The popular culture reveals the state of a nation.

Pop culture, on the surface, seems like a trivial, fun subject but in reality it is serious and extremely important having impact and consequences on nations as well as individuals. In my lifetime, I have lived through tremendous changes in the secular world and in the Church, and the sum total of the changes has me living in a quite different culture than what I was raised in. The sad fact is, it all seems to be going downhill, with vulgarities and immoralities accepted today, as the norm, which in past years would have been considered intolerable. How I got from where I started, to where I am today, is something I often think of and will relate here because I am, if anything, an ‘average Joe’ and I’m sure many of you were companion travelers down this same path. The key element, making the difference, is a phenomenon known as ‘desensitizing’. Desensitize defined as “to make indifferent or unaware”.

The main conveyer of the changes has always been the media and the shift happens so gradual and subtly it usually goes unnoticed. In the late 60’s is when I first went to a movie in which a woman undressed down to her undergarments. I was embarrassed and utterly shocked and yet today I can hear foul language, see nudity and sex that’s almost ‘explicit’ in movies and on TV and I am not shocked, only utterly disgusted.

The “Seinfield Show”, that outrageous example of the popular culture, serves for me as a classic example of my plight. When I first viewed it, I thought it was awful with its loose morals and perverted ideologies. Then, one of my sons viewed it regularly which caused me to get so used to the goings on that I overlooked all the degradations and began to laugh at the crazy antics.

A good illustration of what happened to me and of desensitizing is the story of the frog who when placed in a bowl of hot water immediately jumped out. Then he was placed in cold water, which he found very comfortable, and the water was slowly heated, which he didn’t even notice, until it was too late, he couldn’t jump out of the water, he was cooked.

Pope John Paul II is a very wise man admired and respected all over the world. He is universally credited with being one of the main contenders who accomplished the demise of communism and, you must remember, it was generally believed Russia was indomitable. Nuclear arsenals or great armies were not what he used but something more valuable and powerful and that was the culture. He understood the Polish culture which consisted of centuries of living their Roman Catholic religion and its Gospel values. The Pope was extremely popular with the Polish people and when he affirmed their values (culture) and walked with them in ‘solidarity’ they were able to overthrow Communism. (Now that they have their freedom, It will be such a shame if they adopt the popular culture of the West, something emerging nations are prone to do, which is far inferior.)

As I was writing this commentary several publications came out with articles concerning this subject I am addressing and I think a few should be mentioned here.

The magazine section of my Sunday paper’s front page proclaimed “The Gospel according to Matt” and went on “Wacky work of ‘The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening pretty much guarantees that pop culture will never be the same”. The inside story tells us, “Time Magazine proudly declared “The Simpsons” to be the best TV series of, yes, the century.” Something I found interesting was near the end of the article, speaking of the early years of the show in1990, “The show was considered controversial back then, and now it’s considered the sweetest show, even though it’s so much worse. There’s so much more vulgarity.”

A Catholic women’s magazine I very much enjoy and respect is “Canticle”. The cover read “Rebuilding Christendom – Placing our Feminine Genius at the Service of Restoring a Culture of Love and Life”. The Editorial was “Transforming Culture”, inside there were articles titled, “The Family as the Heart of Culture”, “Fighting the Culture War – With Culture” and “Developing Culture with Children”.

My last example is from “Catalyst” the journal of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (catholicleague.org). William A. Donohue, the president, titles his editorial, “Sexual Roulette”. The first paragraph reads: “The Holy Father has often said that freedom is the right to do what we ought to do. What we ought to do can be found in the Ten Commandments and in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”. Now contrast this with what the dominant culture teaches–that freedom is the right to do whatever we want to do–and the disharmony is evident.”

Several months ago I received a letter and it was like the beam of a little candle in all this darkness. In fact the letter was the reason I wanted to write about ‘pop culture’. It was from Steve Allen as Honorary Chairman of the Parents Television Council asking me to join with them in doing something about the sad state of entertainment on TV. The letter went on for eight pages detailing examples of how bad the ‘scene’ really is and then offering a solution to “rescue America’s younger generation by pressuring sponsors to stop paying for filth on TV and instead put their advertising dollars into decent, family-friendly television programs.”

In my mind I was planning how I could get the members of the Los Angeles Council of Catholic Women behind this effort when it flashed on the TV screen that Steve Allen had suddenly died. I felt very sad because I knew he was considered a genius and one of the really good citizens of Hollywood. However, I decided not to just give up because of his death but resolved to make an effort to promote the work of Steve Allen as a legacy for him. I joined The Parents Television Council and you can see if this is something you might want to participate in by logging on to parentstv.org.

Morality in Media is another organization I belong to who has long fought the good fight to clean up the media. You can connect with them at moralityinmedia.org.