Pryor, Bruce, VH-1, & Coarsened Culture

I’ve said more often than I care to remember that our culture and our media are being controlled by perpetual adolescents who act and think like eternal 14 year olds, but after reading David Mills’ essay on the home page today, I’m thinking I have to adjust the age downward. Watching a VH-1 roast, Mills observes:

It is hard to exaggerate the crudity of the performance: not so much the crudity of the language and subjects, but its intellectual crudity. Every single remark was the foul-mouthed adult’s equivalent of the seven-year-old’s “You have a big butt.”

Yes, that’s about right. This show sounds like a great example of a coarsened culture being kept alive partially by the willingness of media whores to endure almost anything if it means getting their faces before the camera. If people would stop watching it might go away, but until then, our kids are being told this is what “wit” looks like.

Mills writes:

The great icons of “edgy” humor like Lenny Bruce, and a few years later comics like George Carlin and Richard Pryor, began something that eventually lost its point but kept its edge. They shocked for a purpose, to force people to see something they didn’t see, or didn’t want to see, like Flannery O’Connor at a rather higher level. Their point was not always a very good point and the shocks sometimes seemed indulged for their own sakes, and being “edgy” built their reputations and brought them fame and work, but still, they were rude and profane for a reason.

To some extent, even Pryor (whom I admired) and the other raunchy comics are partly responsible for all of that. He and George Carlin and Lenny Bruce were smart people who put their “edgy” words out there to get attention so they could make larger points. Less-smart people have misunderstood that edginess to be an end unto itself. When we let in the crudities of the Bruces and the Pryors, and allowed that they were artists with something to say, this was bound to happen; everything devolves downward as it disseminates, and as it does, the profit of a thing is misunderstood and then misused.

And our kids will not know the difference; they won’t understand that the crudity used to be about something, before it became about itself.

Even the rapper Eminem admits that he must take pains to demonstrate the difference between his art and reality to his daughters. If we don’t do this, of course, our kids will believe that crudeness and incivility is the way the world rolls.

Of course, when we do take the time and effort to teach them differently, there is no guarantee that they’ll hold on to those lessons, particularly if the lessons involve the faith. I muse a little on the fact that Catholics often leave the faith as young adults, in this piece at Patheos, and encourage parents to look for evidences of their children’s faith-grounding in less obvious, but reassuring, ways.

Regarded in the light of all my husband and I tried to instill within our sons about faith and the church, that busy afternoon was hugely reassuring; all of our lessons were reflected back by them in their indirect homilies, although with different emphases, which is to be expected, given their natures.

And, as Pat Gohn beautifully reminds us our natures are partly divine!

Remembering that, it is all the more urgent that we teach our children the precepts of our respective faiths, teach them the values of that faith, and even teach those values in relation to the sublimely secular; it is part and parcel of teaching them that there is something greater than themselves. That way, even if they wander, those ingrained precepts may eventually help them to reject what is crude for what is fine, and reject what is dehumanizing, for what manages to uplift us all.

It may start with something as subtle as your kid reminding you that dehumanization can take the innocuous-seeming form of reducing everything to “us” and “them” in politics (on any side) for a parent to feel reassured about where their kids are going and that succeeding generations will continue to grow in generosity and wisdom, until there will be no one left to submit to the crass “entertainment” of a televised “roast.”

Related:
Maintaining right reason in the face of evil

I do believe the whole world is nuts

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About Elizabeth Scalia