Moral Dumbing Down

Moral dumbing down
by: Jim McGuiggan In the race for ratings and sales, notoriety and profits, movie and television companies, publishing houses, businesses and their advertising companies continue to see how far they can go. They keep testing the public’s taste and patience—what will the public put up with? It makes sense to say that some of what the media offers reflects what some sectors of the public want, but it would be nonsense to suggest that they don’t help to shape the public’s interest in and hunger for the bizarre and outlandish. More to the point, they cheapen us by degrees until the bizarre and outlandish won’t be able to satisfy us. In a vile movie I watched recently, one of the characters, a depraved and murderous sicky is unmasked and instead of looking like the brutal and sadistic murderer he is, he’s ordinary looking, even inoffensive. When his mask is torn off he asked his surprised captor, "Well, what did you expect?" So it is! Earlier the vile character says that he had a fine childhood, wasn’t abused by his parents or anyone else and that he had no other reason for doing the unspeakable things he did than that he liked doing them. He enjoyed it. Whatever else the movie did, it brought us face to face with a truth, and that is that we’re capable of loving evil and getting pleasure from it. You don’t need to look for elaborate explanations for our pleasure in oppression and moral dirt (though all such study is not wasted time or energy) but there’s no doubt that we feed each other’s hunger for it. But—I think—it isn’t the extreme violence or depravity that hurts society the most. It’s the creeping and sly kind of product that corrodes the foundations that is most dangerous; where the writers and producers, bit by bit, make ugly behavior more familiar, more "normal" until to protest it makes the protestor seem like a dinosaur. Heroes and popular characters are essentially amoral, but with an occasional show of kindness or tenderness ("Ah, look, isn’t that sweet!" or funny or tear-bringing.) Highly rated programs like Friends (n America) and Coronation Street and Eastenders (in the UK) show as normal and "acceptable," behavior and attitudes that blur moral lines or completely dismisses them. You protest about these and people roll their eyes in despair at you. You criticize banks or companies for making too much money by breaking the backs of vulnerable and indebted nations and shareholders and savers look at you like you’ve come out of a prehistoric world. Say something about virgins and the sacredness of marriage and there are embarrassed smiles all around. We think it’s the public we’re testing when we promote this acceptance of violence, war, greed, sexual infidelity and all-round cheapness. It isn’t! And it isn’t mere conventions we’re burying when we weaken the sense of honorable fidelity and loyalty between nations and communities and families. There’s a day coming when we’ll discover, says George A. Smith, that we aren’t dancing on the edge of public taste but teetering on the brink of the abyss beyond which is moral death and hell. It isn’t Western civilization we’re testing, it’s the eternal and Holy Father himself. At this point, there’d be embarrassed smiles, rolling eyes or an outburst that is neither prayer not praise.
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