Frank Rich & the pleasures of adjectives

frankrich.jpgSome writers are worth reading because they are talented stylists. Regardless of whether I agree with the points these writers make, watching them make the case is its own reward. Several writers fill this role for me, including Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Ferguson, Paul Greenberg, James Lileks, Katha Pollitt, Anna Quindlen, Mark Steyn and Andrew Sullivan.

Frank Rich is not on my regular reading cycle. On Sunday, however, he worked himself into an exquisite lather about the newly blandified Super Bowl extravaganza. It became entertaining to watch him turn to the catharsis of angry and humorous language.

Some samples:

• Let us be grateful that Janet Jackson did not bare both breasts.

On the first anniversary of the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction that shook the world, it’s clear that just one was big enough to wreak havoc. The ensuing Washington indecency crusade has unleashed a wave of self-censorship on American television unrivaled since the McCarthy era, with everyone from the dying D-Day heroes in “Saving Private Ryan” to cuddly animated animals on daytime television getting the ax.

• This repressive cultural environment was officially ratified on Nov. 2, when Ms. Jackson’s breast pulled off its greatest coup of all: the re-election of President Bush. Or so it was decreed by the media horde that retroactively declared “moral values” the campaign’s decisive issue and the Super Bowl the blue states’ Waterloo. The political bosses of “family” organizations, well aware that TV’s collective wisdom becomes reality whether true or not, have been emboldened ever since. They are spending their political capital like drunken sailors, redoubling their demands that the Bush administration marginalize gay people, stamp out sex education and turn pop culture into a continuous loop of “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”

• Fox, which recently pixilated the bottom of a cartoon toddler in a rerun of the series “Family Guy,” now has someone on full-time rear-end alert: it rejected a comic spot for Airborne, a cold remedy, showing the backside of the 84-year-old Mickey Rooney as he leaves a sauna.

• That our government is now both intimidating PBS and awarding public money to pundits to enforce “moral values” agendas demonizing certain families is the ugliest fallout of the campaign against indecency. That campaign cannot really banish salaciousness from pop culture, a rank impossibility in a market economy where red and blue customers are united in their infatuation with “Desperate Housewives.” But it can create public policy that discriminates against anyone on the hit list of moral values zealots. Inane as it may seem that [Margaret] Spellings is conducting a witch hunt against Buster or that James Dobson has taken aim at SpongeBob SquarePants, there’s a method to their seeming idiocy: the cartoon surrogates are deliberately chosen to camouflage the harshness of their assault on nonanimated, flesh-and-blood people.

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  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    Sometimes it’s fun to read what the other side is writing just because they’re fun to read.

    However, I’m rarely amused or enthralled with this guy, a bitter partisan who is clearly on a tear about… well, what every extreme liberal is on a tear about – their inability to experience unfiltered filth on the airwaves.

    Boo. Hoo. Hoo.

    Hearing journalists and pundits whine about it is close to sad, since it makes so little sense. If the wildest dreams of these people came true, and all self-restraint is gone, I have to believe we’d have TV shows called “Decomposition: LIVE” and “Nude Wrestling USA,” and have broadcast and cable channels featuring shows with executions, rape and torture.

    Parents with any sense of decency would then have to ban television from their homes (which, apparently, is the line *liberaltarians* of all stripes argue is a fair and reasonable approach. As in, “If you don’t like it…”)

    This guy needs to take an aspirin. We don’t live in a police state, we’re just pulling back from the abyss. People of faith at least should agree that a sex- and violence-saturated culture is not the ideal God intended, nor even close to the ideal.

  • http://bothworlds.typepad.com Gary

    Frank Rich is demented.

  • E C Jacobson

    Repressive cultural environment? Self-censorship? On television? Does Frank Rich inhabit the same planet? Has he watched an episode of “Nip/Tuck” lately? Or “Rescue Me?” Has he ever watched an episode of “CSI: Miami?” Or “NYPD Blue?” Or “Law and Order:SVU?” Does he realize that “Sex and the City” is running in prime time on TBS? Did some coalition of do-gooders just cast “Desparate Housewives” into the ratings abyss – there to share space with Keith Olbermann? What censorship? Where?

    Television today has almost become a soft-core porn market. Yes, some of these shows are exceptional. I am not sure that any show has ever exceeded the quality of the early episodes of “NYPD Blue.” But in doing so it broke down an important barrier, and I doubt it will be restored. For each of the shows listed, I can describe specific scenes I would not want my children to see due to graphic sexual content. And these are all prime time shows.

