In 2004, Janet Jackson’s pre-meditated breast-baring act during the Superbowl half-time show became part of a long line of publicity stunts at the cost of broadcast decency. Her music videos had already bordered on pornography: diverse crowds of young men and women on a dance floor contorting in orgasmic fashion, making gestures that seemingly worship each other’s genitals.
Always on the lewd side, with an audience in the hundreds of millions, on that Superbowl Sunday, she couldn’t resist doing what she does best! However, she was not alone: Two to three decades ago programming standards fell off a cliff.
The rapper Eminem won three Grammys for his CD the Marshal Mathers LP, which was laced with misogynistic and gay-bashing language. He narrowly missed out on the coveted “best album of the year award.” It gets worst from there.
The television show Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? was quickly scrapped by television executives when it turned out that the first “millionaire” offered to a throng of willing females was not a millionaire at all, had been hit with restraining orders by previous girlfriends and had fudged other aspects of his background.
A photograph depicting Jesus Christ as a nude black woman surrounded by 12 black apostles was put on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2001. The museum received an annual subsidy of $7.2 million from New York City. This incident followed the museum’s 1999 “sensation” show that depicted the Virgin Mary smothered in elephant dung.
Surviving What? A Shameful Commentary on Our Society
Enter the hit TV show Survivor. Reduced to its most base elements, contestants win prize money for their success at manipulation and backstabbing. If the human race had developed along these lines, the world population would be less than 1,000, war would be eminent every time people encountered each other, and virtually none of us would be here today.
“Reality-based” television programming could have taken a totally different turn. People could have been rewarded for being cooperative: The composition of participants could have mirrored that of early bands of human beings seeking to make their way in the wilderness. There could have been a mix of ages and capabilities.
Prizes could have been awarded for having everyone in the tribe successfully complete some mission together — people could have been rewarded for being cooperative. Tribe members could have been praised for cross-training one another, for ensuring that no one slips through the cracks, and certainly for not voting people off of an island. Oh, well…
Exploitation for Profit, Pure and Simple
In 2001, NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt died of massive head injuries on the last lap of the Daytona 500. Days after the race, his widow, who shunned publicity was forced to make a statement. Volusia County, Florida was about the release the medical examiner’s autopsy photos of Earnhardt, presumably to fulfill the public’s “right” to view “gore.” The gesture came following an Orlando Sentinel reporter’s public request for the photos.
“This is the first time I have spoken in public since we have lost Dale,” said Teresa Earnhardt reading from a prepared statement. “I am not comfortable being here, but this issue is of vital importance — not just to my family — but to anyone ever faced with being exploited after losing a loved one.”
Along with her son, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., she pleaded for those who feel as “strongly as we do, to let your voices be heard.” In response, the Orlando Sentinel said that they had “no real intention” of publishing the photos. They merely wanted them so that a head trauma expert could make an “independent determination.” Yeah, and fat chance the photos wouldn’t end up spreading like wildfire on the early internet.
Not Yet at the Bottom
In 20+ years, have we reached the low point of Western culture and crass commercialism? Regrettably, no. We’re about to sink even further. The prevailing notion that “everything is art,” or that drag queens should indoctrinate school children is ludicrous. Nevertheless, we have yet to witness how low American society can go in terms of displaying vulgarity, crudeness, disrespect, and abandonment of reasonable standards, while, in many quarters, having the temerity to call garbage “art,” “newsworthy,” “the public’s right to know,” and “appropriate entertainment.”
With the Left calling the shots, no area of culture is likely to be spared, including politics, religion, science, education, health care, and media. How far are the exploiters of popular culture willing to go in the name of profit or for a warped political agenda? Further than you can imagine.
What more will they do to garner attention, notoriety, and, in this day and age, celebrity? Filmed visits to nudist colonies? Judging the best nude body on the beach? Pornographic sculpture in public display? Rock music videos with staged copulation sequences? Live, televised death in the heat of some extreme sports contest? Some network executives are drooling for it.
