Decency Wars

In 1992 Pat Buchanan uttered these words:

My friends, this election is about much more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe. It is about what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.

He continues to be roundly chastised for that statement, with some going so far as to saying it was a major factor in Bush the Elder not winning re-election. While I’m hardly a fan of Buchanan’s, he was right then and even more right now about the culture war.

Our national and state legislatures are passing laws–and talking about amending constitutions–to address gay marriage and tawdry halftime shows. The Internet–although, oddly, not the mainstream press–is all abuzz as to whether the alleged marital infidelity of the presumptive Democratic nominee for president even matters.

And here’s what’s in the papers today:

  • Steroid Charges Have Impact — Baseball Among Sports That Are Put in a Tenuous Spot and several related pieces in WaPo alone today.
  • At Coyote Ugly, It’s Bellies Up On the Bar

    Yeeeeeeeeeeeee-haawwww! Hot babes dancing on the bar! Tight jeans, tank tops, taut bellies, sassy lips . . . slingin’ the whiskey, drizzlin’ cocktails into gaping mouths. You can see them from the street, silhouetted in the second-floor windows, clogging away till the cows come home. It’s a hot-babe bonanza!

    They’re the Coyotes, the bartenders of Coyote Ugly, Washington’s newest, loudest and least undergarment-friendly nightspot.

    A news release says the Coyotes will taunt bad tippers, spray the crowd with water “and aim to get the tamest female visitors to dance on the bar and donate their bras.”

    You’re thinking: Unlikely. Not in Washington. The women are too conservative. And yet right here, on a Wednesday night, even as Disney on Ice conducts family-friendly business across the street at MCI Center, that’s what’s happening: A mysterious babe in black sidles up to the bar and “donates her bra.”

    Her husband applauds. She slips the bra from underneath her jacket in a deft maneuver, and hands it to the Coyote on top of the bar. The woman in black soon mounts the bar herself and gets in touch with her inner Coyote.

    Yeehaw, indeed.

  • San Francisco Opens Marriage to Gay Couples

    San Francisco’s new mayor, Gavin Newsom, defied state law earlier this week and asked city clerks to remove all references to gender on local marriage forms. . . . By Thursday evening, San Francisco’s ornate City Hall had begun to resemble a one-of-a-kind wedding chapel as city officials married about 80 gay couples who had rushed there to exchange vows.

    Newsom’s sudden move to sanction same-sex marriage, a decision that some politically conservative groups are denouncing as illegal and vowing to stop through the courts, comes as national debate over the issue is rippling through statehouses, the White House and the Democratic presidential primary races.

  • Slate’s Thomas Hazlett notes that the V-chip has taken long enough to get into wide distribution that it has become obviated.

    This is not to say that the ratings are ignored or that parents do not monitor what their children watch. According to a recent survey by the Jack Myers Political Report, 67 percent of 11- to 14-year-olds “report control of their TV viewing.” While “child locks” on satellite TV service predate the V-chip and enjoy some popularity, parents commonly restrict viewing by OKing certain networks (Nickelodeon yes, MTV no) and by conducting spot checks of viewing fare. In some cases, such strategies probably work better than a V-chip might: Since the system does not rate news or live sports, the filter has loopholes large enough for Janet’s breast to slip through. On Super Bowl Sunday, even a television with its V-chip set to filter all but the most innocuous content would have let the halftime show air.

    The idea that technology allows parents to shield their kids by setting the television on automatic pilot is a figment of Washington policymakers’ imaginations. The V-chip was the perfect election-year innovation: pure sugar to the swing-voting soccer mom, virtually no-cost to industry, and annoying to Hollywood—whose leaders would be dragged to Washington for lectures on morality. In 1996, studio bigwigs and network executives trekked to the nation’s capital, posing with policymakers at both the White House and Capitol Hill. In 2004, we’re likely to see similar theatrics. Already, rival committees in the House and Senate are competing for broadcast industry executives to reprimand in hearing rooms (two sessions took place this Wednesday on Capitol Hill). But this time around, the V-chip is all but forgotten. A few policymakers have complained that TV networks are not sufficiently promoting V-chip use, but most are more jazzed up about a bipartisan proposal for a tenfold increase in station fines for indecent broadcasts—a tacit admission that the V-chip approach didn’t work.

  • Dean Esmay cites a Boston Globe story reporting the rather unsurprising news that the “F-word” is becoming so commonplace that it has lost its shock value.

Now, all of these things fit into one or more of the following categories: 1) Things that don’t bother me; 2) Things that are outside what I consider the legitimate purview of state action; or 3) Things that are practically impossible to do anything about. But I am nonetheless struck by just how much things have changed in the last 20-odd years.

I’m 38 years old. Yet I can clearly remember an entirely different age:

  • Not so very long ago, professional baseball players were almost all under 180 pounds. Including Barry Bonds. When I first started seriously watching pro football in the late 1970s, linebackers were 225 pounds, quarterbacks 185 pounds, and a running back who could run a 4.4 – 40 was something special. Now, linebackers are 285 pounds and most of them run 4.4 40s.
  • “All in the Family” was considered controversial in the 1970s for using words like “pregnant” or “menopause.” As late as 1997, local affiliates refused to show Ellen DeGeneres* kiss another woman.
  • I remember when “PG” movies required extensive editing for their network debut. “Smoky and the Bandit” –which almost any parent would let their 4-year-old watch now– had so many bleeps as to be comical. They had to black out Sally Fields’ hand because she flipped someone the bird.
  • Not very long ago, the use of the “F-word” was itself enough to get a movie an “R” rating. Now, it qualifies as “PG-13.” And, according to a recent court FCC ruling, it’s perfectly permissible to use on television as long as not actually used to describe the sex act.

*I find it mildly amusing and slightly apropos that “DeGeneres” is rendered “degeneracy” by my spell checker.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dean Esmay says:

    “Ellen Degenerate” was what Jerry Falwell called her.

  2. Jalal Abu Jarhead says:

    I’m pretty sure the F-word ruling was by a bureaucrat at the FCC, not by a court.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Dean: Heh. That’s right–I’d forgotten.

    JAJ: You’re right.

  4. Scott Harris says:

    I’m also 38, with 3 children, 9, 11, & 13. And you can bet I monitor and control what channels they watch. And MTV has been blocked since day 1. That is why it really pisses me off when people arrogantly say, “Well, if you don’t like it, change the channel.” I am playing a desperate game trying to keep up with the filth on TV.

    A couple of years ago, I started muting the sound while watching football on Sundays. Primarily because the networkd were and are aggressively promoting their raunchy prime-time fair during the commercial breaks. The straw that broke this camel’s back was Fox promoting a clip of some TV show with the son daydreaming about his naked mother complete with a topless (from the back) shot of his mother. How on earth is this even considered appropriate for prime-time TV, much less as the featured promotion spot for afternoon football?

    Finally, I am sick of the female hygiene products and male erectile disfunction advertisements that I am deluged with.

    I no longer take my children to movies unless I preview them first. The point is not that I am unwilling to be responsible for my children. The point is that I am being constantly assaulted by the rapid degeneration of society at a mind-boggling pace.

    I’ve never been a libertarian, but I am willing to live and let live most of the time. But it has gotten to the point where that is no longer an option. Because those who disagree with me morally are not willing to let me live according to my chosen morality. They insist that they have a right to impose their immorality on me, and when I object, they accuse me of intolerance. The hypocrisy of such an accusation is hard to stomach.