Blame the cultural elite for my degradation

Russell Baker

October 27, 1992|By Russell Baker

THERE'S a new book out taking the hide off Hollywood. Sex and violence are saturating screens, video as well as silver. You know it. I know it. We all hate it.

But we can't escape, can we? And do you know who's to blame? Hollywood. The cultural elite. Those filthy swine.

See that? Do you think I would have dreamed of using the words "filthy swine" in a family newspaper in the old days?

Hear a personal tale which speaks of the degradation to which I have been brought by these mongers of sex and violence:

It was a glorious October day. "Let us," said my wife, "take a drive through Vermont and Canada to see the autumn-tinted foliage."

"Let us not," I explained, reminding her that we had taken that tour 15 years ago and sworn never again to look at another dying leaf. "Let's go instead to the movies."

I yearned to see an Andy Hardy film. I hoped it would be the one in which Mother Hardy was near death and Andy knelt and prayed. When M-G-M first shot that scene Andy stood and prayed, but when Louis B. Mayer saw the rushes he was outraged.

When Andy Hardy prays, he gets down on his knees, Louis B. Mayer declared. He was right, for Mother Hardy pulled through to make another Andy Hardy film. Thinking of this as we headed to the theater, I was tempted to tell my wife, but did not.

Why? I remembered her pleased laughter during "A League of Their Own" -- laughter produced by a scene lionizing a drunken baseball manager. I feared her sensibility had been so damaged by the cultural elite that she could no longer be touched by Mother Hardy's brush with death.

We got to the movie center. No Andy Hardy, naturally. Not even a Schwarzenegger, with Arnold blowing away cops by the dozen, the kind of movie I love, which I admit only to illustrate how Hollywood has debased a once fine character.

My wife suggested we see "A River Runs Through It." I agreed, since the advertising indicated it was practically smut-free. The man ahead of us asked for tickets to "Glengarry Glen Ross," and I heard the cashier say, "I'm instructed by the management to tell you it has a lot of very bad language and some of our customers have complained."

He took the tickets anyhow, and when the cashier said, "Next," I said, "Two for 'Glengarry Glen Ross.' " When it ended I was overwhelmed with outrage at the realization that millions of Americans -- almost all of them far less resistant to corruption than I -- were being exposed to movies like this.

Do you wonder then why I left my exurban home and raced immediately to New York upon hearing that Madonna was about to unleash a publication titled "Sex" on that poor wretched city?

"Why the rush to get to New York?" my wife asked.

"If I get there in time to buy up the entire press run of 'Sex,' maybe New York can be saved from the cultural elite's coup de grace," I explained.

"Madonna isn't the cultural elite," said my wife. "She's just Mae West for yuppies."

"Sex," alas, was already on the market when I reached Gotham. Anyhow, at $50 a copy, buying every copy would have exhausted my fortune.

Though in despair at the spectacle of fine, upright New Yorkers running through the streets triumphantly waving freshly purchased copies of "Sex," all was not completely lost.

As chance would have it, before leaving home I had gone to the bank and withdrawn a single $50 bill. You never know what costly emergency may arise on a visit to New York. Now, n nTC realized, that $50 bill gave me the power to take at least one vile book out of circulation, thus perhaps saving some innocent youth from the cultural elite.

Yes, friends, good people can win a small victory now and then. Or so it seemed as I headed for the bookshop clutching the $50.

Too late. The last "Sex" had been sold hours ago. The store had been beset by hordes of good, unsuspecting New Yorkers, salt-of-the-earth New Yorkers, but easy pickings for the cultural-elite vultures determined to poison the typical New York home.

I could have wept in frustration about having arrived too late to help. But perhaps, I suggested to the clerk, perhaps the store had its own copy of "Sex" back in the office. If I could just be permitted to peruse it, what a warning I might be inspired to preach through the streets of Gotham . . .

They asked me to leave quietly.

Russell Baker is a New York Times columnist.

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