Here’s a a particularly snooty essay I wrote recntly, which was published in edited form in The Times Leader, our local daily. Available here is the dangerously raw version I originally sent out.
I was recently watching a popular television show with a co-worker. It features a female comedian, who seems to have a penchant for placing young men in degrading situations in front of a studio audience of women. That particular morning, the offerings included several very fit young men onstage clad only in briefs. Now I understand that “turnabout is fair play” but to see this on morning television is somewhat jarring. My friend, watching this with me, defined the scene perfectly. “That’s just crass” she explained with a hint of embarrassment in her voice.
“That’s exactly the word!” I responded. Yet the more I thought of it later, the more I realize that this very descriptive and at one time commonly-used label has likely become obsolete. I believe this is because the word “crass” describes behavior so widespread in society now, that it is indistinguishable from the normal baseline. After all, what good is an adjective when it describes something that is ubiquitous?
Our TV and radio advertising is a good example of this. As a 12 year old boy, I would’ve had no concept of “erectile dysfunction”, but in this era, we are bombarded with products said to boost a man’s virility. What irritates me the most, is not only the open and sometimes graphic description of what used to be a private matter between a man and his physician. No, it is the fact that most of the men in the ads appear to be younger than me.
Crass behavior has increasingly infected our politics. As a Republican, I am of course tempted to quote examples from the left, but crassness is often the norm for both parties. I think of both of our recent vice presidents, and more recently our current Speaker of the house, who have been quoted using the “F” word. I do have to mention our current president, who publically referred to his recent opponent, as a “bull sh***r”. I think of Congressman Joe Wilson, who famously called out “you lie” as president Obama spoke in front of both houses of Congress.
I also believe there is a more subtle form of crass behavior in the political realm. Until our current president, the chief executive did not appear on entertainment talk shows while in office (Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on Arsenio Hall occurred while he was a candidate). Interviews of the president were always conducted by news anchors or other prominent journalists, and generally taped in the White House. This tradition was meant to show respect for the office. Now our president appears on light entertainment shows like the “The View “on what seems like a weekly basis; sitting perhaps in the same chair as such noted luminaries as “Snooki”.
Crass behavior has become the norm among the common folk also. One does not have to work hard to find examples. Log on to YouTube, and search for videos of shopping centers on “Black Friday”. Or notice how a large segment of our population seems to want to emulate the appearance of thugs in biker gangs. Walk around a local mall, and over hear the conversations of your fellow shoppers, sprinkled as they are with the “S” or “F” word. (I admit that I’m occasionally guilty of this particular sin).
I believe that much of our societal coarseness comes from the entertainment industry, which has sunk at this point essentially to the Marianas Trench of depravity. Crass behavior apparently makes for good media.
I think of Howard Stern, who for 30 years has filled the airwaves and, the minds of young people, particularly young men, with mean-spirited exploitative misogynist garbage. Madonna’s entire career comes to mind, particularly the part where she created a pornographic picture book of herself, just in time for Christmas giving.
Then consider the “Hip Hop” genre, where the “artists” apparently think its part of the lifestyle not only to look like criminals, but then to actually shoot each other. Given this, I suppose it’s fortunate that video gaming industry affords young people the opportunity to practice killing other humans with a variety of weapons, in increasingly high definition video.
Do I even have to mention Fifty Shades of Grey?… Or reality TV?
Now some will accuse me of being prudish. They will defend our current culture by claiming that we are becoming more sophisticated, less inhibited than in our Puritanical past. I submit to you, that a culture that will no longer enforce the most rudimentary standards of behavior and deportment, is losing its individual and collective self discipline, as well as its decency.
I believe that a society that would discourage interpersonal rudeness, promiscuous sexuality, gender exploitation, and violent cultures of so-called entertainment, would be less likely to have riots over Christmas bargains, fatherless children, violence against women, or drive-by shootings. I suspect there would be less likelihood of senseless tragedies, like the carnage at the Newton school.
Change, has to start with us. If entertainment we encounter, trades on cruelty and exploitation, turn it off, and more importantly, encourage your children to do the same. If a politician is vicious, deceitful, and disrespectful, vote them out. If you’re in public, dress modestly, curb your language, and insist on the same from your children.
There is another obsolete word I think of. Be classy.