Friday, December 30, 2005

Reading Rick: Part 5 (Culture Matters)

This posting covers pages 271-347 of Rick Santorum’s book, It Takes a Famil.y

Part Five: Culture Matters

Chapter XXVII: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful
Chapter XXVIII: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Chapter XXIX: Culture: Ally or Adversary?
Chapter XXX: Violence and a Coarsened Society
Chapter XXXI: Sex, Drugs, and Rock’n’Roll: Mostly Sex
Chapter XXXII: Not Withdraw, but Engage
Chapter XXXIII: Culture-Makers, Culture-Mongers, Culture-Consumers
Chapter XXXIV: Culture and Public Policy

This posting will be shorter than previous ones because, get out the smelling salts, I agree with a lot of what he is saying in this section.

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful

A brief (not quite 3 page) look at American culture from the view of the Founding Fathers. (Can’t he quote Abigail Adams at least once? She had a lot to say also). The rest of the chapter outlines ways that popular culture affects children and families generally and his concerns about this. The emphasis is on television, movies and the Internet. I agree with some of his concerns. Some of his children are older than mine so his problems are no doubt more complex, but I have found the best way to avoid some of the less savory aspects of popular culture is simply not to allow them in the home, and to supervise, as much as possible, what happens outside the home.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sen. Santorum’s views on what constitutes good culture and bad culture, most of which focuses on sex. A lot of trashing liberal village elders for encouraging the increase in sexual activity among American youth. I was alarmed to realize that the senator and I probably have similar taste in art and music.

Culture: Ally or Adversary?

This sentence jumped out at me on page 290: “When it comes to children and the family, there are opportunities to find common ground – as long as we can find a way to avoid the polarization that we too often find ourselves stumbling into.” I don’t think the senator stumbled as much as he dove headfirst, given the amount of polarizing partisan finger pointing he has been doing in the rest of the book.

Warning to Hollywood: “We conservatives need to help our cultural community rediscover the better angels of their natures.” (p.291)

He makes this interesting point on page 293: “In Destructive Generation, David Horowitz and Peter Collier pointed out that the generally white, upper-middle-class baby boomer generation that ushered in the Great Disruption of culture in the 1960s had the means, primarily through their parents, to escape the consequences of their ideology.” I would agree to a certain extent but the civil rights workers, for instance Mssrs. Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, might disagree. Minority activists might also disagree.

However, Sen. Santorum also makes this excellent point on the same page: “Well-positioned young men could embrace casual sex: and use peer pressure and family money to encourage the abortion that would eliminate any career impediments.” Finally, a note about the role of men in the abortion controversy.

“I am not suggesting that there is a grand design or plan on the part of the Bigs in the entertainment industry to de-moralize America. (p. 295)” In my reading of the previous 294 pages I thought that was a theme.

Trivia – As a lawyer Sen. Santorum once represented the World Wrestling Federation (p. 298). As a boy he was a big wrestling fan.

He also discusses the decline in morality in comic books. He may have cut his pop culture teeth on wrestling but I cut mine on comic books and they were an enjoyable hobby for many years, into college, if I were honest about it. If you rummage around in my garage long enough you might find my “New Mutants” #1, provided the mice haven’t beaten you to it. And I agree with him that when I was a girl the costumed heroes were indeed heroes. In later years they became more conflicted. Batman became the Dark Knight. Wolverine certainly had (maybe still has, I’ve been out of the loop for years) some psychotic tendencies. Women may have been shrinking violets (in some cases literally) but they became buxom sexpots and one reason I gave up the genre was I became very tired of looking at the exploitive use of women in the artwork (another being the tedious Dark Phoenix/Jean Grey/Madeline Pryor/Scott Summers plot line).

He has hopes for an improvement in the types of entertainment media that is being produced (for example, “Finding Nemo”) and is encouraged that positive representations of religion may yet find their way into prime time.

Violence and a Coarsened Society

In this chapter he discusses the loss of professional athletes that children can actually look up to, and the desensitizing effects of violence on children, whether that violence is on the big screen, the small screen, or the videogame screen. Bill Cosby is quoted. The “broken windows” theory of social breakdown is discussed.

Sex, Drugs, and Rock’n’Roll: Mostly Sex

“Some people ask me, ‘Why are conservatives so obsessed with sex? That’s a good question – and there is a good answer: because the sexual revolution has had huge public, as well as private, consequences.” This is how he starts the chapter on p. 313 In the rest of the chapter he discusses the increasing sexual content on television and the explosion of pornography on the Internet. I agree with his argument but, again, if children are exposed to this it is at least in some part with parental permission. If parents put a tv and an Internet-connected computer in a child’s room they are asking for trouble. If the kids are watching this stuff in the family room while parents are home why don’t the parents know about it?

One note, on p. 318, he says “One irony of our times is that surveys show the most sexually satisfied women in America are: married and religious! Hardly what the media would have you believe.” Now if a married religious woman said this, it could be taken as a group rejoice. When a married religious man says it, the information comes across just a little as bragging. (I have taken the lyrics of Rosa Henderson to heart, and heed her advice, “Don’t Advertise Your Man,” so I will say nothing).

Not Withdraw, but Engage

More discussion on the evils of popular culture, with an emphasis on video games and the types of clothes, especially those marketed to young girls. I have written on this last topic myself. I don’t know when “Sluts R Us” became a design label but I see their influence everywhere. Sen. Santorum gives advice on what parents can do to counteract some of the outside influences our children see. I would agree with many of them. It is odd that he did not talk about informal parental networks. I know when “Spiderman 2” came out I was on the phone with other parents finding out if they were letting their kids see it. Ditto with a number of other films. If the kids says “everyone else….” I can say I know that isn’t true because I’ve talked to X, Y, and Z’s moms and they aren’t going to it either.

Culture-Makers, Culture-Mongers, Culture-Consumers

The gist of this chapter is that if you don’t like it don’t buy it. If consumers insist on less violent, less exploitively sexual products we will get them. Edited versions of movies, now available in some places, are not popular with the film industry but if people want to buy them they will be sold. He also says we should encourage people with values similar to our own to go into the entertainment industry to affect it from the inside. In closing he says that parents are, in the end, responsible for what their children buy and view inside the home. I would agree with all of these things.

Culture and Public Policy

Here he discusses what public policy can do to change popular culture. Some of the items he mentions are providing money for research into how violent and pornographic materials affect viewers, and copyright, such as pirated works, as well as file sharing.

A Summary Note

I find it interesting that Santorum, like many who write on the evils or pornography and the sexualization of popular culture, missed some of the primary forms of public erotica aimed at adult women. He mentions in passing the magazines aimed at teenage girls with sex advice. But nowhere does he discuss daytime soap operas, which were the mainstay of women’s television for many years, until they discovered college students in the 1970’s with “General Hospital’s” Luke and Laura storyline. While there have been some shakeups in recent decades, soap operas are still going strong. He also completely misses erotic romance novels. When I was in high school the first “bodice rippers” hit the shelves of the local grocery stores bookrack. Copies worked their way around study hall with some of the steamier pages dogeared. These days most romance novels have an erotic component. If there are calls to clean up popular culture these two items must also be included, and that will open another can of worms, which a lot of mainstream women would prefer remain unopened.

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