America needs a schlock detox. Now. As the culture war enters chapter two of the Bush years, the media and America’s short attention span is freed from election coverage and returns to its regularly scheduled programming. This brief respite from politics is talked about as a time of contrition, compromise and careful reflection as we heal the national rifts. It’s also free license to resume the cycle of scandal-mongering and passionate arguments about the frivolous and trivial. Kobe Bryant still has a civil lawsuit to settle, maybe that Peterson chap could appeal or maybe somewhere a child is about to go missing and paralyze all of our attentions for a month. Reality television shows are in the works. And God bless that chucklehead Ron Artest and all the fans in Detroit who have made us all realize the appalling seriousness of violence and gave us all something to distract from those awful battles for control in Baghdad.
The truth is the culture battles have no end. At this point maybe its safe to say they have always been. My feelings are that most Americans are reluctant warriors at this point, and wish upon their stars that little flare-ups like the Terrell Owens promotion spot on Monday Night Football just went away. Alas, sports is no sanctuary – quite the opposite. It’s a large front of its own. There are few, if any, sanctuaries left in American society where people from various creeds and backgrounds might mingle free of ideological contaminant. Meanwhile, our urban centers have been denigrated, our rural areas slowly changed into vast pasturelands of consumer culture, and virtually all our free time is continuously invaded by purveyors of one form of schlock or another.
This shotgun, automobile lifestyle of big box development, high calories, low exercise and spectator entertainment that has grown up around us in America is something we didn’t ask for consciously. Corporations catered to our id without our approval, and, with as little long-term planning as possible, our world has developed accordingly. Either way, it’s our responsibility now. Honestly, if fifty years ago a great ballot went out to Americans and asked them if they wanted to see their downtown cultural centers abandoned and their farmlands turned into cheap construction warehouses in exchange for cheap material wealth from China, how many would have voted yes?
What of it? My theory is that the repulsive and divisive culture wars we see today are not entirely rooted in regional differences and church attendance – although that has its place in it. I think much of what we see taking place in these so-called culture wars is merely a visceral reaction by most Americans to a corporate hijacking of all elements of our human society. Music, movies, publishing, sports, even our buildings – all are corroded by the influence of corporations. Sure, things like these have always needed patrons, but since when did patrons fund the predominant culture in order to collect money? I don’t believe the de Medicis gave money for churches or the Emperor of Austria to operas for monetary profit.
Subconsciously, I believe most Americans sense something is wrong with the current arrangement of things and desire very strongly for some halcyon day where every kid had Lassie, Ward Cleaver came home promptly for dinner and the music industry wasn’t dominated by image consultants and Clear Channel. Whether this is because conservatives liked the domination of this form of family values or liberals might desire a return to a time when they were young and still growing is inconsequential. American culture, at least those parts of it with the highest profile, has been commandeered to sell things. Indeed, there is an unlikely alliance to be formed here between conservatives who hate the putrid filth put on America’s greatest stage – television – and liberal elites who are tired of corporate-controlled networks catering to the lowest cultural common denominator, effectively anesthetizing American minds from many issues.
Here’s a hypothetical scenario of a culture battle – Fox networks air a reality program that is something sexist, racist, or just generally offensive to large segments of the population (a real stretch, I know). Cultural conservatives, who might or might not even dream of watching such a show in the first place, rush to condemn it and want it to be censored or taken off the air. Liberals, who might or might not even care to see the show, rush to the defense of said artistically irredeemable piece of offensive garbage in the name of free speech. Fox News and some blowhard like Bill O’Reilly do interviews and debates all week long, pitting the two witless intellectuals in mortal, shouting combat. This promotes the offensive show while garnering ratings on a completely different station. Hungry children somewhere go unnoticed, some act of charity goes unaired, and you have two apoplectic, vein-popping, purple-faced talking heads stymied once more – representative of the equally deadlocked and frustrated tens of millions of Americans unhappy with their political system and their society.
Since moral values are all the buzz, I just wanted to point out there is plenty of outrage on all sides to go around. Liberals and conservatives are both essentially concerned about the same thing – American decadence – but are complaining about different elements of it – whether it be gas-guzzling SUVs or MTV marketing sex to young and vulnerable teenagers. While we fight each other over the inane or downright stupid, to mix metaphors, corporations get to have their cake and eat it too while milking the cow for a beverage. In the words of Frank Constanza – “Serenity now!”
Ellis can be reached at email@example.com.