    There are still some limits, but I am amazed at how fast they are falling. One has to be willfully deaf, dumb and blind not to see this process unfold.

    ECJ

  • greekgeek

    To an extent I agree. If it makes me want to change the channel when grandma or my nieces and nephews are watching, it’s not something for me to watch at all, and maybe it shouldn’t be on the air at all (in a perfect world).

    HOWEVER…some of the decisions made by the FCC or because of fear of the FCC in the last year have been ridiculous and seemingly arbitrary.

    As for shows like Nip/Tuck (which, for me, falls into the catergory I mentioned in the first graph) and the TBS version of Sex in the City (which is seriously edited from its HBO origins), these are not subject to the standard of regular broadcast stations. More strict than the so-called primo channels but not as much as the big 3 or 4 (depending on what you call FOX). Doesn’t mean its morally OKAY for them to show it but do we really want to try and legislate morality? I’d just like to see the FCC make sense.

  • Law-Abiding Libertine

    Nude Wrestling USA? That sounds awesome. Sign me up.

    And as for this: “Parents with any sense of decency would then have to ban television from their homes (which, apparently, is the line *liberaltarians* of all stripes argue is a fair and reasonable approach. As in, “If you don’t like it…”)”

    Hey, I think you’re on to something. Just turn off your television whenever you suspect its sending subliminal messages to your children’s impressionable genitals, and everyone will be fine. Or, better yet, sit them down and explain that it’s just a stupid television show, and maybe they won’t feel compelled to commit blasphemy whenever some woman’s breast peeks out to say hello.

    If all else fails, go with telling them that God kills a kitten everytime they masturbate.

  • EG

    Rich wrote an article about ‘Sex in the City’ et al. right after the election. In it, he documented that these shows attracted viewers in those areas that went for Bush during the election, suggesting the ‘moral vote’ was at least bogus.

    I do not personally watch these shows but I do not understand why religious conservatives don’t start a letter-writing campaign to the offending networks and FCC about the shows.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    I guess the erstwhile “Butcher of Broadway” decided that politicians were safer targets than producers.

    But why, oh, why, did they move him from OpEd to the “entertainment” section? What next, Maureen Dowd on the sports pages?

  • E C Jacobson

    Greekgeek,

    ” ..these are not subject to the standard of regular broadcast stations. More strict than the so-called primo channels but not as much as the big 3 or 4.”

    Given the market penetration of both Cable and Satellite TV, I’m not sure how much difference it makes that some channels are more heavily regulated than others. The difference between CBS and FX on my TV is the difference between 02 and 35. There is no longer any significant access barrier.

    “…do we really want to try and legislate morality?”

    It is a given that morality will be legislated. Law by definition does just that. Consider the following illegal actions:

    1) Prostitution.

    2) Polygamy.

    3) Pedophilia.

    Current US law criminalizes each, and in each case, the Law traces to an underlying Christian worldview regarding sex. It is not a given that every culture would criminalize these acts. Certainly a traditional Mormon would not criminalize polygamy. The only issue then is which morality will be legislated.

    The issue in question is the amount of public constraint which may be reasonably imposed on private sexual behavior. The current public attitude is for all intents and purposes “None.” And this presupposition is being displayed with increasing boldness on every network on every TV show that touches the subject. There is an undeniable pedagogical aspect to this trend.

    Unfortunately, private sexual behavior has profound public consequences. But for the sake of libertarian freedom, we are pretending that it does not. And we live with the bastard children of that self-deception – illegitimacy, divorce, child abuse, disaffected children, abortion, disease, infertility, imploding birth rates – growing up around us every day. What a legacy we will leave to the next generation.

    All that being said, your point about the FCC is well taken.

    ECJ

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    ECJ: Absolutely correct.

    As for “Libertine,” who says:

    “Just turn off your television whenever you suspect its sending subliminal messages to your children’s impressionable genitals, and everyone will be fine.”

    Why don’t you just bring this thinking to its logical conclusion: those with moral “hang-ups” about viscous violence or lascivious sexual expressions should never watch TV, never go to the movies, never listen to music, and never surf the Internet. I guess we should abandon these media to those who, with their reckless pursuit of titillation, will quickly overtake them without a controlling force like the FCC (or some other source with which we invest authority.)

    As ECJ says above, we legislate morality all the time. And I will add decency and ethics to the list of things we already legislate, too. It’s legitimate, and proper that we do so.

    As said Burke: “It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

    As a matter of common sense, I don’t think we should allow those who are the most intemperate to set the tone of society and lock the rest of us out of using all technology and media – things that can be used in a benign way and often actually for good.

