Dems' Boob Tube Dilemma


What do the Democrats need to do to win back the White House, etc? One answer is to woo married parents–who preferred Bush to Kerry by 20 percentage points last fall–by being more like idiot Republicans when it comes to attacks on pop culture:

"Democrats will not do better with married parents until they recognize one simple truth: Parents have a beef with popular culture. As they see it, the culture is getting ever more violent, materialistic, and misogynistic, and they are losing their ability to protect their kids from morally corrosive images and messages."

So says Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, lead author of study put out by the Progressive Policy Institute, as quoted by the Washington Times. Go here for the PPI study and here for the Times story.

Dafoe Whitehead is most famous for announcing "Dan Quayle was right" in the pages of the Atlantic some years back. That is, that two-parent, well-functioning households generally provide a better context for kids than single-parent, dysfunctional ones. (I reviewed the book that grew out of that article for Reason here.)

It's TV-Turnoff Week, so I'm going to give a pass on most of this stuff. But the study–which heavily (and erroneously) suggests that "exposing" kids to media violence incites them to commit it in the real world–is light on everything other than attitude. And, surprisingly, '70s nostalgia.

The 1970s now seem like an age of Edenic innocence for kids. Back then, the big primetime television shows were All In the Family, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and the Mary Tyler Moore Show. The Brady Bunch was going strong. Grease, Star Trek, and The Muppet Movie were hits at the box office. Debbie Boone's You Light Up My Life was at the top of the Billboard chart. A transgressive television moment meant showing Mike and Carol Brady in a double bed.

This is a rich rereading of '70s, culture, to be sure. Funny but I remember All in the Family as being the place on broadcast TV where you could go to hear real live curse-words and racial and ethnic epithets–or pretty close to them. I knew kids who weren't allowed to watch it for precisely that reason. I seem to remember the show being both controversial and popular. Sort of like The Sopranos is today, except that Archie Bunker and crew had a vastly larger audience (in absolute and relative terms) and that you have to buy HBO to be exposed to The Sopranos (and every TV, VCR, cable box, and Web browser comes full of tools to screen out offensive shit).

And where does The Bad News Bears, certainly one the most important movies of the '70s (in so much as it undercut traditional gender roles even as it sanctioned adolescent swearing like a motherfucker), fit into Dafoe Whitehead's reverie of a period now mostly remembered as the time when all that was good and decent in American society went down faster than Linda Lovelace in Deep Throat? (That's precisely the argument that David Frum made in How We Got Here.)

And for that matter, how in the world could anyone claim that American pop culture is more misogynistic than it was in the '70s (rest in peace, Andrea Dworkin)? Sure, it might be more graphic, both in terms of sex and violence (though let's not forget that the late '60s and early '70s was an unparalleled period of full-frontal nudity). But more misogynistic? I think not.

What was the message of Grease, a science-fiction musical set in an alternative universe where, judging by the looks of most of the cast, kids go to high school in their 30s or 40s? Out with Sandra Dee and in with slutty, anachronistic spandex outfits, if I'm recalling rightly. And let's not even talk about woman-hating films like Animal House, pretty much everything by Clint Eastwood, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, John Travolta's other massive hit of the decade, Saturday Night Fever, etc., etc., most of which display a casual contempt for the fairer sex that is by and large lacking in today's pop culture.

Which isn't to say that Dems aren't taking the idea of attacking pop culture seriously (who knows, it might even work). As the Times' story documents, Howard Dean is working the angle, as is Hillary Clinton.