The Culture and Media Institute has just released its National Cultural Values survey. 2,000 Americans aged 18 and older were asked a series of questions on moral issues.
Here are some key findings:
- 74 percent, including majorities of every major demographic group, say they believe moral values in America are weaker than they were 20 years ago.
- 48 percent say moral values are much weaker than they were 20 years ago.
- 68 percent, including majorities of virtually every demographic group, say the media—entertainment and news alike—is having a detrimental effect on moral values in America.
- 64 percent agree the news and entertainment media exercise powerful influence over American moral values. In fact, the substantial majority (74 percent) who believe moral values are weaker than twenty years ago consider the media to be the second greatest influence on moral values after parents and families.
Additional findings indicate that while most people give strong lip service to classical virtues, many don’t actually walk the walk. Moreover, the authors of the study believe that there is a culture war in America, seem to agree that the media is largely at fault, and note that “Reversing America’s moral decline will require a renewed acceptance of Orthodox values, which implies increased acceptance of God’s authority.”
What can we make of all this?
First of all, it is always convenient to blame external factors for a moral decline. Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham’s 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent decried the effects of lurid comic books on America’s youth, in an attempt to explain the postwar boom in juvenile delinquency. The book led to his appearance before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, and the formation of the Comics Code Authority—an industry self-regulating board, established in light of the comics publishers’ fear of government censorship.
Many in the 1950’s were apparently unaware that Wertham’s career of making excuses for moral turpitude also included testifying on behalf of infamous serial killer and cannibal Albert Fish in 1935. Evidently, in Wertham’s world, only good people exist, and if bad deeds are done, there has to be an explanation.
You don’t have to be Catholic, or even a believer, to accept the concept of the Natural Law. In essence, this is an innate light of understanding placed in us, through which we know what we must do and what we must avoid. Or, as stated by Pope Leo XIII: “The natural law is engraved in the soul of every man, because human reason tells him to do good and avoid evil. It has force because it is the voice of a higher reason to which our spirit must submit.”
Related to this is the notion of “right reason.” This is a mental facility whereby people are enabled to draw valid conclusions. Finally, and possibly more subtly, man is obligated to seek truth.
I submit that by the very nature of mankind, these concepts are unassailable and axiomatic, even though some will try to deny them.
Thus, when bad deeds are done, a choice is made. The person involved surely knows that he is doing wrong, but decides to, regardless. Now, he may make this decision because of peer pressure, and one can argue that the negative influence of media is a sort of peer pressure. Still, a free will choice was made to do wrong.
For the most part, the entertainment media reflect what people want to buy. Anomalous circumstances such as Pia Zadora’s husband using huge amounts of money and influence in an attempt to create a career for her will appear from time to time, as will the antics of such manufactured celebs as Paris Hilton.
Zadora became a humorous footnote, and Hilton is interesting only in a freak show sense. Other than following her overly-publicized life, no one cares at all about the films or TV programs she has appeared in, except to deride them.
If the standards of film and TV seem lower than in years past, it is only because competition has become more intense. After all, up until the late 1940’s, you listened to the radio, or you went to movies or live theater. Until the early 1970’s, with no home video, and few choices on cable, no one needed to push the envelope. However, as entertainment options proliferated, boundaries were tested routinely. That’s really the only difference. It’s called market forces at work.
As to the news media, we hear constantly that it is heavily biased toward the secular Left, and I would agree with this assessment. Here again, the market seems to be rearing its head, as the fortunes of many of the worst offenders are darkening. In any event, this is just more peer pressure, and people are still free to make their own decisions.
Thus, at best, crummy media is nothing more than a bad influence, among many other bad influences that people will encounter throughout their lives.
Consider, then, the finding above, whereby the substantial majority (74 percent) who believe moral values are weaker than twenty years ago consider the media to be the second greatest influence on moral values after parents and families.
Exactly what are these people doing about it? If they are parents, why aren’t they doing more for their kids to overcome this influence that they readily admit is driving these values lower? And, there is also the deliciously ironic implication that the influence of parents may be HELPING to drive the values down.
Yet another example of (liberal) cartoonist Walt Kelly’s oft quoted “We have met the enemy and he is us.”