Culture

Culture Notes

Culture

Issue: "Year in Review 1996," Dec. 28, 1996

Winning the debate

Cultural conservatives seem to have won the argument over the bad moral effects of TV. President Clinton, liberal policy experts, and even Hollywood moguls have jumped on the bandwagon of television reform. Their solution, however, is the "V-chip," a high-tech panacea with which parents can program out shows unsuitable for their children. Despite parental desires for a content-based rating system, the TV industry has proposed an age-based system, modeled after the film industry. The high-minded rhetoric aside, look for the rating system to increase the sex and violence on TV, just as it did with the movies.

Homosexuals' PR coup

The media and cultural elite this year have been successfully promoting the notion that homosexuality is every bit as virtuous as heterosexuality. Before, homosexuals were seen as immoral and mentally ill; today, those who oppose homosexuality are portrayed as immoral and mentally ill. Gays have been so favorably portrayed by movies, sit-coms, and the news media that popular opinion seems to be turning their way. The acceptance and legalization of homosexual marriage is a real possibility, something allowed in no other culture in the history of the human race.

Corporate responsibility

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Wal-Mart's policy of refusing to carry CDs with warning labels is having a huge impact on the music industry. Since the retail giant sells 52 million of the 615 million CDs sold in America, record companies are having to take notice. While some are making special Wal-Mart editions by editing out the profanity and salacious imagery, others are simply toning down their products. Wal-Mart, which is also refusing to stock offensive videos, is the culture warrior of the year.

Corporate shame

William Bennett and other activists found that corporations will respond not only to financial pressures but to shame. By simply reading the lyrics of songs put out by Time-Warner, he embarrassed the company officials to the point of divesting themselves of some of their more noxious holdings and promising a level of restraint. The activists are now trying to shame MCA into being similarly responsive.

Life on Mars? Life on Earth?

The Mars rock, with its traces of what could be extraterrestrial life, has shaken up the cultural imagination, causing pundits and scientists to wax mystical--usually in a New Age vein--about the mystery of life. Though the rock by no means proves there to be Martian life, biochemist Michael Behe's new book Darwin's Black Box offers compelling scientific evidence that life on earth had to have been created.

Invasion of the Goths

To the teenager cliques of jocks, preps, dopers, and wannabes, add this year's newest youth subculture: the Goths. Affecting black clothes, pale skin, pierced body parts, and a lugubrious air, the Goths enjoy horror fiction, macabre fantasy, and Death Metal music. The more extreme Goths toy with the occult, sado-masochism, and vampirism.

Teenagers liking their parents

The music industry is in the doldrums, with sales down and many labels going out of business. MTV president Judy McGrath blames a decline in rebellion among teenagers and twenty-somethings. "A huge percentage of them live at home and are happy to," she observes. "They don't say, 'My parents aren't cool, and I don't want to live with them, and I hate their music.' The us-vs.-them thing seems to be disappearing."

The tangled web we weave

In another year of the Internet, e-mail has revived the almost forgotten habit of letter-writing, and discussion groups have brought back intellectual discourse for the masses. On the other hand, by combining anonymity with intimacy, the cyberrealm is a place of multiple identities, con-artists, and sexual predators. Can such a virtual universe be policed? Congress passed the Communications Decency Act to restrict on-line pornography, but federal courts struck it down pending a Supreme Court decision this summer.

Beyond McChurch

Many evangelicals have been uncritically accepting the thought-forms of the popular culture, turning worship into pop concerts, transforming sermons into pop-psychology motivational seminars, and downplaying biblical doctrine in favor of a feel-good theology lite. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals organized to address these issues and held a summit meeting this year, calling for a re-emphasis on Christ, the Bible, faith, grace, and God. Such positions are proving highly controversial.

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