During her run for the presidency, Hillary Clinton had a very effective TV ad (at least I thought so) showing children watching television, their little eyes wide with fascination, while Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter and made other repulsive comments. While this ad ultimately proved ineffective or insufficient to secure her bid for the presidency, I thought the question that this advertisement raised was valid: do we care about the impact of our culture on our children?
Of course, to be honest, Hillary Clinton was not really raising that question. She was contrasting her generally controlled and calculated public persona with Donald Trump’s erratic, unrestrained, and undiplomatic (to say the least) personality. (By the way, to be “fair and balanced”, I work in the public sector, and Hillary Clinton’s private reputation among those who have sat in meetings with her makes Donald Trump’s public infractions appear less shocking — which is saying something.)
So, I ask again: Do we care about the impact of our culture on our children?
The answer appears to be “no.” The country didn’t care if Donald Trump was outrageous and wince-inducing. Some, no doubt, held their noses and voted for him anyway, considering him the lesser of two evils. (By the way, during the campaign, I saw a bumper sticker, “Vote Cthulhu for President, Why pick the lesser of two evils?” If you don’t get the joke, look it up.) Others were, perhaps, captivated by or even applauded his “honesty” and “frankness” and had no reservations about his behavior. Well, at least the majority in California (if nowhere else) thought a President Trump was a bad idea.
But this question is far larger than Donald Trump.
I was walking into a local department store when a young family was exiting. One young woman said to another, “Oh, my God!” and they laughed. Behind them trailed a little girl small enough to look like a wind-up toy. “Oh, my God!” she echoed in her piping little voice. I was the only one who heard or winced.
I recently watched the animated superhero cartoons “Night of the Owls” and “Justice League War”. I had always enjoyed these DC superhero cartoons. They are well-drawn, inventively animated, and (until these titles) interesting enough for adults but designed so that they could be watched with children. To my shock, both titles were sprinkled with profanity spoken exclusively by the “good guys”. The only thing missing from “Justice League War” was the “F-bomb”. Again, it’s the good guys — Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, etc. — saying these things. The bad buys were verbally pure, except for the mob boss in “Night of the Owls” who took the name of Jesus Christ in vain — something that used to obtain an R-rating for a movie. I understand that DC Comics has proudly released a new R-rated cartoon for our consumption. (I won’t be buying it.)
I read comic books as a child and revisited them as an adult. I stopped reading when I had children, “Power Girl” got pregnant, and you couldn’t tell if the father was Aquaman or Green Lantern.” (Maybe it was someone else. I stopped reading.) Now that my children are older, I started reading again. Comic books have grown up. Again, the bad language (and there’s lots of it) is restricted to the superheroes. The super villains might be trying to take over the world, destroy a city or two, or commit genocide, but they don’t say naughty words.
What are we trying to communicate to our children?
And it’s not just the profanity. I’ve been watching “Arrow” and “Flash” with my youngest son, now eighteen. Arrow has had sexual relations with — Wait! Let me count on my fingers — at least four women in the past three seasons. He was married to none of them. Of course, he loved them all (except for the villainess), but not apparently enough to commit to a life-long relationship or even remain faithful through the span of 24 episodes. In one episode of “The Flash”, Barry “The Flash” Allen takes a young woman to his home on their 2nd date, and she begins removing her clothes and ripping his shirt off in preparation for an x-rated scene. This was their second date, mind. They probably didn’t know each others middle names yet. Fortunately, we were saved from seeing more than we wanted by the Flash’s version of the bat signal, but the Hollywood message was clear for any children watching: this is how grown-ups act. There’s nothing wrong with this. (We fast forward these scenes at home, but I wish it wasn’t necessary to keep the remote handy.)
This is our culture. Profane and sensual, our children (to judge from teenage pregnancy and abortion rates and the language our children use) cannot help but get the message. You might tell me there are other factors involved, and I agree. But, surely, the messages we are sending in our entertainment are part of the problem. Someone else might justify this by saying that entertainment is only mirroring our culture, not creating it, but certainly, that’s an ingenuous argument. We mirror the beasts of profanity and sensuality in our culture, and then we feed them in our entertainment so they grow and we can mirror them some more.
I learned much of morality from reading comic books as a child because the superheroes never swore and were faithful. They actually reinforced the messages of righteousness and purity I would later learn when I became a Christian. Now, even Disney movies make fun of virgins (especially if they are boys — See Hocus Pocus) and the Marvel Comics “Avengers” movies make fun of Captain America when he enjoins Iron Man to watch his language — and Captain America backs down. The Marvel X-man movie “First Class” took the name of Jesus in vain — twice — and was only rated PG-13. We are growing increasingly intolerant of any suggestion that profanity is profane or sexual relations anything more meaningful than scratching an itch.
And our children are watching. And learning.
C.S. Lewis famously said, “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” Our culture laughs at purity. What might we be shocked to find lurking in our midst as a result?