Skip to comments.America and the Culture of VulgarityŚNo End in Sight
Posted on 12/12/2013 7:47:29 AM PST by ReformationFan
The collapse of the barrier between popular culture and decadence has released a toxic mudslide of vulgarity into the nations family roomsand just about everywhere else. There is almost no remote corner of this culture that is not marked by the toleration of vulgarity, or the outright celebration of depravity.
Lee Siegel has seen this reality, and he doesnt like it. When did the culture become so coarse?, he asks, adding: Its a question that quickly gets you branded as either an unsophisticated rube or some angry culture warrior.
Siegel wants us all to know that he is neither unsophisticated nor a culture warrior. In his recent feature essay in The Wall Street Journal, America the Vulgar, Siegel recites his cultural bona fides. As he relates, I miss a time when there were powerful imprecations instead of mere obscenityor at least when sexual innuendo, because it was innuendo, served as a delicious release of tension between our private and public lives.
In other words, Siegel doesnt mind graphic sexuality and innuendo, but he wants the public culture kept safe for children, and his children in particular. He opens his essay by telling us that his 7-year-old son recently asked, Whats celebrity sex? Shortly thereafter, his 3-year-old daughter was found with a less than appropriate photographic image on moms smart phone. And so it went on this typical weekend, Siegel remembers, even as he adds that the television in the next room was blaring inappropriate language.
At least he understands we have a problem. Our culture is indeed becoming so vulgar that would-be moral outlaws find it increasingly difficult to transgress. How do you shock people in a culture that has seen and heard everything already?
Siegel is right to point to the new technologies of social media as part of the problem:
These days, with every new ripple in the culture transmitted, commented-on, analyzed, mocked, mashed-up and forgotten on countless universal devices every few minutes, everything is available to everyone instantly, every second, no matter how coarse or abrasive. You used to have to find your way to Lou Reed. Now as soon as some pointlessly vulgar song gets recorded, you hear it in a clothing store.
That is one of the key insights of his essay. We have now reached the point that obscene language (or innuendo) is playing in department stores and public venues. The living room has become a locker room.
Siegels insights on technology and the vulgarization of the culture are worth careful attention:
Today, our cultural norms are driven in large part by technology, which in turn is often shaped by the lowest impulses in the culture. Behind the Internets success in making obscene images commonplace is the dirty little fact that it was the pornography industry that revolutionized the technology of the Internet. Streaming video, technology like Flash, sites that confirm the validity of credit cards were all innovations of the porn business. The Internet and pornography go together like, well, love and marriage. No wonder so much culture seems to aspire to porns depersonalization, absolute transparency and intolerance of secrets.
His diagnosis of the problem is almost prophetic; but Siegels essay also reveals the deeper dimensions of our cultural crisis. As he concludes his analysis, Siegel disavows any effort to answer vulgarity with either censorship or repression. His reference to repression reveals a great deal.
The idea of sexual repression was given its classic definition by none other than Sigmund Freud. Freud blamed the repression of sexual urges for a host of problems in society and in individual lives. At the same time, he admitted that a certain level of repression was necessary in order to sustain civilization.
Freuds theories were understood to be an explicit rejection of the Christian understanding of the human person and human sexuality. And, even as he argued for a certain necessary level of sexual repression, the very idea of repression has unleashed a tidal wave of sexual energies into the society. By its very nature, the term repression seems to call for liberation; but even Freud would be scandalized by our vulgar culture, though he contributed in a powerful way to its momentum.
A culture afraid to repress sexuality in any way is a culture headed for destruction.
On one final point, Siegel is unquestionably right. He argues that when the culture of vulgarity is produced by so many different factorscommercial, economic, social, aestheticthere is no end in sight.
That is the sad truth. The culture of vulgarity is now driven by so many sectors of our society that it seems virtually impossible to reverse. Furthermore, it is profitable beyond the wildest dreams of those who peddled vulgarity before the invention of the Internet.
