazy. Cuz we really rocked the fuckin vote with election fraud in poor zip codes. Celebrate gay marriage in Vermont by enforcing those old sodomy laws. One step foreward five steps back. We tell the truth they turn up the laugh track. Feminists we're calling you. Please report to the front desk. Let's name this phenomenon. It's too dumb to bring us down.
And I'll myself say that I'm not 100 percent down for the Le Tigre political agenda, but in large part that's the point. Once you abandon the principled position that it's not the appropriate role of a politician to be telling people what music they should be listening to, it becomes impossible to defend the existence of anything without endorsing it's point-of-view. That, then, becomes an untenable view. Now what I am on board for is things like the V-Chip which are aimed at making it easier for parents to exercise control over what their kids watch. It seems to me that it's wise to acknowledge that there's a lot of stuff out there that various people have various problems with, and also to acknowledge that we all disagree about what the problematic stuff is. Public action aimed at facilitating private action seems to me to be the appropriate response.

April 12, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

"Now what I am on board for is things like the V-Chip which are aimed at making it easier for parents to exercise control over what their kids watch."

This is exactly the place where the Democratic position should be coming from.

The non-loony vote that is concerned with these matters is most concerned about two things:

- Their children being corrupted.
- Being embarrassed at watching sexual content on TV with their children.

I always thought the John Edwards stump speech line criticizing drug company ads was brilliant because it both hit drug companies, and it evoked the infamous "4 hour erection" line.

I'm waiting for some smart Democrats to begin making a big issue about legislation for a la carte cable TV pricing. If you don't want the evil MTV in your home, it should be easy to avoid getting it, and easy to avoid having to pay for it.

Smut for people who want smut. Protection from smut for those who want protection from smut.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 12, 2005 5:05:28 PM

Given the following (not to mention the crushing debt being left to our children), why exactly do the Dems think that movies or videogames could be an issue? Are they too moronic to make *reality* an issue?

Change, median household income (2003 dollars)
Bush II: -$1,535
Clinton: +$5,489
Bush I: -$1,314

Change, number in poverty
Bush II: +4,280,000
Clinton: -6,433,000
Bush I: +6,269,000

As pointed out today @ http://www.andrewtobias.com/ --

According to this in the L.A. Times, worker pay for the last 14 months has trailed inflation. In real dollars, workers have taken a tiny pay cut.

But not to worry: In the same time frame, corporate profits hit record highs . . . and the tax rate on dividends paid out of those profits has been slashed by 62% since President Bush took office. (I know some of you think relatively little cash is involved, but $441 billion was paid out in personal dividends in 2004, most of it to those already best off.)

The most outspokenly religious president in our history, Bush’s unique interpretation of Christ’s philosophy is to cut programs for the poor while slashing taxes for the rich.
ies or

Posted by: MattB | Apr 12, 2005 5:05:51 PM

I think very few liberals will be happy when what starts with a pretty anodyne campaign against "garbage" in the culture turns on things that we think are worthy.

Wow, I thought The Simpsons had the final say on this one a long, long time ago.

Itchy & Scratchy & Marge (First aired December 20, 1990)
http://www.tvtome.com/tvtome/servlet/GuidePageServlet/showid-146/epid-1307/
Convinced that the images on "The Itchy & Scratchy Show" are a bad influence on kids, Marge wages a one-woman campaign against the show that eventually forces the creator, Roger Meyers, Jr., to curb the violence in favor of bland, lovey-dovey plots. The new format bombs and the show's ratings plunge. Meanwhile, Marge is asked to comment on The Springfield Art Museum's exhibition of Michelangelo's "David." Not finding it at all objectionable, Marge loses her standing with the anti-free speech brigade that once supported her.

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Apr 12, 2005 5:05:53 PM

Republicans are for freedom!

Down with the Nanny State!

Right? Rush said so!

Posted by: Al | Apr 12, 2005 5:11:32 PM

Yeah, this is something I've noticed about you for a while, Mr. Yglesias: you've got 20-20 vision on an astounding range of political, economic, and social issues, and then a huge blind spot when it comes to Hollywood.

Count me a college-teaching, atheist, feminist, pro-choice, anti-Bush, liberal who is deeply concerned about the effects of popular culture on children. For a fairly trivial example, check out this today from WaPo:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A44779-2005Apr11.html

The cheapening and coarsening of children's cultural outlook--as much the result of the Simpsons and South Park as it is of Tarantino or Hustler--does real damage. The constant lack of respect for parents and teachers, the culture of nihilistic put-downs where every value is a target for ridicule except the value of being cool, the snide denigration of age and experience, all of these things have real effects on children's ability to grow into responsible adults.

