If we are to believe the experts, one of the most pivotal analyses of our modern culture came from the late George Carlin when he offered up his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”
Carlin started a discussion about what was acceptable in entertainment, which led to society reconsidering this question and if perhaps we were being a bit too prudish.
It was from that moment in time the norms and standards for American pop culture began to be gradually lowered.
Conservatives decried a coarsening of the culture as the goal posts for what was allowed and what was not allowed moved further apart. They even tried to fight back by weaponizing the issue for the sake of making headway in politics.
Naturally, they were scorned and ridiculed by their counterparts on the left and in the entertainment industry, which historically also leans to the left.
Despite some political wins through the efforts of organizations like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, the culture continued to evolve. Elements of language, violence and nudity that were once taboo are now the rule, not the exception.
Victory for the creators of such movies as National Lampoon’s “Animal House,” “Porky’s” and “Revenge of the Nerds.” Slapstick comedy with gratuitous nudity and sex scenes could be shown on the big screens across the country, and aside from the “R” rating there was little use in expressing any indignation.
The edgy and hip filmmakers in Hollywood triumphed over the Bible-thumpers. First Amendment absolutism was in vogue.
As time continued, other achievements on this front would come along the way. Rap artists 2 Live Crew would knock down other barriers and pave the way for lyrical geniuses of modern hip-hop. Rhymes with misogyny and racial slurs — that’s just art and freedom of expression. Who cares what the prudes anchoring the Fox News Channel’s prime time lineup thought?
Then a funny thing happened: Democrats discovered they could win votes by portraying women as victims of this hyped-up misogynist culture. No longer is “boy will be boys” acceptable, as Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) proclaimed on Twitter last week.
Where did boys learn to be “boys,” as it is suggested in this context? Did it just happen, or might there have been some other influences, like, say, pop culture?
A remarkable thing happened last week during Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee to respond to accusations of sexual misconduct while he was a high school student.
Kavanaugh was quizzed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) about terms like “boof,” “ralph” and “Devil’s Triangle” that appeared in his high school yearbook entry. For that moment in time, the worlds of UrbanDictionary.com and SCOTUS blog were briefly aligned.
An individual that could have the most significant impact on American governance for the next few generations was having lingo lifted from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” for a yearbook entry scrutinized by a sitting U.S. senator.
Later that day, the punditry world reacted to Whitehouse’s interrogation about these terms, mostly with shocked pearl-clutching and virtue-signaling responses.
“Should the highest court in the land have someone that engaged in such vulgar behavior?!?!? Let’s have an FBI investigation at once!”
Isn’t this what Hollywood wanted — a normalization of sophomoric uncouth behavior?
“A dick joke? So what? That’s just comedy.”
Think about it: With the lapse in pop culture standards, is it a surprise that Americans would be more willing in 2018 to vote for the playboy billionaire with a checkered private life for president? At one time, such behavior was a disqualifier.
In 1987, then-Democratic Party presidential frontrunner Gary Hart was forced to drop out of the 1988 presidential race before a single ballot was cast for an alleged affair with Donna Rice. Twenty-eight years later, Trump can be heard boasting about grabbing a woman’s genitals a month before an actual presidential election and still win — as a Republican, no less.
The change didn’t happen overnight, but it didn’t just happen out of thin air. We’re much more tolerant as a society of this behavior.
Therein lies the contradiction. Bad boy behavior is “cool” on television and in the movies. It is glamorized.
Even when pop culture tries to make a left-of-center political statement, it’s the philandering Frank Underwood in “House of Cards” that’s the star. (This is pre-sexual misconduct Kevin Spacey, of course.)
If there are the smallest or most subtle hints of bad boy behavior in real life, it’s grounds for a congressional inquiry, literally.
If America’s elites are going to adopt the #MeToo cause, and in some cases use it for their own political ends, these two competing narratives playing out in Hollywood and Washington, D.C., can’t co-exist.
The late Andrew Breitbart coined the phrase “politics is downstream from culture,” meaning if you want to win the politics, you first have to win the culture.
Given the Democrats have successfully weaponized #MeToo for political gain, at some point they will have to confront the cultural inconsistencies in movies and rap music. Otherwise, it dies like any other shamelessly opportunistic political movement, as did Occupy Wall Street and the antiwar movement of the last decade.
But, by then the movement will have been sufficiently exploited, and some other social movement will be the fascination of the moment.