A live shooting massacre captured on video as the mayhem unfolds? Reality TV hosts bitterly accosting show participants before banishing them to “off air” land? Coveting interviews with serial killers, unabombers, and masters of mayhem? Child molesters, spouse beaters, and incest perpetrators offering real-time, live Webcasts?
Elsewhere is often no better. An Israeli state television news program broadcasted a home video of a man beating a woman. The attacker, who also allegedly raped the woman, filmed the assault himself. Israel’s Channel One news department defended its decision to air the rape tape. They did so to “help inform viewers about violence against women.” Station management also noted that faces were blocked out for the broadcast. How thoughtful.
Lowbrow Escalated with FCC Deregulation
Deregulation is not a random act of a handful of devious people, it is a major movement. Indeed, deregulation in and of itself is a fine principle in theory. Milton Friedman, in his landmark book Freedom to Choose, eloquently argued that by keeping markets unrestricted, competition would flourish and the ultimate benefit would be the
consumer or end-user.
His theory works well for a variety of consumer goods. However, all of American society and, by relation, societies around the world have suffered. When it comes to entertainment, movies, television, the web, CDs, and video games in particular, the lack of effective government controls wreaks havoc on society.
Cornell West, Ph.D. and Sylvia Ann Hewlett, in their classic book The War Against Parents, pointed out that in the early 1980’s the FCC relaxed its standards related to the use of violence, profanity, and adult situations on television. This was all done in the name of opening up broadcast competition. Unfortunately, we got what you see today: wave after wave of communications whose main purpose is to increasingly push the sordid, content envelope.
Powerful media and entertainment moguls use deregulation to exploit the public in many ways, all in the name of profit or a political agenda, and often for both.
A reduction of restrictions on programming and on entertainment content does not result in greater competition, more variety in choices, or, for that matter, higher quality output. The harsh reality has been the opposite. Deregulation, in terms of content, has paved the way for less appealing parts of society to be showcased in the arts and entertainment arena.
Movies are a highly visible example of entertainment that perpetually is strewn with product placements — even to this day regarding cigarettes and alcohol. Often these products are endorsed in movies whose target audience is too young to discern their appropriateness. As such, the movie rating system, while relatively noble in spirit, does nothing to assure a parent of what his or her child will or will not see.
When my daughter was young, I selected movies for her produced before 1970, and certainly before 1960. Considering sex, violence, and language, I knew that I could allow her to watch such films with little supervision and not have to worry. For movies produced after 1980, I felt compelled to sit with her the entire time, to monitor and explain the variety of sights and sounds she was likely to encounter. Movies produced after 1990, and certainly after 2000? Forget about it.
I would sit with my finger on the fast-forward button, ready at a moment’s notice to shield her relatively innocent eyes and ears from what Hollywood has foisted upon society:
* Violent treatment of one person from another.
* Language that allegedly “spices up” but simply isn’t necessary in a movie.
* Gross distortions of everyday life.
* Glorification of the absurd, the illicit, the illegal, the deviant, or the macabre.
No Way Out
Movies which ostensibly produced for the children’s market border on the lewd. The “penis breath” dialogue in the widely-circulated, original version of ET, under the careful direction of no less than Steven Spielberg, remains, to this day inexcusable. In “R” rated movies, for example, which young teenagers see eventually, the ultra graphic slashing and beheading in Braveheart, (1995 Oscar winner for Best Picture) and the rape and hanging of a mother and child in Gladiator, (2000 Oscar winner for Best Picture) were supposedly high-minded movies.
And today? Television and movies in the 2020s are designed to shock, titillate, and arouse the viewing audience. The writers, directors, and producers of such movies seemingly lack the wit, creativity, and passion to convey horrendous events with anything other than up-close, in-your-face, overly graphic camera sequences that would do the 6 o’clock news camera crew proud.
Shame on them. Shame on us all.