That’s an interesting question, which I’ll leave for others to decide, but it does raise some important questions. National Review Online has this as its daily poll question on its front page today, I’m sure a response to the shooting in Aurora, Colorado last week. The result is 86% say yes. I would guess the results at websites with different ideological bents would lower or higher, but few would probably say we’re at a high point in American cultural history.
Let’s get something straight from the start: There has never been a culture or society that was perfect, not in America, not in ancient Greece or Rome or the Middle Ages or Reformation Europe, to speak of the West. Utopia means “no place” in Greek for good reason. This is obviously obvious, but people of various religious, political, ideological and philosophical inclinations opine for a time not now, be it past for conservative types, or future for liberals.
The problem for the modern liberal is that, as Richard Weaver titled his book, “Ideas Have Consequences.” The first liberal reaction to any kind of shooting like happened in Colorado is to blame inanimate objects like guns. But a much better explanation would start with what kind of culture could produce a psychopathic killer who breaks into a crowded movie theater and shoots 70 people. Or one that produces a man who shoots a congressperson and other innocent people in front of a grocery store. Or one that produces killers who terrorize and murder dozens on college campuses around the country. Or one that produces killers who go on shooting rampages in high schools.
Did these kinds of things happen in the repressive 1950s, when America was more nominally Christian and less overtly secular? Or before when this was even more true about the country? At least murder and mayhem prior to the secular cultural revolution of the 1960s had a purpose. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre back in 1929 horrified the nation, but only seven bad guys died. No deranged evil psychopath would have ever gone into a crowded theater in the 1920s and randomly started shooting people; bad guys might kill innocent people who got in their way while committing a crime, but never random violence just for the heck of it. No, the last 20 years or so have been decidedly different in the history of our country: Nihilistic murders who simply kill for killings sake is new.
If you watch much TV, you’ll know that it is pretty much impossible to find someone actually smoking a cigarette on network TV. I’ve seen a show or two where someone holds a cigarette, but it never seems to make its way to their mouth and get lit, let alone them actually puffing away. And there is always the obligatory message of the character getting told how bad it is and that they should quit. Why do you think this might be? Any guesses? Maybe it’s that people who write and produce and direct these shows think smoking is bad for you, and that what gets shown on TV (or in movies) influences people, especially young, impressionable people. God forbid anyone should see smoking depicted as cool and enjoyable in modern enlightened secular America. The same thing holds for homosexuality; every portrayal in popular culture is unreservedly positive. Why do you think that might be? Any guesses?
This isn’t a comment on smoking or human sexuality, but rather a comment on liberal hypocrisy and willful blindness. I haven’t seen The Dark Knight yet, but a review by the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern stood out in light of last week’s killings:
Batman proves unavailable for considerable stretches of the 164-minute running time, because he’s suffering the tortures of the damned at Bane’s hands. “The Dark Knight Rises” is notable for many things—thrilling chases, supercool vehicles, majestic vistas, an epic scale that hasn’t been achieved since “The Lord of the Rings,” a redemptive climax that brings an end, more or less, to a complex saga. The most stunning thing about the film, though—and this is said not by way of praise, but with anxious wonderment—is how depressing and truly doomy most of it is. Batman, played by a marvelous actor with a singular gift for depicting pain, suffers mortally. Drums beat incessantly—before, during and after a series of numbing, Neanderthal brawls between Batman and Bane. History takes a double beating from a script that reprocesses the storming of the Bastille into an attack by terrorist thugs.
If you are old enough, think back to Batman of the 1960s. The TV show was comic in its portrayal of violence, and upbeat in its attitude toward crime fighting. Starting with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie, the franchise took a distinctly dystopian cast. What stands out to me from the last Batman movie was Heath Ledger’s Joker. Killing, murder and destruction was something he did just for the enjoyment of the evil of it. The Dark Knight seems to carry on that theme.
Let’s do little thought experiment. If portrayals of smoking and homosexuality affect people’s attitudes and behavior, is there a chance Nihilistic carnage in movies might do the same? What’s worse, people smoking or an evil deranged murderer shooting 70 people in a crowded movie theater? The liberal can’t have it both ways, either cinema and TV and other art forms affect how people believe and act and behave, or it doesn’t. (This is the first time I believe that a mass murder event has in effect targeted Hollywood. I am sure they won’t see the significance, but they should.)
I’m a big fan of popular culture, and most normal people can take in a Batman movie without turning into psychopaths, but is there something behind the art that is more pernicious on a cultural level? Since the end of WWII, our cultural elites have done everything in their power to strip America’s public square of every last vestige of religion. Religion to these mostly committed secularists is not only delusional but dangerous. Needless to say, the Founders of this great country and the cultural heritage they bequeathed to those yet born, was a society that appreciated and promoted religious belief because they understood human nature, both the good and the bad. Without a transcendent reference point, they all believed a republic of self-governing people could not succeed. Take this from Article 3 of The Northwest Ordinance passed a couple months before the Constitution was ratified in 1787:
Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
No doubt this would be declared un-Constitutional by the enlightened secular elites that rule in our day. Knowledge without religion and morality can be a very dangerous thing; a culture that denies this does so at its peril.