Sunday, November 09, 2008

Here is a letter to the editor of The Atlantic that I sent in back in April 2008 in response to this article in about Britney Spears and her Paparazzi.

--Re: The Britney Show

If Britney can be described as a moth in the night headed toward death by the big bright bug zapper, the paparazzi can be described as helping to drive the moth to the zapper and then making a fine art out of capturing the flames at just the right camera angle.

Britney’s bubble-gum girl next store slut image is perhaps a product of needing of father she never had and of willing to accept any sort of male attention even if it is really bad and exploitative. Like an addict to this attention, she has developed a craving for this nasty and destructive attention, even if she must “Eat it!, Lick it, Snort it! F*ck it!” to get it. As an addict, Brittany simultaneously loathes and craves the exploitative attention of the paparazzi and of the online chat room fans who cluck over her every insane act and who love to see her stardom toppled.

Here, the paparazzi are more than just the vehicles of this miserable attention. The paparazzi are directly contributing to Britney’s insanity as direct actors on the stage of Britney’s drama. They are so violative of the sort of aloneness and privacy that she would need to even begin to sort herself out. When this need asserts itself in her, she rages at what has become a miserable existence and breathes "like a bull” out of fury desperation to be left alone. Of course, as Brittany rages out, she is only ever more fascinating to the paparazzi, who want to capture the next crazy antic.

Instead of dwelling on the macabre idea of profit off of the combustible flames of her self-destruction that they have had a role in creating, the razzi have dwelt on the “art” of this exploitation and speak in almost hushed tones about the sublimity of the art of their craft. If Britney "fulfills her apparent and dies in a fiery car crash”, they will revel in the camera angle and the lighting that they photograph her corpse and may not spend a moment meditating on their role in it all.

If that happens there should be a "righteous outcry against the paparazzi and those who publish their pictures". There should be also be a moment of introspection at our culture that has allowed the paparazzi to become profitable. At this level of patent exploitation, merely saying that "paparazzi exist for the same reason that the stars exist: we want to see their pictures" and being glad when "we are confirmed in our belief that it is better, after all, not to be one of them" is no excuse and no good. Those who revel in seeing Britney in her current condition courtesy of the paparazzi are living out their own complicit form of sickness.

I’ve become more and more convinced that celebrity obsession is one of the “axis of rot” in our culture along with “fleeting indecency”, slut fashion, and a host of other things.

TMZ, in particular, is a hugely successful paparazzi company with a TV show that makes money off of harassing celebrities. It adds nothing of value to the culture, and only services the voyeurism of people who need the “tear’em down so that I can feel better about my miserable life” aspect of celebrity obsession.

The end of celebrity obsession needs to start with Christians. To the extent that we Christians participate in the culture of celebrity worship, we need to repent of admiration/envy of celebrities as an idolatry that uses humans to medicate holes in the soul that only God can heal.

Let’s take an indefinite fast from media celebrity voyeurism. For those who can’t imagine a complete break with products of the paparazzi, how about starting with a fast from celebrities for lent.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

letter to the FCC

Here is an e-mail I sent to the Kevin J. Miller, Chairman of the FCC

-- I’m writing this to encourage the FCC not to back down on the Supreme Court battle regarding "fleeting" cusswords or nudity. Either the indecency is harmful or it isn't. To split hairs between the "fleeting" and the “not fleeting" is to put the concern for indecency on a slope to irrelevance.

The logic that allows for "fleeting indecency" is based on the idea that a little surprise indecency is harmless and that only a long/endless stream of profanity is a problem. By this logic saying “F*ck” once is only 1/10 as damaging as saying it ten times in a row.

Fleeting indecency does not operate as a “step function”. Part of the power of fleeting indecency is that it is sudden and un-expected. Its power lies in the first instant the indecency violates the boundary, which is as harmful or more than any subsequent stream of indecency that may follow from that instant. The instant that the indecency is brought into the world, the toothpaste is out of the tube and it is already too late to change the channel.

To illustrate the point, it’s like saying that it’s OK for a child to get a fleeting glimpse of a man flashing himself in the park on account of the idea that if he only flashes for a 1/5 of second, it’s only 1/5 as damaging as a full second. To say that one can “change the channel” is like saying that the child can simply close his eyes when presented with the flasher. Fleeting images have power, which is why it is not allowed for commercials to have subliminal messages that are flashed for a fraction of a second on the screen.

It is dishonest for a station to argue that “fleeting indecency” is too hard to catch. Stations have the power to deal with “fleeting indecency” if they are held accountable to do it.

If the debate is over whether decency matters, which is what I’m convinced that it is, then a deeper “worldview surgery” is needed. Despite those intellectuals who would argue that kids only moved by biology or by what their peers are doing, kids are actually affected greatly for better or for worse by the environment that adults uphold around them. Kids benefit from an environment where a certain “moral arithmetic” is upheld.

One needs to be grounded in a certain moral simplicity before one can enter a realm of moral complexity and “creative violence”. Kids who mimic the profanity of adults are not wise, they are only clever, and are not able to comprehend the moral complexity of using profanity as an act of “creative violence”. If one has not arrived at a sense of moral complexity after one has been fully apprenticed in moral simplicity, one’s use of profanity is simply an expression of nihilism not creative violence.

Adults have a collective responsibility to uphold certain pockets of time and space where a certain “moral simplicity” upheld for the benefit of kids and for benefit of people’s moral development with a value for a bedrock of moral simplicity. All adults have this responsibility to uphold these pockets of time and space and all adults are in some way role models. Saying “I’m not a role model” is not an option. This is part of what it means that “it takes a village to raise a child”. It is not OK for adults to have unlimited license to “piss in the pool we swim in” -- to act like jerks in our society where kids may be present and then simply punt responsibility to the parents.

Yes, there need to be pockets of time and space for adults to have full license to be “creatively violent” and have permission to use profanity. But this space is not unlimited. It is also true that parents to have a great responsibility. However, requiring parents to monitor what their children watch and listen to in a day and age that doesn’t care about public decency is to require that parents go to extreme lengths to cloister their kids. No man, nor home, is an island and no home can vacuum seal out the indecency of the culture. To not care about “fleeting indecency” is to help advance what Gil Reevil, the author of Smut, calls an “unchangeable channel”. And the herculean effort required to try to shield one’s kids from the flood of indecency has its own consequences, leaving kids with less room to explore and play in the world.

To address those who would make the comparison of a child hearing profanity on the radio/TV vs. to a child walking in on Mommy and Daddy having sex, this is a disingenuous comparison. It is very different for a child to accidentally bump into the adult world than to have the adult world intrude where kids are because the adults don’t care to begin with. In the former scenario, a boundary is valued and in the latter scenario the boundary is not valued.

As for the First Amendment, the First Amendment clarified a pre-existing moral reality, it did not grant a new right with the authority of the pen. It acknowledged the right that a free people have to speak when they are entrusted with the responsibility to care for the common good. Those who want to argue that it’s their “First Amendment right” to unlimited expression of profanity are using the parchment of the First Amendment as a shield to protect their actions which have no interest in the common good.

It is a reasonable exercise of the common good -- which includes the common good of children -- that the public airwaves have a pocket of time and space from 0600 to 2200 hrs where the value for a certain degree of moral simplicity is required. It is reasonable exercise of the common good to require that outright profanity be prohibited during that time while allowing adult topics to be discussed in a responsible way. --