« The Blogosphere Exit Poll (an experiment) | Main | today's amusement brought to you by stewie »

frog in a blender

The poll will stay up today (see here) - if you haven't voted you have until about 8m tonight to do so. Hmm...I don't even know where to begin today. So many topics, so little time. I still owe you that Rocky Horror post - I'll get to that later. For now, I'll take on Peggy Noonan. This isn't the first time that I've taken Peggy to task for something but, for the most part, I like her. We may take different paths - she walks about 1,000 yards farther to the right than I - but I think she's a good writer and she is always passionate about her subjects. But there are some days when she just loses me and I'm left scratching my head and wondering just what the hell she is talking about. For instance, her February 5th column, Janet Jackson and the Frog. It starts out sanely enough. We learn that on September 8, 2001, Peggy and a friend went to an extravagant, circus-like Michael Jackson show (actually, a taping of a CBS special) at Madison Square Garden. There, she witnessed a rambling Marlon Brando and an anorexic-looking Whitney Houston pay tribute to Michael. Liza Minelli was there as was, of course, Liz Taylor. Where there's Michael, there's Liz. At least it used to be that way until Michael went and had tea parties with young boys. So you have the background now. This is an excerpt of what follows in the column:
Later, as we got into a cab, we said nothing. It was odd to go from such sound to such silence. But we were both pondering. It wasn't that any individual moment during the evening was so stunningly bizarre. (Mr. Brando, for instance, was only as bizarre as Brando is.) It was that taken as a whole the night yielded an unmistakable sense of decay and disorder. "I feel like we just witnessed the end of our culture," I said. "We are," he said. "It's a freak show now. The whole thing, it's just a freak show." Two-and-a-half days later came 9/11 and the ending of a world. When my friend and I talked again he said, "Remember that night? You could see it coming then."
I had to read that several times to make sure I wasn't missing something. But no, there it is in black and white. You could see it coming then. As if somehow, the antics of Michael Jackson and his Cirucs of the Fading Stars somehow foretold the coming of a terrorist attack on the United States.
Why am I treating you to a bad memory? Because I am disturbed about our culture and can't stop thinking about it. I'm embarrassed by our culture too, and made anxious by it. Aren't you?
Not particularly. Look at Britian. The covers of their newspapers are often decorated with the exposed breasts of young women. Have you ever seen a television show that originates from anywhere south of the American border? They show more skin in one episode than you see in a month of Playboy Channel movies. Embarassed? Maybe. Justin Timberlake winning a grammy over Warren Zevon; a movie glorifying cheating on the SATs; Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake and The Man Show, America's Funniest Videos - I find them all embarassing representations of American culture. But what do I know? I think South Park and Beavis and Butthead are pure comedy genius. But anxious? No. Not at all. I don't think some radical Muslim group is sitting in their hideout right now watching TiVo'd copies of Sex in the City and listening to Britney Spears and thinking - those Americans must die! After all, these are people that willingly die so they can screw 72 imaginary virgins. I think Britney would give them wet dreams, not be the poster girl for American Jihad, Inc.
For a while after 9/11 we seemed to sober up. There seemed a new seriousness. It wasn't heavy and somber, there was a lot of humor and wit, but we were perhaps a little chastened, a little more mature. Sept. 11 was such a shock to the national system that after it the culture's long slide into narcissistic netherworlds seemed momentarily stopped, or at least slowed. But it's picked up again
Noonan then writes about discovering that Janet and Justing did a little touchy-feely dance during the Superbowl halftime show. Oh no, I thought. We're back to the pre-9/11 freak show. Has she been under a rock for the past three years? American pop culture is one big freak show and the days since 9/11 have not watered the freakishness down at all. There are women marrying strangers on national television. Michael Jackson dances on the hood of a car after his arraignment on child molestation charges. Stores are selling thongs for eleven year old girls. The J&J show has nothing to do with 9/11. The future of terrorism in this country has nothig to do with wardrobe malfunctions.
This was the Super Bowl, after all, a football game in early-evening prime time with children watching, and nice people who hadn't bought into the concept of seeing a sex show.
Yep. Those cheerleaders the cameras train on are all wearing turtlenecks and chastity belts. And halftime shows are always about morality and fully clothed performers.
This might be a frog-in-the-water moment. You remember: You put a frog in a nice cool pot of water, and he's happy and swims around. But if you put a flame underneath the pot and slowly raise it, chances are he'll boil to death. On the other hand, if you dump a frog in a boiling pot of water, he'll jump right out and be saved.
Or you have frog soup. And, if you use Peggy's convoluted metaphor, it's a huge bowl of soup, feeding a dinner party of tv, radio and print reporters. The entertainment media would starve if it were not for these frogs on the flame. Does she honestly believe we are the only country with entertainment that revolves around hard bodies, sexual innuendos and risky business? I'll agree with her to an extent that the people who want to attack America don't like our culture, but that's not the whole deal. If it were, England, Brazil, Denmark, Italy and hundreds of other places would be under attack as well. Things didn't change after 9/11. We didn't suddenly become subdued puritans who threw away our Cosmo magazines and watched public television instead of Fox reality shows. Sure, we didn't hear much about that part of culture; not because our culture made us anxious, but because we just weren't in the mood.
Our culture has been on a boil for years. Then it cooled a bit. The other night at the Super Bowl they put the flame higher and the water began to boil. The frog--that would be us--is still alive. And may, in his shock, jump out of the water. But the question is: How? How to turn it around. I wonder if all the sane adult liberals and conservatives couldn't make progress here. But how. Readers?
Here's some ideas: Turn the channel. Teach your children good morals. Express your distaste for what's on tv or in the movies, but don't preach to people that they should find the same things distasteful. This frog is fine with the way things are. I'd rather stay in the pot and be boiled to live in a place where people think that my entertainment choices should be made for me. Not everything is about 9/11. This "freak show" of American culture that Peggy Noonan sees is not going to cause a suicide bomber to detonate a truckful of dynamite in a government building. Nor would purifying our culture stop that same suicide bomber from blowing himself up in a government building. It's about so much more than exposed breasts. To think otherwise means you don't really understand any of it.

