Civil Liberties


Can Steve Allen rescue America from moral decay?


Want to know just how serious

America's moral decay problem

(not to be confused with the

nation's tooth decay problem,

which has largely been

eradicated thanks to

International Communism's twin

legacies of water fluoridation

and Trident gum) really is?

Well, chew on this: Things have

gotten so serious that Steve

Allen — yes, that Steve

Allen, the "multi-talented

comedian, writer, composer,

lyricist, actor, concert artist,

lecturer (ad infinitum) … tall

(6'3″), 200-pound man," as his

official Friars Club bio

modestly puts it — has

agreed to step in and

Roto-Rooter the stopped-up

septic tank that is American

popular culture.

"TV Is Leading Children Down A

Moral Sewer" Allen shouts in a

widely circulated newspaper ad

paid for by a group called the

Parents Television Council. "Are

you as disgusted as I am at the

filth, vulgarity, sex and

violence TV is sending into our

homes?" asks "the producer of

the award-winning PBS-TV network

series Meeting of Minds, a 'talk

show' with some of history's

most significant figures" and

the man whose own "clear and

open mind enables him to move

lightly from the most complex

subjects to nutty comedy."

"Are you fed up with steamy

unmarried sex situations, filthy

jokes, perversion, vulgarity,

foul language, violence,

killings etc.?" queries the

"creator of The Tonight Show and

The Steve Allen Show" and the author

of Steve Allen on the Bible,

Religion and Morality; Murder in

Vegas; The Murder Game; Hi-Ho,

Steverino!; and More Steve Allen

on the Bible, Religion &


Breathe easy, America.

"Steverino" — whom the

Friars Club usefully reminds us

is "the composer of the

background score of the MGM film

A Man Called Dagger, and yet the

same man who wrote and produced

an award-winning TV documentary

on organized crime" — has

agreed to get on our case. "We

Want It Stopped!" demands Allen,

and asks that parents and

grandparents send angry coupons

to the Parents Television

Council. In turn, the council

will "total the number received

and notify the sponsors" so they

"KNOW that we, their customers,

are angry and we want them to

stop sponsoring sex, filth,

violence and sleaze … and

instead put their ad dollars in

the kinds of decent, family-safe

programs that are getting huge


Hi-Ho, indeed. We should be

nothing less than grateful that

such a towering presence —

who uses his brain "like a mine

on a 24-hour-a-day digging

schedule, finding ideas

literally while waking and

sleeping" — stoops to sweep

up after our own messy freak

parade like a clown trailing

after elephants. After all, as

Allen — "the actor who

starred in

Universal-International's The

Benny Goodman Story… the same

man whose poems have appeared in

Atlantic Monthly and Saturday

Review… the composer of more

than 5,200 songs … [and] the

same man who wrote the popular

novel Not All of Your Laughter,

Not All of Your Tears"

himself stresses, "I'm always

busy … but … I rarely occupy

myself with things that bug me."

In fact, Steve openly boasts of

the sort of Sybil-like, manic,

frenetic, and schizophrenic

activity that would have

garnered a lesser man — Jack

Paar, perhaps — immediate

hospitalization at a

star-studded Southern California

giggle academy: "Allen has been

known to work on more than fifty

different projects — all at

the same time. At last count, he

had approximately 20 books,

short stories, plays, musicals,

motion picture properties in the

works, not to mention his almost

daily output of songs…. Allen

has small tape-recorders

everywhere: in his pockets, in

the bathroom, by his bed, in his

car. This system supplies the

raw material for the numerous

Allen activities."

Juxtaposing Allen's apocalyptic

newspaper jeremiad with his

hyperbolic Friars Club bio

provides more than just the sort

of "decent, family-safe"

entertainment lauded by the man

who nonetheless continues to

answer the oft-asked question,

Did you discover Steve Lawrence

and Eydie Gormé? with the

smutty rejoinder, "Yes, in the

back seat of a car." It also

highlights the delusional and

self-serving nature of many

similar attacks on popular


For instance, no one would

dispute that, over the past two

decades, the number of

"unmarried sex situations" —

steamy, clammy, or simply moist

— on TV has increased at an

even greater rate than Allen's

musical output ("he continues to

create highly melodic numbers at

the rate of about 40 per

month"). But, pace the author of

Dumbth, a "national bestselling

social commentary on the state

of U.S. education," the

correlation with underage sex

seems to be inverse, not


Indeed, even National Review,

America's self-proclaimed

official "conservative magazine"

and unofficial sponsor of the

ever-imminent Day of Reckoning,

has had to grant that kids these

days are having less sex. "The

statistics are reassuring," says

Amy M. Holmes in the 13

September issue. "Just last

year, the Centers for Disease

Control reported that, for the

first time in decades, more than

half of America's high-school

students described themselves as

virgins…. The rate of sexual

activity among 17- to

19-year-old boys in urban areas

declined from 75 percent in 1979

to 68 percent in 1996. Over the

same period, the proportion of

young men who approved of

nonmarital sex fell from 80

percent to 71 percent." (Holmes

asserts that "while the

statistics may be improving,

sexual practices among teenagers

are becoming increasingly

dehumanizing" and points to the

popularity of the Backstreet

Boys, middle-school kids who she

says are joining "oral-sex

rings" more readily than the

Webelos and Campfire Girls, and

college students who actually

consider "intercourse a big, big

deal" to support her thesis.)

