Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fatherless Connection - Cable Content

In one of the Fatherless story arcs, a Catholic husband and father, Michael Burns, takes a job as an executive with a New York advertising agency where he becomes responsible for promoting the fictional Home Show Network (HSN). The events of the novel cover a period from about 1985 t o1995, when cable television and premium cable networks like HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax were aggressively expanding their market penetration.

What Michael recognized was that the product HSN was selling to American families contained increasing levels of sex and violence and that, while many households signed up to see the latest Hollywood blockbusters, they cancelled when they found the content either objectionable or not worth the cost. The cable channel executives, however, were convinced that the content of their programming was not the problem. If anything, they seemed determined to bet the future of their network on an increasing demand for even more salacious content.

I thought of that recently while listening to a Ricochet podcast in which contributor James Lileks shared how sick and tired he is “of freakin’ vampires. And not just vampire love and vampire fascination, but SEXY vampires.” What got his ire up was the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Rob Long, playing the straight man, goads Lileks, “Yeah, yeah. It’s a big thing, James. The kids all love the vampires. What’s wrong with YOU?” The subtle implication (with some sarcasm by Rob Long) being that if a person is troubled by the popular culture, the problem is not with the culture but with the person who just doesn’t get it.

Lileks continues his rant, “Kids are loving that – yeah. Well, it’s (the cover of Rolling Stone) got the main characters from True Blood, which is an HBO show, and, you know, people love the True Blood because it’s just got SEX wall-to-wall all over the place.” This is where the popular culture is. James continues, in a sarcastic aside, “It’s not porn if there’s an HBO logo at the end of it. HUMM, like all HBO shows end.” The normalization of the disordered that Brian Gail’s HSN executives were pushing in Fatherless appears to be very nearly accomplished. Lileks continues, “So they like it for that, and they like it ‘cause everybody’s good looking, and they kill each other in the middle of things, and isn’t that just erotic and dangerous and dark and gothic and romantic, and on the cover of Rolling Stone, they’re all spattered in blood. I mean, they’re just hosed down with blood, and I’m thinking, you know, it’s one thing to have that sort of quasi-romantic tingling of danger fascination that Bela Lugosi was able to bring to the role or subsequent vampires, but when you actually have a popular culture that suggests that we should find erotic the idea of being sprayed with arterial blood in the middle of sexual congress, I think something is askew.” Right. Our popular culture is just slightly askew.

The podcast crew then goes on to compare James Bond, as a popular icon of the past, to the current fascination with vampires. Lileks remains unhappy that today’s zeitgeist finds its expression in “the undead glorifying in all of this animalistic copulation”. I join him in his unhappiness.

Was it inevitable that we end up here, or, as is suggested in Fatherless, were we pushed, prodded, and pulled into this cultural morass by amoral programmers at the media conglomerates providing our “entertainment?” Of course there was, and is, resistance, but we now find ourselves surrounded by the stuff, and the constant barrage slowly erodes our ability to be shocked by that which should shock us. In many ways, our culture has lost, or is losing, the essential elements that made Western Civilization great, and I find myself torn between the desire to see it reformed, if necessary, through tribulation, and the desire to see it spared. I want my country to be a source of goodness; it isn’t always.

As individuals, maybe we can’t move the culture much. We do, however, exert no small influence over our own lives. We can and must resist the temptation to allow smut into our homes through the television and the internet. We can and must intercede and make atonement not just for our own failings, but for the sins of our neighbors. And we must pray that there are enough good folk left to stay the hand of God’s just wrath.

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