A society that increasingly sees all sexual restraint as repression hardly intends to turn back. Lee Siegel has it right, there is no end in sight.
a refreshing reminder of what we are about, really, when the chips are down
One recent example is how Miley Cyrus shoves her butt into a man’s crotch, and it’s just a “dance”. Anybody who doesn’t want to see such graphic displays is called unspeakable things by the liberals. We are urged to be open inded and tolerant and all that. We have reached a point where the few remaining standards are being dissolved.
Then of course, some will counter with how people freaked out when Elvis shook his hips on TV.
But that is nothing compared to what is out there today, and it’s a ridiculous argument.
To some extent this is a false problem, or at least a false interpretation. Most culture has been at some level course for all of history we just have a broader market mechanism now to purvey the coarseness.
Feel free to look at the Victorians as an example.
“America and the Culture of VulgarityNo End in Sight”
They’re talking about the unmitigated proliferation of fart jokes, right?
there is an end in sight.. but oddly it is “the end times” on earth.
My personal vulgarity favorite for this Christmas season is Miley Cyrus Twerking Santa. Hard to top that one. :-)
Our society has no fear of God(the proliferation of abortions and the effort to redefine marriage and punish those who disagree are signs of that), hence the common use of vulgarity and coaseness to the point of banality is a reflection of that deeper problem.
I have co-workers who seem to spew out the f-word and the s-word every other sentence to the point where any shock value has long since died.
People have a choice: To watch or not to watch, regardless of what others say.
As long as they watch, the vulgarity will continue.
Maybe it is actually becoming a sexless society, a wino usually won,t say the word wine much, he will just wish for it because saying it would make the hunger worse.
The people out there using the f word in front of the opposite sex may be either sexless or want the same sex.
It all started with the Lewinsky incident,, the MSM were allowed to re-word and downplay the event.
Ever since then,,, words have no meaning and can be changed anytime to fit any reason.
Look at what we have today....
Thinking people generally accept the idea that pornography does not just refer to so-called ‘sexually explicit material’ it also includes material that features excessive amounts of profanity and/or violence. By this definition, a very large percentage of the popular media is, to some extent, pornographic, because it is literally saturated with sex, violence, and obscenity.
The inhibitions of Americans have become numbed and jaded by the media’s constant and unrelenting bombardment of the public with graphic material. It is virtually impossible to raise children in this country without exposing them to the constant stream of negative television programming, music, literature, and toys that is available everywhere.
The primary reason that the media moguls bombard the public with graphic scenes of violence and sex is quite simple. Through the process of desensitization, they seek to accustom Americans to bizarre, vicious and obscene acts on television. It is obvious that, once accustomed, the public will be far more likely to accept the reality in the form of abortion, euthanasia, and sexual perversions.
The public has been so bullied intellectually by the proponents of contemporary art that it has wearily resigned itself to just about any idiocy that is placed before it ... But the common man has his limits, and they are reached when some of these things emerge from the sanctuary of the padded cells of galleries and museums and are put in public places, where the public is forced to live with them and pay for them ... The current philosophy and practice of art thrives on a belief system of deliberate contempt for the public ... They are after more than our money. They are ridiculing traditional values, and trying to destroy them, and casting themselves in the role of victims once again when we object ... Frederick Hart, Fall 1989 Arts Quarterly.
From Reverend Billy Graham at age 95
Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it politics. We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from sin and set us free.
“Siegel doesnt mind graphic sexuality and innuendo, but he wants the public culture kept safe for children, and his children in particular.”
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Y'all are getting a twofer today. I was going to ping this article by Jonah Goldberg out yesterday, but for some reason it posted without the opportunity to comment:
Triumph of the Vulgarians: Decency is now the new taboo
National Review ^ | 12/11/2013 | Jonah Goldberg
Posted on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 9:37:36 AM by SeekAndFind
Newspapers are among the last places in America that have close to zero tolerance for [expletive deleted].
I could give you a hint about what word is between the brackets, but I’d best not, for fear of arousing the ire of the editing Comstocks. About twice a year, I quote a profanity from a public figure, using just the first letter of the word and then some bowdlerizing asterisks for the rest. No dice, my editor tells me. You’re writing for a family newspaper.
There was a time when such standards were the norm at major media institutions in America. Sometimes things went too far, as when Lucy and Ricky had to sleep in separate beds, lest the public get the right idea about where babies come from.
