Whitewater, Wis. -- JUST WHEN one thinks that the plebeian morning TV shows, which incongruously call themselves "news" shows, cannot sink any lower, they do. The other day, on a brief stop here at our old family lake cottage where I was busy sitting on a small plastic raft, one morning show came up with a theme awesome in its irrelevance: "Can a woman's menstrual cycle make her voice change?"
That section of the news, which got more time than Bosnia, Russia and Somalia put together, showed a drawing of the woman-in-question's larynx, as well as of her voice box and vocal folds. All of the pictures came across as slightly smutty, as though one was supposed to engage in pornographic ponderings while watching them.
Indeed, the only thing omitted was a serious discussion of whether Margaret Thatcher, Evita Peron, Indira Gandhi, Cory Aquino and/or Golda Meir had ever been noted to have a higher voice when speaking in parliament or Cabinet meetings at (you know, yuk-yuk) that "certain time of the month."
During this summer-of-so-many-decisions our culture has become so dominated by obsessively looking downward instead of striving upward that we are losing any remaining sense of excellence. Every TV show now will tell you all you need to know about penises, penis envy, wombs, womb envy, sexual assaults on children, women who cut penises off, men who debrain women, how AIDS is transmitted and how you can live to be 100. The only thing they don't tell you is why, in their scruffy and squalid world, you would want to live to be 100!
Let me sidetrack for a moment and quote my friend, Lester Brown of Worldwatch Institute, who came from a boyhood on a farm in southern New Jersey to become one of the world's foremost environmentalists:
"For me, growing up on an isolated farm, I ended up doing a lot of reading, and I read a whole series of biographies," Brown says. "George Washington Carver, Daniel Boone, Thomas Jefferson, Florence Nightingale, Amelia Earhart . . . I found myself identifying with the people because they were the people I knew about and read about their lives and what they did.
"We talk about the need for role models today." He paused. "Yet, today I don't know if kids read these books or not. I think not."
Mr. Brown is all too right. The "politically correct" books that more and more colleges and universities are prescribing read more and more like a course on victimization. Every victim has his day in university life today, and, my, how sorry they all feel for themselves! Of course, there is no end to it all because once you get on the victimization merry-go-round, it is rewarded with university approval and government grants.
Even if you never read a book at all, much less about some real hero or heroine (or mere hard-working person who accomplished something), if you watch television or read many newspapers, you will find yourself not "looking up," as the preachers used to counsel us, but dully and heavily looking down.
There are no grand themes any more; there are no noble men and women in our agenda. There is no discussion of life, death, good, evil, beauty, ugliness, uprightness, the fall, compassion, generosity or transcendence. If you want to know about the mechanical workings of every part of the male or female body or how to sleep with your brother-in-law and not get caught by Oprah, you're in business!
We can trace this lowering of standards to the '60s, to the "me" generation and to an effort to make everybody "feel good" and allow no one to feel superior. In the era of permissive child-raising, parents refused to be authorities or to socialize their children into the great themes of our history through LTC reasonable discipline, and children grew up thinking there was no authority and that any theme went.
So we see the vicious circle. The cultural norms go down, more people thus aspire to ever lower levels of behavior and creativity, and they in turn bring the levels down still further -- until we are wondering whether Maggie Thatcher's voice was unusually high when she announced the Falklands War.
Oh well, I'm going back to my raft. Please do not wake me unless there's another gulf war, unless Rick is singing "As Time Goes By," or until Douglas MacArthur wades ashore on my pier.
Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.