Sometimes news stories share a common thread that’s invisible to most, one that’s invisible because it’s common to most. Last week there were a few such stories in the news, stories about events whose motivating spirits were kindred ones. One involves the latest developments in the case of Lynndie England, the infamous leash-girl who was found complicit in the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. Another involves a second hapless lass, Pvt. Deanna Allen, who was discharged from the army for getting down and dirty during a combat activity. That is, scantily clad in the mud, wrestling a fellow soldierette in front of a throng of salivating comrades-in-arms.
The common thread certainly has nothing to do with the stories’ treatment in the media. Why, according to the brain-cell-compromised media sharks, Abu Ghraib is in league with the rape of Nanking in the annals of wartime atrocities. In contrast, the wrestling fiasco is shrugged off by many as just so much frivolity. Yes, boys will be boys, girls will be girls and, hell’s bells, mud will be mud. To the libertines in the media, the most significant common thread is that both these stories provide them with the kind of titillating copy that makes their pablum just a tad less insipid.
The thread of which I speak, however, is that these stories reflect the licentiousness and depravity that have come to so characterize our culture. After all, contrary to the shrill accusations of many journalists, Abu Ghraib was much like being forced to listen to Hillary Clinton’s nails-on-a-blackboard version of passionate public speaking: not at all torture, but quite definitely abusive. Speaking of the folly of first ladies, this brings me to the third news story: Laura Bush’s prurient comedy routine at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.
Among other things, the first lady called herself a “desperate housewife,” alluding to the popular TV show which has featured women who cheated on their husbands. She also said that her husband has learned a lot about ranching since the day he “tried to milk a horse . . . a male horse,” and quipped about going to Chippendales with Lynn Cheney.
I can see the rolling of eyes now. Okay, don’t misunderstand me, I don’t claim that Laura Bush’s words rise to the same level of egregiousness as the two young ladies’ deeds. No, there is definitely a hierarchy here, one that ranges from mere words uttered in jest to the degradation of willing participants to the degradation of unwilling ones. But make no mistake, it is a hierarchy whose elements are to be found in the same category. That is, that of sexual impropriety.
Now, I realize that my taking exception to the first lady’s remarks places me in a mocked minority. We’re prudes, you see; I’ve even heard that those in my camp have been dismissed as “lemon-sucking conservatives.” Yes, we need to get a life, evolve from our Neanderthal status and shed the shackles of Puritanism that, at some point in our repressed development, were slapped on our young minds. But I shoulder that ridicule with a smile and a grain of salt. For I know that it comes from the perspective of obsessed individuals who cannot understand, for the life of them, why these Church Lady types don’t share what they fail to recognize as their obsession.
Of course, they would say the same about us, that we are the obsessed ones. So, to lend this a little perspective I’m going to borrow [and update] an analogy from C.S. Lewis. Imagine a land wherein allusions to food permeated every aspect of society. There were music videos in which dancers wiggled steaks, chops and fried chicken in front of the audience. It was hard to find a comedy routine that didn’t contain gastronomic innuendo, and having characters in movies hungrily and animalistically wolf down scrumptious morsels had become an indispensable element of entertainment. Now, when analyzing this inordinate focus on food you would have to draw one of two conclusions: either there was a problem with starvation in the land, or, the citizenry was obsessed with eating.
Yes, Puritanism is one extreme and were we to embrace it, we could rightly be labeled as obsessed. But this fixation on sex is the other extreme and we are guilty of it, and this does make us obsessed. The flesh isn’t dirty, but neither is it a toy. And “If it’s funny, say it” is like saying, “If it feels good, do it.” Continually thinking about sex is like continually thinking about food: it is by definition “obsession.”
Of course, this is a difficult point to make because, you see, in an environment in which obsession carries the day the embrace of normalcy seems like obsession. Why, I even heard pundit Bill O’Reilly label people in my camp “extremists.” So, I would ask a couple of questions: would O’Reilly want to explain to his audience, in intricate detail, the meaning behind the “milking the male horse” joke? And, how many of us would be willing to explain same to our children? Enough said.
The fact of the matter is that all three of these events are emblematic of a gratuitously sexualized society, and one that has lost the concept of shame. Shame is the word, because there was a time when “Don’t shame the family” – delivered in a stern tone – was a ubiquitous admonition. It also had its corollaries, such as “Don’t shame the cause,” “Don’t shame the organization” and, most significantly here, “Don’t shame your country.”
Truth be known, if the last one had figured prominently in the minds of Lynndie England, Deanna Allen and, dare I say, Laura Bush, Al Jazeera and its ilk would have less political ammunition today. Moreover, if all those passé warnings had been borne in mind by the millions of us who have forgotten them, those who oppose us would have had less ammunition yesterday, too. Take note, Hollywood.
You see, every time we shame ourselves we vindicate some of the accusations of those bent on our destruction. The Muslim world accuses us of being decadent – the “Great Satan.” Well, it’s bad enough that we have a popular culture that generates noxious cultural effluent that disperses far and wide in the seas of the soul of man. It’s bad enough that we have a few military girls behaving badly, and a media that seizes upon their moral failings to sell papers and hurt political opponents. Now enters Laura Bush, Mrs. Family Values herself, auditioning for the position of poster-girl for libertine western morals. “The President’s wife says she goes to strip clubs”; “The President’s wife says she cheats on her husband,” the propagandists will say. Of course, they could simply tell the truth, which is that her comments were in jest. That would be damning enough.
“Who cares about what such miscreants have to say,” counter some? Do we discount the message because of the messenger, ask I? Nay, thinking all your enemies’ criticisms false is as foolish as thinking all your friends’ compliments true. It would be like believing your own press clippings.
Moreover, might doesn’t make right, not really. Rather, right makes might. Vice allures but virtue endures. With every display of vice we further relinquish the moral high ground, a strategic position from which spiritual battles are won and hearts changed.
And the spiritual battle really is the crux of the matter, the one in foreign lands and the one raging in the homeland. This is because we can vanquish our foes militarily and preserve ourselves – for a time. But if we want this preservation to be more than transitory, we’re going to have to win a spiritual war abroad. If we want to ensure that our civilization is worth preserving, we’re going to have to win the spiritual war at home.
So, should the Lynndie Englands and Deanna Allens of the world have known better? Maybe, but that’s a lot to ask from young people who have grown up under the influence of “Pop Tarts” like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. It’s a lot to ask when they’re weaned on the recessive-gene-brainchildren of popular culture terrorists. It’s especially a lot to ask when the first lady, the wife of their Commander-in-Chief, doesn’t know better. And Laura Bush certainly should. For that matter, we all should.