Comments

It's not a blender... it's a bender:

http://www.joecartoon.com/pages/frogbender/

She's obviously never been to Amsterdam.

I love Jerry Springer. Before 9/11. After 9/11. All the time. Seriously, this pisses me off because it trivializes 9/11.

You're on a quality roll this week. :)

Seems like she had one of those moments we all have; you know, you're driving along flipping radio channels and you go:

"This is crap. So is this. Crap. Crap. More crap...DEAR GOD ALL OF OUR MUSIC IS CRAP CRAP CRAP!!!!"

Then you put in a Johnny Cash CD and get on with your life.

Maybe you should send Peggy a Johnny Cash CD.

I'm afraid Peggy is suffering from that horrible thing that seems to hit the brains of people when they decide they really ought to be "grown ups" now.

Thanks, Michele for more sanity on this topic. It was funny, our local paper, WELL known for it's reader's page, actually had a couple satirical letters lamenting the ridiculous outrage at the naked breat incident. Oh.my.god.get.over.it!

The other part of this whole "national discussion" that I've noticed focuses on erectile dysfunction. Somehow, those that can poo-poo Janet and Justin are, instead, up in arms over all the Levitra and Cialis commercials. The most common theme ? "I guess I missed all the talk about the erectile dysfunction epidemic. One of the syndicated columnists even took this one on the other day. How pathetic.

As for 9/11, everyone seems to blame it on their cultural pet peeve. What caused 9/11? It depends on your ask. It was: gays, straights, abortionists, pro-lifers, Republicans, Democrats, and on and on.

It's not a big secret why we were attacked - well, it's not to anyone who actually looks into it. Osama Bin Laden saw his homeland as corrupt (quite correct, actually), and then saw the U.S. take up a permanent military presence there. He saw this not only as proof of further corruption, but the ultimate insult, too. That's why he attacked in 1993, and again in 2001.

It's simple enough. He was trying to wake us up and frighten us into leaving Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, that's too difficult to turn into political points for whatever side one is on to be of any use.

Turning to the specific case of Janet Jackson, she's a perfect example of what I've been saying for years. We have a whole generation of performers (not entertainers, but performers) who only know one way to be different and push the envelope. They can only do this by being different externally - by what they do and what they say. The great entertainers of the past that we still remember today, by contrast, were different and pushed the envelope by virtue of their thoughts, ideas and attitudes - they were unique inside, as well.

In response to this, I've done exactly what Michele suggests - I ignore MTV, VH1 and the like. I change the channel. I didn't even know Justin Timberlake's name until it came up as part of this whole Janet Jackson/Super Bowl uproar. It takes me longer to find entertainers I like today, but I respect them that much more when I do find them.

First off, I agree wholeheartedly that linking the depravity of our mass media to 9/11 is a stretch, and a blatantly ridiculous stretch at that.

That being said, I have a few things that I need to point out, being one of those insufferable "prudes" who don't think that pr0n belongs on family TV. Yes, I know that I'm a spoilsport bastard because I don't want nekkid midgets mud wrestling on Blue's Clues, but bear with me. And yes, pimping your boobies in a desperate attempt at getting attention for a dead career during a family event IS disgusting, whether you or anybody else thinks it's "cute" or not.