But, as Lee Siegel wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, vulgarity has become so common in the culture that there’s nothing rebellious about it anymore. Elvis’s below-the-belt gyrations were taboo-breaking and suggestive. Today, there’s nothing suggestive about Miley Cyrus. Nobody watching her twerk thinks, “I wonder what she’s getting at?” Indeed, if there’s any larger message to her routine, it is simply to announce that the exception has now become the rule: Vulgarity is expected, decency a surprise. (The two most rebellious comedians in my youth were Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld — because they kept it clean or, in Seinfeld’s case, at least kept it suggestive.)
But my complaint isn’t really with singers, shock-jocks, comedians, or whatever category Cyrus falls under. They’re not merely immune to finger-wagging on this score, they actually think such criticism is proof they’re rebels. The wiser course is to simply yawn and move on.
No, my real complaint is with how vulgarity has gone viral. We constantly hear that there is no common culture anymore. But that’s not really true. Rather, newspapers notwithstanding, almost everyone thinks the common culture is someone else’s problem. “Don’t like what we’re serving? Turn the channel,” goes the argument. “There’s something for everybody out there.”
Well, yes and no. Defenders of vulgarity, and there are many, also say that parents just need to do a better job monitoring their kids, as if the absence of kids is, by itself, a license for gratuitous obscenity.
I don’t think the vulgarians realize how hard that is when producers and executives refuse to stay in their lanes. Even family-oriented TV shows are punctuated with commercials not just for erectile-dysfunction pills and utterly unromantic romantic aids but also inappropriate ads for incredibly inappropriate movies and TV shows. And sometimes family-friendly networks are family-friendly in name only (I’m looking at you, ABC Family Channel). And don’t get me started about the Internet.
Consider one of the Goldberg family’s favorite shows: Bravo’s Top Chef, in which the “cheftestants” compete in various culinary challenges for the title of — duh — top chef. Surely, a cooking show should be safe viewing for all ages. But for ten years running, the cast has cursed nonstop. Worse, the profanity isn’t really bleeped out, merely “bleeped at,” in the words of the New York Times.
In 2008, head judge Tom Colicchio rightly chastised the cast and posted an apology on the show’s website for all the “gutter language.” Nothing’s changed. Defenders of the cursing insist it reflects the reality of culinary culture. I’m sure that’s true. But journalistic accuracy is a pretty hypocritical defense for a show that has chefs making haute cuisine from vending machines amid egregiously staged product placements. (Also, the cursing is utterly gratuitous. I, for one, have never concluded a delicious meal with the exclamation, “Wow, the guy who made this must be really foul-mouthed!”)
And such hypocrisy gets at the core of the problem. Vulgarity has become cultural shorthand for everything from seriousness to rebelliousness to “keeping it real.” But it’s closer to the opposite.
Colicchio notes the chefs are always “on their best behavior” when they’re around him. They never curse in front of the judges. Nor would they, one hopes, around their kids or customers. But when they’re on TV — broadcast to millions (including the judges, their customers, and their kids) — they think it’s obligatory to let the expletives fly.
In other words, the standards of the common culture are lower than those in nearly every other walk of life. Which means they’re not really standards at all. If anything, the new taboo is decency.
— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback.
It’s all bible prophecy. Just keep your faith strong, sit back and watch it happen. Unless people wise up to what’s happening and turn it around, we know how this ends.
Lee Siegel is the guy who got fired from the New Republic for talking himself up in blog comments under another name -- Sprezzatura. He's also the guy who wrote "Memo to the South: Go Ahead, Secede Already!" for The Daily Beast. And for some reason he really did have it in for Pope John Paul II.
It's good if Lee Siegel is getting concerned about pop culture as he's getting older and worrying about his children, but so far indications are he's still the same publicity-hunting pseud he always was. He's not a bad writer by any means, but he's afflicted with the modern disease he wants to analyze here. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays he can be a serious and concerned "cultural critic," but the rest of the week he's chasing headlines and trying to create a sensation around himself -- and taking it much further even most journalists dare go.
That was just lovely. Thanks.