Via 11d, I found this interesting debate between Amy Sullivan and Matthew Yglesias about whether it’s appropriate for politicians — especially liberal politicians — to speak out about the ways that pop culture coarsens our society and presents constant challenges to those of us trying to raise children.
The posts are worth reading in full, but the key statement of Yglesias’ position is "liberals are characterized by the belief that the state shouldn’t have substantive views about these things." Given that, he believes that it is pure pandering for politicians who oppose censorship to use their position to criticize movies and television. He writes:
"If Dan Gerstein wants to write op-eds decrying Friends then let’s have at it. Friends is not above criticism. But Joe Lieberman shouldn’t be doing this. If he wants to be a movie critic, or a rabbi, or whatever he should leave the Senate and let someone else write the laws."
As several of the commenters on his post point out, however, citizens look for politicians to do much more than pass laws. We vote for candidates who seem to understand us and our problems, who invoke the aspects of America that we care about. As much as Clinton’s "I feel your pain" has become a cliche, it worked. And he was the master of proposing microprograms that didn’t cost a whole lot of money, didn’t do very much good, but sent the message that the government cared.
As Sullivan responds:
"I think that acknowledging the concerns of many Americans–even if you can’t fix them with a policy–is sometimes just the obvious and right thing to do, and shouldn’t always be given the perjorative label of pandering….sometimes it’s not about policies. It’s about proving that you’re not hopelessly out of touch with the real anxieties and concerns of many Americans."
I’d also like to see more people — politicians, sure, but also clergy, athletes, bloggers — helping people come together to develop ways to resist the onslaught. Because there really is an onslaught. I’ve written about the impact of advertising on my kids, and it’s only going to get much much worse as they get older.
"It’s not just about sex and violence; it’s also about consumerism, fashion-and brand-consciousness, and a generally superficial approach to life…. Matt is simply wrong to assume this is all about some "New Prudishness." As a parent of a teenager, I am not that worried that the ever-present marketers will turn him into a sex-addict or a sociopath; I’m more worried that he will turn into a total greedhead whose idea of the good life is stuff, and whose idea of citizenship is to demand a better personal cost-benefit ratio on his tax dollars."
It’s not enough to just say "turn off the TV." It’s everywhere. My son watches very little television at home, and we TiVo out the commercials. But when we go to the doctor’s office, there are TVs in the waiting room, and when we go to the bookstore, the Dora books have ads for video games in the back. And then there’s the matter of the other kids at school, as well as in the neighborhood.
As Jen commented on 11d, we’re seeing more and more parents — secular liberals as well as religous conservatives — feeling like the media is contrary to their values, and pulling the plug. We’re also seeing more homeschooling for much the same reasons. But the culture is pervasive and — unless we decide to become Amish — our children will eventually be exposed to it. We can’t raise them in a bubble, even if we wanted to.
When I posted this week about D’s case of the "I wants," Parke commented:
"We also spend a lot of time in a church community with lots of other parents who are raising children in a similar way, so our children have many friends who also don’t get all the toys they want."
I don’t feel like I have such a community — and I think many people don’t believe that such a community is possible. I think that there’s a power to talking about these issues in a way that makes people feel like they do have some control, rather than making them feel helpless and cynical. The only people talking about this are the religious conservatives, and I don’t want to live in their community either.
I like what Anne wrote about this topic, although I’m not sure I entirely understand what she means:
"I became enamored with [the idea] a couple years ago, that to raise a family effectively today you must act counterculturally. That never fit quite right because I am too much a creature of our culture to turn my back on it entirely…. Instead, I can put myself and my family not against the culture, as ‘counterculture’ demands, but orthogonal (perpendicular in every dimension) to culture."