If you have seen the inside of a public school recently, or talked to teachers who have taught young kids over a twenty year stretch, or if you have small children of your own, things look very different.

Posted by: Tad Brennan | Apr 12, 2005 5:18:39 PM

Now what I am on board for is things like the V-Chip which are aimed at making it easier for parents to exercise control over what their kids watch.

The problem with the V-Chip is the model of single-authority ratings. I say we need to move beyond that to an open architecture and infrastructure onto which an unlimited number of rating authorities can provide their own ratings, and consumers can choose among them (or even construct their own composites, if they want to go to that far) in providing access rules for their TV. Some people may trust the industries own ratings. Some people may trust ratings provided by, say, their church. Some may prefer ratings provided by some other organization. We ought to work to provide frameworks for robust choices.

Posted by: cmdicely | Apr 12, 2005 5:21:20 PM

Democrats will never be able to win a contest with Republicans over who can bash Hollywood more. The only policy that makes sense for us is one of overall cultural libertarianism (thus taking advantage of American’s inherent suspicion of government regulation), combined with specific government interventions designed to increase the ability of parents to control what their children consume. The focus shouldn’t be on the government trying to control content. It should be on giving individuals the power to control what they and their children consume.

Bill Clinton understood this. That’s why he talked incessantly about the V chip, despite the fact no actually seems to use it.


Posted by: RC | Apr 12, 2005 5:25:19 PM

"The constant lack of respect for parents and teachers, the culture of nihilistic put-downs where every value is a target for ridicule except the value of being cool, the snide denigration of age and experience, all of these things have real effects on children's ability to grow into responsible adults."

These arguments have been leveled at least since the 20's, and more ferociously since the 50's...

However, Dennis the Menace didn't cause civilization to collapse, and neither will South Park.

Now, politically, I fully support enabling parents to filter South Park out of their children's lives if they so choose. But I think those parents are kinda stupid and backwards for doing so.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 12, 2005 5:26:01 PM

Just to reiterate in boldface what the Democrats post-V chip angle should be:

ala carte cable pricing

Posted by: Petey | Apr 12, 2005 5:27:24 PM

> The cheapening and coarsening of children's cultural
> outlook--as much the result of the Simpsons and South
> Park as it is of Tarantino or Hustler--does real damage.

Thanks for making Matt's point for him. If you read through the comments on Ms. Sullivan's posts, you will see that I am one who has managed to filter the worst of offensive culture from my kids, primarily by never showing them how to turn the TV away from "DVD input".

Yet a few years ago I started watching /The Simpsons/ with them. Why? Because (a) I wanted them to have a better understanding of the playground culture they were dealing with (b) it is a gently sarcastic spoof of our modern culture - just the kind of attitude I want them to have. The vigenette about the billboards alone was worth the bushelbasket of "crap" I have to deal with now.

Or so I think. You may think differently. Currently, you have that choice. If Ms. Sullivan gets her way, you won't have that choice.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Apr 12, 2005 5:28:38 PM

The cheapening and coarsening of children's cultural outlook--as much the result of the Simpsons and South Park as it is of Tarantino or Hustler--does real damage. The constant lack of respect for parents and teachers, the culture of nihilistic put-downs where every value is a target for ridicule except the value of being cool, the snide denigration of age and experience, all of these things have real effects on children's ability to grow into responsible adults.

All these things -- well, Tarantino and Hustler are particular examples from the particular time, but the general complaints -- have been registered as complaints by every generation in recorded history. You see it in Plato and other classics, complaining about the younger generation of their time.

Is there some reason that every generation think that their children -- influenced by the popular cultural of the time -- are the downfall of civilization? Whatever it is, it has nothing to do with it being true.

The complaints being made were overblown when our parents made them of our generation, they were overblown when our grandparents made them of our parents generation, they were overblown in 1,297 B.C., and their overblown now, too.

Posted by: cmdicely | Apr 12, 2005 5:29:04 PM

> These arguments have been leveled at least since the
> 20's, and more ferociously since the 50's..


Remember that the years BC run backwards, so 3050 BC is actually earlier than 3020 BC. Or don't you think that Plato had to deal with that attitude in his incoming students?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Apr 12, 2005 5:30:29 PM

Hey Tad -- we have a 10-year-old daughter. We watch the Simpsons with her every day. They are a great teaching / parenting tool. Interesting concept, no -- actually parenting?

