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 againNoonan 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.