Moral authority

June 27, 1995|By Andrew M. Greeley

SEX AND VIOLENCE are flourishing in the movies, on television and in popular music.

Meanwhile, there is an increase in violence and extra-marital births.

Therefore, the first phenomenon caused the second.

This is absolute nonsense, of course, but it plays well in the never-ending presidential politics game.

Virtually all the serious research about the impact of popular culture on human behavior shows that it is, at most, slight. Music, film and television reflect behavior rather than cause it.

If sex is more open on the tube, the reason is that it is more open in society.

If films reflect a decline of family bonds, the reason is that family bonds are weakening.

Family values, however that illusive phrase is defined, are acquired in the family. Violence in the family produces violence outside the family. Sexual exploitation in the family leads to sexual exploitation beyond the family.

The relationship between the parents has far more impact on young people than do television, films and rap music. If there are no parents to relate to one another, that is much more harmful to young people than "Pulp Fiction" could ever be.

But even if the research data did not support such a conclusion, common sense would. If one truly wants to improve family values, there is no better way to do so than to try to lower the divorce and desertion rate.

One rarely hears this self-evident suggestion from politicians who are fulminating about family values.

I know what Quentin Tarantino is trying to do in "Pulp Fiction," but I still think it is disgusting trash. Give him some time, and he'll fade away like other fashions.

Gangsta rap wouldn't last five minutes if it wasn't protected by the politically correct argument that it is "African-American music." It, too, is disgusting trash.

It does not follow, however, that such trashy forms of popular culture are tearing American society apart, much less that they are responsible for the loss of a sense of responsible commitment that has infected many in our society.

You could end all the violence in films and in rap music and take all the sex out of the movies and off television; such actions wouldn't promote meaningful "family values" in the slightest.

Young people do not engage in irresponsible sexual behavior because they see it on "Melrose Place." They engage in it because they see little in the way of responsible sexual relationships between their parents.

I often wonder how many of the children of the family values crusaders actually witness responsible and mature sexual commitment in their home lives.

It's easy to write letters about nudity or near-nudity on television. It's much more difficult to create an ambience inside a home in which young people experience the respect and affection which are essential to sexual relations between adults.

It's not what you say to your kids or your congressman that is important. It's what you do to one another and to the kids.

It's not the crusades on which you embark that matter, it's the kind of person you are.

It's not the sex on television, it's the sex in your own bedroom that has the greatest impact on your children. They know, often consciously, but always unconsciously, what the quality of the relationship between their parents is like.

One can hardly imagine Bob Dole running on that platform.

Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, author and sociologist. His latest novel is "Irish Gold."

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