First off, because EUnuchistan does it (or, indeed, "everybody else") doesn't necessarily mean that it's a good idea, unless you're a slave to peer pressure without an opinion of your own. Actually, if the EUroweenies DO do it, it generally a good idea to avoid it like the plague (and I used to BE one, so I should know).

And second: If we want failed nobodies to flash their mammaries on the Super Bowl half-time show fine, but kindly do me the favor of putting an "R" up on the screen along with a warning along the lines of:

"The following show contains pathetic attempts by failed has-beens to garner publicity for their vapid and train-wrecked careers, viewer discretion is advised."

That way I TOO have a choice, the choice that is always paraded around by "progressive minded" people whenever one of us "prudes" with families and kids object to having a syphilitic whore's private parts shoved in our faces.

Give us fair warning, because if we don't get that, we DON'T have a "choice".

Tracey:

Then you put in a Johnny Cash CD and get on with your life.

Beautifully said!!

As for 9/11, everyone seems to blame it on their cultural pet peeve.

I blame it on Ashton Kutcher's latest movie.

I couldn't agree more with Michele, Tracey and Red more on this one.

If you don't like certain aspects of American culture, the only way to help change things is to put your money where your mouth is and patronize those aspects you do like, and also to provide passionate, persuasive explanations of why those things deserve everyone else's attention.

If you didn't like the Super Bowl halftime show this year (and was there ever a lot not to like, apart from the briefly liberated boob), watch something else next year! Simply whining about what you don't like and yearning for the imaginary good old days is a complete waste of time.

The real crime was the Lingerie Bowl! Over in 10 minutes! Whatta gyp!

Islamic fundamentalists have shunned the excesses of American decadence/naughtyness and where has it left them? COMPLETELY FREAKIN MENTAL.

I'm with you, Misha.

That Sunday, I officially claimed my good standing among the Old-Fashioned.

I have never been able to tolerate an impertinent brat. If Janet and Justin had attempted that in person, in my living room, they would have won themselves each a stiff boot in the ass and a short straight toss into the street. They sneaked in, however: beyond the constantly-advancing bounds of outright prurience that has been the hallmark of their artistic genre for a long time now, they presumed an audience far beyond its manifest limits, that day. And they did it in exactly the manner of insolence that should know better.

If that little moron, Timberlake, is not straight-up lying in his various statements since then, then his utter stupidity is at least as big an issue as his style.

No way: I'm not going to "get over it".

There is a time and a place for everything. That wasn't it, for that.

Excellent piece Ms. Victory.

This frog is fine with the way things are. I'd rather stay in the pot and be boiled to live in a place where people think that my entertainment choices should be made for me.

Doesn't quite have to be either/or, does it? Surely we can talk about content with confusing that with censorship?

For example, you wouldn't be in favor of hardcore pornography on Saturday morning TV (If you are, let's make it snuff films)? You draw the line somewhere ... and thus seek to impose your values on poor lonely middle-aged guys without wives, girlfriends or Web access who seek free porn, no -- who have a right to porn -- on Saturday mornings.

And if you're willing to draw the line somewhere, then you're willing to enter a discussion about broadcast standards, which means allowing some things and disallowing others.

The end of your entry is just confused. How do you drag suicide bombers into the discussion? Is that the only choices -- any attempt to bring in concepts of decency, modesty, restraint and virtue moves to blowing up innocents?

I realize you said "this frog" -- but overall, the "frog" Peggy Noonan discussed is our culture, and no, it's not fine. Absurdity, futility and depravity are commonplace.

We don't face an either/or situation in our culture: that is, either we have a fanantically repressive puritanical culture or one utterly dedicated to fanning the flames of mankind's worst instincts and lusts. There is a lot of space between those two poles. I'd argue pretty much any intelligent discussion falls into that space.

There's nothing wrong with attempting to clean up the culture a bit. I think we'd all be surprised on how much we can agree with.

***

On a personal note, what offended me most about the halftime show was the cynicism. Exposing a breast? Am I supposed to be shocked by that? Of course not. What I was shocked was at the narcissism -- here was a championship game in our of our toughest sports, and little Janet Jackson and MTV had to make it all about themselves ... somewhere a blogger compared it to the drunk at the wedding. That was apt.

FWIW.

Funny how we all live in our own world, eh?

I remember a lot of folks (or at least a small number of loud ones) getting ticked after 9/11 about how religious people were being. Prayer, etc. It was as if they had convinced themselves that the U.S. was a majority atheist/agnostic, and the realization that it wasn't was far worse than 9/11 itself.

I wonder if the shrieking over Bush and Iraq isn't some kind of retaliation for that.