    When bad men combine, the good must associate, or else they will fall one by one. (again Burke.)

  • http://www.ecben.com Will

    Quite so, ECJ. The “taboo” on abandoning children AFTER birth is just as “Christian” and “religious” as that againts killing them BEFORE birth; those wonderful Greek and Roman pagans considered it perfectly acceptable to expose “unwanted” infants. (Guess which sex was usually the one exposed?) Claims that “abortion was only declared a sin in the 19th century” are simply false. And claims that one stance is “religious” and the other is “not religious” are simply absurd.

  • Law-Abiding Libertine

    Thank you, “Stephen A,” for putting those scare quotes around my choice of moniker. Makes it sound so dubious and immoral. I shall return you the same courtesy.

    You wrote: “Why don’t you just bring this thinking to its logical conclusion: those with moral “hang-ups” about viscous violence or lascivious sexual expressions should never watch TV, never go to the movies, never listen to music, and never surf the Internet.”

    “Stephen A,” if you want to fall on the sword of your logic suicide train, feel free. But before you throw away your TV remote along with your children’s Spongebob dolls, you ought to consider the myriad options today’s wonderful world of technology has to offer to those who fear the corrupting influence of PBS. Instead of doing something really drastic, like cutting off cable completely and thereby missing your favorite programs, you could:

    (1) Utilize the parental control technology included with digital cable packages to curtail access to the channels of your choice.

    (2) Make use of third-party blocking devices like the V-Chip. For movies, there’s that Mormon-inspired contraption that can whitewash all the sex from “Titanic” and other corrupting fare.

    (3) Resort to the old fashioned yet useful technique of closely monitoring the kind of entertainment your children view. Imagine the sort of bonding experience you could have with a child while explaining to him what a liberal stooge Jim Lehrer is while you both watch Newshour.

    I think each of these suggestions is a perfectly reasonable alternative to retreating to a provincial shell. I should think that any conservative who embraces the concept of “personal responsibility” would rather prefer any one of the aforementioned in lieu of demanding that the government assume the role of moral nanny state. That is, unless you really do believe that it is something so vapid and temporal as MTV and pop music that “cause” children to act indecently. And where’s the personal responsibility in that?

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    Libertine: It’s not your name, but your ideas, that are so scary. But I was actually only amused that anyone would actually call themselves “libertine.” But hey, truth in labeling is great. I’m all for it.

    The solutions you offer – parental access devices on TVs, use the V-chip, closely monitoring every program a child watches – ARE valid responses to the flood of trash in the media. But they miss the point.

    The core of the problem is the Libertarian Taunt itself: “Turn the channel/turn off the TV if you don’t want to watch it!”

    I would turn that around on you: Why should people who wish to not view filth have to jump through hoops to keep OUT the filth and violence? Why should WE have to install filtering devices, etc. Why should WE have to say, “Well, I have to block out and never watch THAT network now”? Why don’t those who WANT the filth, violence and spectacle have to install a special “F-box” on their TVs to get filth, or activate their V-chips to RECEIVE violent content?

    Where is MY freedom, if I’m told If I don’t like it I can simply turn the channel? In reality, that’s no choice at all, because in a society without standards, the entire market naturally flows downward into the swamp for a dwindling share of the market that enjoys filth, or suddenly find they have no other viewing option. It would go down faster with no outside restraints, and within a generation, people would become desensitized to it so much that they would not know the difference.

    Frankly, it’s YOU, Mr. Libertine (see, show of respect) that is committing logical suicide. “Personal Responsibility” as you define it, is not the only factor to consider when assessing values in a society, and in any case I fear the Libercult tends to define those words differently than the rest of us.

    A true conservative knows that a conservative society is not a solitary one, in which all power resides in the individual alone. And parenthetically, certainly a conservative who believes in a power higher and greater than The Self knows this is true by faith, and acts accordingly. A truly conservative society, which I highly doubt you would endorse, would not be an “anything goes” society, but one with limits. The fewer limits the better, but for those who can’t control the passions of the Self, those few limits NEED to exist.

    From your comments, you would have no restraints on personal behavior, which is not rational given human nature, which, while it can strive for good, without focus it is a Wanderer seeking meaning where it cannot be found.

  • Molly

    “The fewer limits the better, but for those who can’t control the passions of the Self, those few limits NEED to exist.”

    I agree about the need for limits, however, the problem is WHO decides WHAT limits will be used and HOW they will be implemented and upheld.


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