America is good at making practical compromises, and one of the compromises we've made in the area of arts and entertainment is captured in the words "We don't care what you do in New York." That was said to me years ago by a social conservative who was explaining that he and his friends don't wish to impose their cultural sensibilities on a city that is uninterested in them, and that the city, in turn, shouldn't impose its cultural sensibilities on them. He was speaking metaphorically; "New York" meant "wherever the cultural left happily lives."
For years now, without anyone declaring it or even noticing it, we've had a compromise on television. Do you want, or will you allow into your home, dramas and comedies that, however good or bad, are graphically violent, highly sexualized, or reflective of cultural messages that you believe may be destructive? Fine, get cable. Pay for it. Buy your premium package, it's your money, spend it as you like.
But the big broadcast networks are for everyone. They are free, they are available on every television set in the nation, and we watch them with our children. The whole family's watching. Higher, stricter standards must maintain.
This was behind the resentment at the Adam Lambert incident on ABC in November. The compromise was breached. It was a broadcast network, it was prime time, it was the American Music Awards featuring singers your 11-year-old wants to see, and your 8-year-old. And Mr. Lambert came on and—again, in front of your children, in the living room, in the middle of your peaceful evening—uncorked an act in which he, in the words of various news reports the next day, performed "faux oral sex" featuring "S&M play," "bondage gear," "same-sex makeouts" and "walking a man and woman around the stage on a leash."
People were offended, and they complained. Mr. Lambert seemed surprised and puzzled. With an idiot's logic that was nonetheless logic, he suggested he was the focus of bigotry: They let women act perverse on TV all the time, so why can't a gay man do it? Fifteen hundred callers didn't see it as he did and complained to ABC, which was negligent but in the end responsive: They changed the West Coast feed and apparently kept Mr. Lambert off "Good Morning America."
Mr. Lambert's act left viewers feeling not just offended but assaulted. Again, "we don't care what you do in New York," but don't include us in it, don't bring it into our homes. Our children are here.
I don't mean to make too much of it. In the great scheme of things a creepy musical act doesn't matter much. But increasingly people feel at the mercy of the Adam Lamberts, who of course view themselves, when criticized, as victims of prudery and closed-mindedness. America is not prudish or closed-minded, it is exhausted. It cannot be exaggerated, how much Americans feel besieged by the culture of their own country, and to what lengths they have to go to protect their children from it.
Make sure you read the whole piece here. But in case you're in a rush, here's her closer:
I'd like to see a poll on this. Yes or no: Have we become a more vulgar country? Are we coarser than, say, 50 years ago? Do we talk more about sensitivity and treat others less sensitively? Do you think standards of public behavior are rising or falling? Is there something called the American Character, and do you think it has, the past half-century, improved or degenerated? If the latter, what are the implications of this? Do you sense, as you look around you, that each year we have less or more of the glue that holds a great nation together? Is there less courtesy in America now than when you were a child, or more? Bonus question: Is "Excuse me" a request or a command?