The nation has acted all shocked by the latest poisonous utterances coming out of the mouths and tweets of dullards such as Samantha Bee and Roseanne Barr. The nation, however, should hardly be astounded by such outbursts. The climate for such idiocy has been allowed to develop over several decades by the media establishment, the main cultural legitimizer in society. Sure, Roseanne and Bee are the disseminators of the toxicity and should be held individually responsible. The media outlets that empower them, however, must also be held to account for the disorderly cultural climate that exists today.
The cultural chaos in which America tries to function has been concocted by a media industry that has shamelessly warped the nation through vacuous “entertainment” and “news,” appealing to the lowest common denominator. Television, movies, journalism and music are too often infused with content that disrupts standards of decency and civil behavior.
Prime time television dramas and many films are filled with gratuitous violence and confusion about who the good guys are. The media producers have made it taboo to smoke a cigarette on screen, but drug references, demented behavior and aimless sex are fine. Comedies belittle people with jokes about body parts and the bathroom. Check out the music many teens listen to and hear the lyrics about drugs, guns and women as objects. And keep in mind, all of this anti-social content is designed to generate huge money for the “creative” community and their corporate enablers. The big media establishment is basically a crime syndicate, exploiting people and degrading society for selfish financial gain.
A century ago, the philosopher G.K. Chesterton warned that cultural peril would result from what he called “standardization by a low standard.” Chesterton was the prophet. Low standards are mediated to the nation on a daily basis, with media corporations oblivious to the cultural responsibilities they should be shouldering.
Disney media, which owns the ABC television network, has acted all righteous for canning Roseanne. The bigger issue is why ABC had a person such as Roseanne in a prime time show in the first place, parading her in front of advertisers just last month when the network rolled out its fall lineup. Roseanne’s pattern of offensive and awkward “humor” was nothing new.
TBS, too, owned by Time Warner, can hardly be surprised that Bee would stoop to such crass humor. Look at the name of the show, “Full Frontal,” that TBS executives approved at the show’s outset. TBS is apparently okay with Bee’s societal denigration, brazenly defending her in a tweet, “It was our mistake too, and we regret it.” No cultural leadership here.
People chuckle at the thought of CBS variety show host Ed Sullivan telling the Rolling Stones in 1967 to change a song lyric from “spend the night together” to “spend some time together.” Stuffy Ed might have been overprotective at that point, but he and CBS did understand the cultural responsibility they carried.
A newly released survey by Gallup indicates 49 percent of Americans think the nation’s moral values are poor, the highest number in the seventeen years this poll question has been asked. Further, over three fourths of Americans believe moral values are getting worse.
Media institutions today are the primary purveyors of culture and, thus, are helping to generate this moral deterioration. Media outlets have more clout in defining culture than ever before, far surpassing educational and religious institutions. A society defines itself by the stories it tells. The mediated messages of today add to a cultural mayhem that diminishes people rather than enriches people.
Catholic League president Bill Donohue is among the many societal guardians taking the media establishment to task for creating an environment in which the many Samantha Bees exist. Donohue says the media institution “has had more to do with crafting our morally debased culture than any other factor.”
Chesterton also spoke of how cultural limits must be established. He wrote, “Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.” Without responsible leadership from the corporate media hierarchy, those cultural lines will continue to be drawn by the likes of Roseanne and Samantha Bee. It is a power such “comedians” don’t deserve, and it, indeed, standardizes a low standard.
Jeffrey M. McCall is a Professor of Communication at DePauw University.