By Brian M. Howle
I hope you enjoyed the little hiatus from political/social commentary that this column took a few months ago, as I recalled the innocent days of my old high school garage band, sans garage. But a lot has happened since I began that series, and now it’s time to get back to pointing out the stupid stuff.
No doubt about it – we Americans are some deeply conflicted critters. I wonder …do we, as a people, realize that the old, arrogant attitude of self-perception – of us being the greatest nation on earth – stands directly in contradiction to what the rest of the planet sees?
When I was in college, any young person who defied the status quo was branded a commie pinko, period. No ifs, ands or buts about it, either. And yes, some of the true wackos deserved to be misunderstood, because they weren’t really interested in changing anything – they just wanted to be a pain. The criteria for getting this brand was usually to participate in condemning America – or American policy – in any way, shape or form. As one who was raised Southern Baptist, Republican and slightly redneck, I didn’t really have much say in the matter – at the time.
That was then; this is now.
Folks, we really need to have a National Therapy session, for our own collective good. Somewhere along the line, this Puritanical lineage of ours just has to be addressed and dealt with. Remember the great cultures of the past … The Aztecs, The Mayans, The Romans, The Vikings, The Persians, The Spanish, and The British Empire? Well, they’re not Numero Uno anymore. The demises of some of these cultures are mysteries; no one really knows what happened to them. But, of those for which we do have documented histories, they leave little doubt as to the reason for their downfalls: Pure, unadulterated arrogance.
Allow me to elaborate on this with a few topical reviews:
Simple Things Fascinate Simple Minds
As much as it pains me to observe, it seems the average American now has the attention span of a Cocker Spaniel. That is, unless it’s about something that really matters – like sex and politics, for starters.
Take this whole Chandra Levy story. The only thing that matters is that this poor girl is missing and, sadly, pretty much presumed dead. I can’t begin to fathom the anguish, grief, and horror that her parents have had to endure as this scenario has unfolded.
But as soon as the whispered connection between Chandra and Congressman Condit became known, the sleazing of America was on once again with full battle accouterments. And for the life of me, I just don’t get it.
Tell me, please – are you really that mesmerized by allegations, innuendo, gossip and hearsay as to justify the unending media attention that the whole sickening thing has received? Personally, I’m morally appalled and intellectually insulted by the entire charade. Have you completely abandoned the American legal system’s most precious ideal – that one is presumed innocent UNTIL proven guilty? I know that I sure haven’t.
But apparently, most have. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be confronted with the non-story part of this tragedy as the lead-in for the nightly news shows for months on end now. And, oh yeah, how about that menagerie of ego-maniacal “experts” that CNN’s Larry King feels compelled to trot out nightly, teaching by example to the youth of our country how intelligent it is to have four or five people screaming their points of view at the same time. These folks seem more interested in advancing their own agendas and open contempt of each other than in addressing the question of poor Chandra’s whereabouts. MSNBC, CNBC, and FOX are just as bad, if not worse. Some would be quick to point out the irony in the fact that CBS, with good ol’ Dan Rather’s common-sense approach, stayed the course of decency and Journalism 101 protocol and deferred from hyping the cheese. Ironic, because CBS is widely criticized by some as being the lead network in “liberal” propaganda.
ABC, though, took the lead dog role in shameless self-promotion and ratings prostitution with their “exclusive” Condit interview by Connie Chung. I refused to watch it live, because I anticipated that we would be inundated with infinite-loop, repeated clips of the interrogation, and the news folks didn’t fail me.
I used to like Connie, and respected her as a journalist. Now, I don’t know if it’s the result of becoming jaded by “network contamination,” or that little tiff with Dan over sharing the anchor desk, or her marriage to Maury Povich (although I strongly suspect the latter to have a major influence). For me, her credibility downfall began with that cheap, uncalled-for obfuscation of the truth when she hoo-dooed Newt Gingrich’s elderly and easily tricked mother into calling Hillary Clinton a “bitch” by coaxing her with a sly “Tell me, it’s just you and me” – implying it was off the record. But, Connie has become one of the worst (or best, depending on your point of view) examples of yellow journalism at the network level. Hey, how many times did she ask Condit about the nature of his relationship with Chandra – more explicitly, if it was sexual? Better yet, why did she ask him? Do we have some God-given right to know this sort of thing?