Similarly dubious is Steverino's

appeal to "overwhelming evidence

that violent entertainment

causes violent behavior." Even

the folks behind rigged

documents such as The UCLA

Television Violence Report and

The National Television Violence

Study, both of which were

carried out under congressional

pressure and both of which

supported regulating TV content,

don't buy into that. Though the

studies, which looked at the

1994 to 1995 broadcast and cable

seasons, were often taken as

providing irrefutable proof that

TV violence causes real-world

violence, they actually said

something significantly

different: "Televised violence,"

wrote the NTVS people, "does not

have a uniform effect on

viewers. The outcome of media

violence on viewers depends both

on the nature of the depictions

and the sociological and

psychological makeup of the

audience." Said the UCLA

researchers: "It should never be

suggested that television alone

is a sufficient cause."

Allen's claim that "homicide

rates doubled in 10 to 15 years

after TV was first introduced

into specific areas of the U.S.

and Canada" is even dicier.

Whether the "television comedian

of forty years' standing who has

written a scholarly treatise on

migratory farm labor titled The

Ground Is Our Table, which sold

over 25,000 copies" is aware of

it or not, he's citing work done

by University of Washington

psychiatrist Brandon S.

Centerwall. Looking at homicide

rates between 1945 and 1974 in

Canada, the United States, and

South Africa (which didn't get TV

until 1975), Centerwall found that

rates among whites went up over

90 percent in the TV-rich North

American countries while they

declined 7 percent in good ol'

segregated South Africa.

Centerwall fingered TV as the

real culprit — a finding he

felt was further supported by

the fact that white homicide

rates in South Africa jumped

over 130 percent from 1975 to

1987, after TV took hold there.

Let's forget all the potentially

confounding variables — such

as whether the rise in killing

whitey in South Africa is best

attributed to watching Three's

Company and Murder, She Wrote

or to increased dissatisfaction

with apartheid — and point

out that Centerwall's data says

nothing about the particular

kinds of shows being broadcast.

If it did, then Steverino might

have some explaining — even

apologizing — to do. After

all, he was, by his own account,

all over TV in the '50s and

'60s, even giving air time to

such "filthy" and "sexy" figures

as Jack Kerouac (who went on to

inspire more bad rock odes than

any other single

phlebitis-ridden author) and

Lenny Bruce (who has also

inspired bad rock odes and whose

one unambiguously funny bit

occurred off-camera, when he

overdosed on the crapper).

We might end this discussion by

questioning Allen's canard about

getting sponsors to "put their

ad dollars in the kinds of

decent, family-safe programs

that are getting huge ratings."

The man lucky enough to be

"married for 39 years to the

beautiful and versatile actress

Jayne Meadows" might want to

consider this: That's already

happening. Just as there is more

prurient, sex-charged, and

violent fare available, there

is, in fact, more decent,

family-safe programming

available than ever before. Not

simply gag-inducing prime-time

slop like Seventh Heaven and

Touched by an Angel or

Nickelodeon's TV Land or several

channels of often entertaining

Christian Rock videos. Filling

out that vast and growing

Dune-like wasteland that is

broadcast, cable, and satellite

TV are reruns of everything from

The Dick Van Dyke Show to Lassie

to Little House on the Prairie.

But perhaps therein lies the rub

for the fellow who once, "in the

sight of over 200 witnesses in

the lobby of a Kalamazoo,

Michigan hotel, wrote a total of

400 songs in one day … and in

1986 … provided twelve songs

for an Ann Jillian album." (Yes,

that Ann Jillian!) He can't

simply be happy to fill his

personal small-screen with shows

he deems inoffensive; he must

try to limit others' choices.

There's a logic there, but it's

not exactly selfless. After all,

as the fossilized name droppings

in his bio — e.g., "Andy

Williams … Louis Nye, Don

Knotts, Tom Poston, the Smothers

Brothers, Don Adams, Bill Dana,

Jim Nabors, Jackie Vernon …

Jonathan Winters, Tim Conway,

Lou Rawls, Jackie Mason, Miriam

Makeba" — all too readily

suggest, in a world of

ever-proliferating entertainment

options, the composer of "This

Could Be the Start of Something

Big," however prolific, is going

to have trouble getting any

attention at all.

Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason. This story originally appeared in Suck, and can be viewed in that format here.