Meanwhile, while people bitch about the Simpsons, every day, people lose their job, health care, and fall into poverty.

Posted by: MattB | Apr 12, 2005 5:30:36 PM

OTOH, the complaint that our schools aren't effectively teaching children to avoid misusing "their" for "they're" was well founded when my parents made it (well, know, they didn't make it, but if they had...)

Posted by: cmdicely | Apr 12, 2005 5:31:27 PM

Not to mention that, *every minute*, we're accumulating a million dollars more debt to heap onto our children.

Down with South Park!

(Nice post, Cranky -- must have gone up while I was composing mine.)

Posted by: MattB | Apr 12, 2005 5:34:38 PM

"Or don't you think that Plato had to deal with that attitude in his incoming students?"

While the general complaint has always been around, I do think it's acquired its high level of political saliency only since the pop culture industry has been able to invade the living room - hence the 1950's date.

And I also think it's no coincidence that the issue has acquired an even larger political saliency in the past 20 years with the explosion of cable TV, and thus the ending of the dominance of the network standards and practices departments.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 12, 2005 5:36:52 PM

"Not to mention that, *every minute*, we're accumulating a million dollars more debt to heap onto our children. Down with South Park!"

While this issue is obviously easy to mock, if you're really concerned with ending the accumulation of federal debt, you'll be concerned with electing more Democrats, and thus concerned with the sensibilities of voters who are trying to shield their children.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 12, 2005 5:38:38 PM

While the general complaint has always been around, I do think it's acquired its high level of political saliency only since the pop culture industry has been able to invade the living room

Right. Because the TVs move into people's houses on their own and turns themselves on in response to signals from "pop culture" transmitters -- the residents of the home are helpless victims of the pop culture beast that invades their home and need the power of government to stop it.


Posted by: cmdicely | Apr 12, 2005 5:41:12 PM

i don't believe in the 'slippery slope' of 'Hollyweird crap=teen anomie' (count me as a reader of both Mad magazine and Hustler before i was in my teens)--i'd suggest that if anybody's pointing at a certain kid about this, that you should look at his/her parents, and you'll find the real root of the problem is 'absentee parents.'

if you want to look at cultural issues, look at the decreased opportunities that kids today, especially from lower-income families, have to make it in the world--wages are in free-fall, blue-collar jobs are drying up, and higher education costs are soaring--i'd be pretty damn nihlistic too, if i were a kid these days!

Posted by: David W | Apr 12, 2005 5:43:08 PM

MattB and cmdicely,
Scary - not one but two sets of parallel posts!

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Apr 12, 2005 5:43:51 PM

"Right. Because the TVs move into people's houses on their own and turns themselves on in response to signals from "pop culture" transmitters -- the residents of the home are helpless victims of the pop culture beast that invades their home and need the power of government to stop it."

No. Because upwards of 98% of households have TV's. Because if you want to get the Animal Channel, you have to also get MTV. Because many parents are unable to monitor their children's behavior 24/7.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 12, 2005 5:45:19 PM

> Because if you want to get the Animal Channel, you have
> to also get MTV.

Every TV built after 1990 has had the ability to lock out channels. My dad's "new" TV acquired in 1983 had that ability. Your cable company can give you a box with extra lockout capabilities if you need one. If they can't, Radio Shack has them for $50.

> Because many parents are unable to monitor their
> children's behavior 24/7.

So we have to invoke the Awesome Coercive Power of the State to limit what I can watch, and what I can allow MY childern to watch, because YOU can't monitor what YOUR children watch? As mediated by the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives no doubt. Libertarian Party here I come.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Apr 12, 2005 5:52:58 PM

Petey -- then don't get Animal Planet (yes, I have to give up The Daily Show, but there is the net). Get videos from the library. Let Animal Planet be a special treat when visiting Grandma's, where someone is always around, and let kids go to the AP website when you are around....

Posted by: MattB | Apr 12, 2005 5:54:27 PM

> Because many parents are unable to monitor their
> children's behavior 24/7.

Then talk to your kids every day. Prepare them for things. Talk about what is out there. Don't mystify it / make it more attractive by forbidding it, etc.

Posted by: MattB | Apr 12, 2005 5:57:48 PM

Because if you want to get the Animal Channel you have to also get MTV

I cancelled cable.

Posted by: ChrisS | Apr 12, 2005 5:58:51 PM

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