By Mike D’Virgilio
For some reason that we can’t quite figure out, Rolling Stone magazine started showing up at our house in my 18 year old daughter’s name. She had no interest, but I enjoy music and popular culture, so I’ve been browsing through a few issues and reading things that interest me. One thing about the magazine that I find interesting (other than how much popular music I can’t relate to anymore) is the use of vulgarity, most prominently the “F” word.
I’m no prude. and I’ve been known to throw around my fair share of impolite language, especially when I’m practicing or playing golf. But even then it’s limited and I take care who might hear me. And there are very few people in my life who I know well enough and who I’m comfortable enough around to use the occasional swear word.
And that is the operative word, “occasional.” I always wonder about people who swear habitually. Not that my virgin ears or sensibilities are offended. For instance, I have no problem hearing vulgarity used in movies, as long as it’s not gratuitous. Sometimes life is vulgar, and such words are not out of place, but what I notice in Rolling Stone is how utterly unnecessary is the use of such words. It’s almost like the grade school kids you might remember who throw around F-bombs to show how cool they are, but in this instance I don’t think it’s cool that they’re after.
Ever since the so-called Enlightenment (what a pretentious word), and especially since the French Revolution, those who chafe against the ostensible restraints of religion have tried to throw off those restraints in a variety of ways. Using vulgarity in an ostentatious way, showing that you don’t give a sh**, can almost be a form of protest, though the user is likely not thinking about it in that way, if they think about it at all. It’s almost like saying, I can do what I want without any repressive religion or religionist (of course most in the West equate religion and repression and backwardness with Christianity—Islam, not so much) telling me what to do, so F*** you!
And speaking of that, my Rolling Stone epiphany came around the same time I read an article by Dennis Prager about the coarse nature of much popular culture, specifically the music industry. I heard about a potential Grammy winning song called “F*** you,” believe it or not (and this being 2010, believe it I’m sure you do), and saw the video on YouTube. Seriously? Over 30 million views? I read some reviews, and most pointed out the gentile nature of the song. Oh, how cute. It doesn’t sound so vulgar now, does it? And those of the secular cultural left are giddy with delight that a song with such a title and lyrics could possibly be proclaimed the song of the year. Take that, you Neanderthal prudes!
Asking how such a song could be a nominee for song of the year, Prager answers:
And just think it all started with Elvis’ hips. There are some who would like to go back, before Elvis, when everything was rosy and virtue prevailed among the masses. I call this reverse Utopianism, and a certain segment of conservatives are susceptible to such illusions. They speak of culture, pop or otherwise, as if it is something that can be controlled, as if the presence of a popular song like this is evidence that we are going to hell in a hand basket. It can’t, and I don’t think it is.
The cliché is true; you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. As S. T. Karnick, the proprietor of this fine blog, has put it, we live in an omniculture. As he has written elsewhere, the kind of culture we should want is a “culture of liberty.” In that latter piece, he argues that culture is analogous to an economy. A free enterprise economy doesn’t mean anarchy. A free culture, i.e. a culture of liberty, doesn’t mean cultural anarchy either.
Think about a culture free from the restraints of religion. The Founders of our fair country couldn’t either; no wonder the progressives aren’t so fond of them. To the secular left, and it is they who control the vast resources of culture influence, religion, especially Christianity, is a means for repression, authoritarianism and tyranny. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As Prager points out, MTV and the entire music industry have promoted and espoused values that are antithetical to ordered liberty. Any idea why? Because that industry is filled with people who hold these values. Pretty simple, actually. We can complain all we like, but are conservatives encouraging more conservative young people to go into the music industry? Are we raising our good right wing children to love and play music? Or go into the arts or entertainment? Or education? Or journalism? Or to become writers?
Andrew Klavan gets it exactly right in “Can Conservatives Win Back the Arts?” The need is indeed urgent, and we’ll only meet it if we understand that it is more than politics that determines the direction and health of our country.