Pop Excess

 A look at recent headlines points to something we should all give up, not just for Lent, but for good: the excesses of pop culture.

The Boston terrorist scare of Jan. 31 ironically sums up the predicament we find ourselves in.

When police started to notice that electronic circuit boards had been placed in visible — and vulnerable — areas of Boston, they stopped traffic, evacuated some buildings and blocked sidewalks while they investigated. The devices could have been disguised bombs, strategically placed to cause death and mayhem.

As it turned out, the circuit boards were light-up toys that a major American entertainment corporation put up for publicity. Each one depicted a cartoon character making an obscene gesture at passersby.

Forgive us if we’re not breathing a sigh of relief.

Yes, we are glad it turned out that no one was trying to bomb Boston. But we all know what the middle-finger message means. Translated into words, it’s unprintable; spoken in a movie, it earns an R rating. We don’t take much comfort in knowing that things have gotten so far out of control in our country that a company like Time Warner would decide to indiscriminately flash that message to the men, women and children of Boston (and other major American cities the company targeted).

The incident was filled with telling irony in two ways. First, because it so clearly expresses what is happening in America: Companies that promote coarse entertainment are quite literally flipping off the public. But it’s also ironic because, for one brief moment, the Boston police took the threat of cultural smut as seriously as we should all be taking it every day.

An entertainment media unmoored from morality and uninhibited by any shame is as big a threat to our country, morally, as terrorism is, militarily.  Which means it’s a bigger threat, because it threatens our souls.

Consider other recent headlines: The Internet made pornography pervasive. Cell-phone technology has now made it worse.  In early February, Florida parents were outraged that cell phones they bought at Wal-Mart for their children were delivering pornographic images. Now, Telus, a major cellular carrier in Canada, is making pornography available nationwide.

Our first duty is to opt out of the aspects of pop culture that have become so debased.

Dinesh D’Souza enraged many commentators with his new book, The Enemy Within, which makes the incendiary claim that the “cultural left” was responsible for 9/11.

We believe his premise makes a good point — but that it should be applied to a much wider group than the author singles out.

D’Souza says he doesn’t just mean the left wing of the Democratic Party when he says the “cultural left.”

“The cultural left also includes a few Republicans, notably those who adopt a left-wing stance on foreign policy and social issues,” he writes. “Moreover, the cultural left includes organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Watch, and moveon.org.”

“In faulting the cultural left,” he writes, “I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world.”

We see his point that when we export ugly aspects of U.S. culture, we enrage people overseas. Pope John Paul II said the same thing in his prophetic World Peace Day Message of 2001.

But it is too pat to single out just one group of people in America for blame.

Anyone who has bought, received, watched, looked at or listened to it is complicit. Hollywood made it. We funded it. We should stop.

Even that isn’t enough. There’s another reason the arts have become a cesspool: Call it a sin of omission by Catholics.

For decades, the Church in America has been marked by dissent. Catholic filmmakers, novelists and artists have been here all along — but their products have become morally indistinguishable from the culture’s.

But that’s starting to change. There are two examples in this issue: Tim Drake’s story about the new literary revival (page 2) and our profile of Jordan Allott on our Arts & Entertainment page (B3).

To learn about more  projects that can change the culture for Christ, keep reading the Register. We consider it our duty to seek them out and tell as many people we can to promote them, support them — and imitate them.