April 14, 2005


Alright, let's do some actual posts. By now most people have read the big debate over whether Democrats should start denouncing all the violence and sex and gore we see on TV. (If not, Roxanne has a good link roundup, and some relevant thoughts.) I didn't want to write anything on it unless there was something useful to add, but in this case there might be.

Most of the writing I've seen on this subject seems to assume that we can take parents' concerns over the violence and sex and gore in popular culture at face value. But here: most parents, I would wager, simply aren't concerned about the effect of MTV, etc., on their own kids. (Amy Sullivan makes that point here.) The reason's pretty simple: when you spend enough time with someone, even a youngster, you begin to realize that they're not mindless automatons who respond to graphic stimuli by becoming sex-crazed, violence-prone monsters. You develop a certain faith that the kids are alright, at least your own. My own parents were pretty relentlessly puritan in all things, but they certainly let me and my brothers watch R movies from an early age (like, the age of 7 or 8), because they knew us well enough to trust we wouldn't go shoot up a school after watching Robocop.

Now this partly explains the impotence of the so-called "V-Chip option". As Digby points out, all those red-state conservatives complaining about Hollywood could buy V-Chips, or turn off the TV, or stop consuming the pop culture they despise, if they really wanted to. But they obviously don't. They're all watching and enjoying the junk TV. And by and large they're simply not worried about its effect on their own kids. They're worried about its effect on other kids, the kids on the playground—who, for all they know, really are mindless automatons who respond to graphic stimuli by becoming sex-crazed, violence-prone monsters. Sure, parents could buy a V-Chip, but they know that's not going to protect little Timmy from his peers, who are the main influence here.

But the point is that parents are pretty badly mistaken about the role of culture in all of this. The other kids on the playground simply aren't mindless automatons. And if what I'm saying is right and parents are primarily worried about other kids, rather than their own, then I see no reason not to just change the damn subject.

Frankly, every second spent harping on Sin City and Grand Theft Auto is one less second spend talking about giving parents the resources and opportunities to spend more time with their kids. It's also less time figuring out ways to build up local communities, a far worthier goal. What's going to have a more beneficial effect on little Timmy's behavior, banning Sin City from the world or finding ways to get more parents to attend PTA meetings? Right. Then why are we talking about Sin City? It's a cruel diversion and frankly, only reinforces the notion that TV is to blame for all our problems. People will obsess over culture so long as opinion leaders like Amy Sullivan keep declaring that that's what "the people" are worried about.

More generally, I read Noam Scheiber's essay on the libertarian-communitarian divide among Democrats, and I'm happy he raised the issue. I'm something of a communitarian myself. But not in the goddamn cultural sphere. Communitarianism can and should be all about encouraging participation in various democratic affairs—and I'm using the term very loosely here to include everything from PTA meetings to Howard Dean (or Dick Cheney '08) meet-ups—all of which take place primarily in the political realm. In other words, viewing community/democratic participation as an end in itself, rather than as a mere means to securing near-anarchist individual rights. Hillary Clinton, as Noam points out, has been straddling this divide pretty well in her recent speeches.

But Western culture, by contrast, has always benefited from a staunch libertarian flavor—if you don't believe me, go down to the museum and check out how dull all those 17th century French paintings are—and I certainly think it should remain that way. Now as it turns out, I think advertising is an entirely different animal, and something I could certainly stomach regulating; and because there are actual policy prescriptions on this front, Democrats may as well make their stand here. But back away from Sin City, now.
-- Brad Plumer 1:14 PM || ||