Look at the person next to you at work. Do you have a burning desire to know everything about their private sexual exploits? How about your neighbor? Is it any of your business if they dress up like a goat herder and say bad things about their pets while someone else smears peanut butter all over them, as long as it’s behind closed doors, with mutual consent, and doesn’t endanger any lives? Moreover, have we reached the point where if one engages in any sexual indiscretion that – whether married, single or anywhere in between – you automatically forfeit the right to privacy and normalcy in your life? Then, having every mistake you ever made in your entire life dragged out naked into the harsh light of judgement and ridicule?
For those who answered yes to any of the above, recommended reading: The Scarlet Letter. Pay close attention, as there will be a test afterwards. And forget the cheat sheets – because in this particular test, God scores the final, and there is no grade curve.
Look, I’m not condoning Condit’s behavior, don’t get confused over that. As a result of the rape of his privacy – and his family’s – by those “seeking the truth,” it’s become nauseatingly apparent that he’s a classic “hound.” And, yes, his handling – or mishandling – of the entire public relations fiasco showcases yet another scoundrel more interested in saving his own political hide than in anything else.
But unless there was irrefutable evidence from the very beginning – say, Polaroids of a battered Chandra accompanying a police report, or a blood-smeared Bronco, or a credible eye-witness – no one should have pointed the finger of incontrovertible guilt in his direction.
And then there are Chandra’s parents. Bless their hearts, no one can share their pain; I think we’re all aware of that. But when you consider the number of Americans who become missing persons daily, they should be graciously thankful for the unprecedented coverage their daughter’s disappearance has received. Thanks to the tabloid mentality, Chandra’s picture has been plastered worldwide. If she was out and about of her own volition, or if she had been abducted in plain sight, someone would have stepped up and claimed the reward money and the 15 minutes of celebrity status that comes along with the gig.
Looking back, I think Americans – and especially the media – may be obligated to apologize profusely to the families of former Rep. Wilbur Wright and party-girl Elizabeth Ray, two of the earliest crucified by the press and the “new morality” over that ‘70s sex scandal. Because, let’s face it – getting buttered and ending up in a Washington-area wading pool seems pretty tame by today’s new standards of sleaze.
The Kids Are Alright
All things are cyclical; this is the one of the things I have come to understand as I’ve gotten older. As mentioned earlier, members of my generation were verbally assaulted and morally decried by our elders as much as any generation ever has – for speaking their mind and trying to change (however naively) the wrongs in their world. As a general rule, adults looked at the youth of our country as a bane to society – there was very little common ground. But even in our most passionate, demonstrative and fiery disagreements, the majority of my peers retained their sense of respect for the principles of those which whom they differed.
Recently, studies have emerged condemning today’s youth for a variety of shortcomings. It was scathing in its range and depth, basically calling the kids self-absorbed, mindless, gutless, stupid, immature, worthless, and generally a bunch of wimps. The main assertion is that these kids don’t have any comprehension of respect for others, for their elders, or for their teachers; that they have no concept of responsibility; and that they have been coddled and over-protected to the point where they are incapable of adjusting to the real world.
O.K., let’s run with the premise that all of these accusations are true and factual for a minute, just for the sake of argument.
Hmmm … so now – exactly who would ultimately be responsible for their kids turning out like that, huh?
Yep, there’s no doubt that our children are bombarded with non-stop images and sounds of violence, sex, and a complete lack of personal responsibility and respect for others. The shallowness of greed and the sloveness of rampant apathy are the new goals to be glorified and regaled for culture personification of one’s self-image.
One leetle thing, though … where do you imagine these kids were ever exposed to influences like that?
Does the 11-24 age group own and run the newspapers, the networks and radio, make the ultimate decisions when it comes to financing the production of the CDs and videos that recording artists churn out, or dictate domestic or global economic policies? And the biggest question of all – do they run amuck wildly while holding scissors in their hands?
Kids learn by example – period.
And if your kids have an attitude problem, you need look no further than the nearest mirror.
You don’t let your kids play with loaded guns. You don’t let them drink alcohol at will. You don’t give the car keys to an 8-year-old. You don’t let them have a subscription to Playboy at birth.
As soon as parents revert to taking control over their children’s lives and actions, and start acting like pain-in-the-ass parents again – instead of pursuing that silly ethereal sense of coolness by being a pal – the sooner the essence of these studies will disappear.
Just don’t blame the kids.
“For these children, that you spit on, are quite aware of what they’re going through.” – David Bowie
Oh, yeah … Mom, Dad; that reminds me. Thank you so very much for always trying to be – for my own good – the best pain-in-the-ass parents a kid could ever hope for.
And for making me one, too.
The previous column was originally published August 30, 2001.