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is rome burning?
stop fiddling with morality
by robert a. melos
pop culture

I was just getting over the apoplectic shock of being confronted with the sight of Janet Jackson’s bared breast on national television, when ABC had the gall to allow the dreaded “F” word to be spoken 22 times during an airing of a film realistically portraying the horrors of war. Then, in an unprecedented move, ABC slapped the morality police in the face with a shocking promo for Desperate Housewives, a show about the depravity of women who stay home and run the household while their hard working husbands go off and toil to provide for them. As I was staggering out of the stupor created by the lack of morality confronting me on a daily basis every time I turn on my television, I perchance happened across a relaxing basketball game, that erupted in violence usually associated with hockey, college sports, or a Martha Stewart prison break. (Like that won’t happen?)

I don’t understand what is happening to the world. After all, Americans flocked to the polls to vote the most moral man since Jesus Christ into office as president of the United States. How could there be such a lack of morality after George W. Bush was anointed the patron saint of all that is pure and good and moral in America? How, I ask you, have we come to this place in time when sex and violence predominate the airwaves?

Well, maybe we haven’t so much arrived here as we’ve opened our eyes to what’s been there all along? Haven’t we always been a promiscuous society? Haven’t we always been prone to violence?

What? You don’t agree?

Don’t make me go back to Henry VIII and his abuse of the marriage system of his day in order to possess six women, none of whom probably had any feelings other than contempt for him, to demonstrate the over all lack of morality throughout history. Okay, he was from England and I’m speaking of American morality, so I’ll limit myself to American historic morality or lack there of.

Our founding fathers were a ribald bunch to say the least. I seriously doubt if Benjamin Franklin, a man who was known to patronize women of questionable morality, would be offended by the breast of a fortysomething woman that just happened to pop out of her outfit after a wardrobe malfunction, or that Thomas Jefferson would find it offensive to view a scantily clad housewife frolicking about with football players. Jefferson probably wouldn’t even notice the football players once a scantily clad woman diverted his attentions.

I doubt that George Washington would take offense to harsh language being spoken in the course of battle. If we come forward in history, I seriously doubt that Generals Grant or Hooker, or Robert E. Lee for that matter would be offended by nudity or vulgarity in the course of their daily lives. Perhaps Abe Lincoln might be slightly shocked by some of the profanity, but I doubt if he’d be surprised by it. Nor would he be surprised, I think, by two men or two women setting up house together.

Further forward, and I doubt Generals Eisenhower or MacArthur or Patton would blanch at the uttering of the “F” word in a foxhole, and if that uttering were in a film depicting the horrors of war, I doubt it would be given a second thought. Forward more and I doubt John F. Kennedy would be appalled to see a scantily clad woman on television, or offended by a bared breast during a football game. In fact, I think he would very much enjoy the nudity.

So with this history of tolerance and acceptance of humanity as it is in the raw and uncensored course of our daily lives, where the heck did America go wrong? Where did we lose sight of the difference between morality and autocracy? When did it become wrong to accept accidents of the wardrobe malfunction type as simply an accident? When did it become wrong to utter harsh language when faced with death on a daily basis? When did it become wrong for housewives to frolic about in revealing lingerie? Um, okay, so you got me on the housewives one.

Anyway, the point is we as a nation are going too far to put ourselves on a pedestal. We are too prim and proper to view nudity as simply a creation of God, or Goddess, and accept it for its natural beauty. We are too special to have our ears offended by the vulgarity of words deemed obscene, even when used in the context of war and eminent death. We are too politically correct to acknowledge that housewives are sexual creatures just like all other animals on the planet, and they too like the occasional game of grope football.

The American people are not a humble group. Admittedly we are arrogant, and self-righteous, and filled with opinions of “how things ought to be,” but we have to temper our desire to control the actions of every individual as the arrogant and self-righteous usually face a comeuppance of one sort or another. We cannot go on with self-censorship, and puritanical imperatives imparted on all of the people, when half of the people, or more, are not puritanical in mind or spirit.

In our hearts are we more offended by a bare breast or the deaths of hundreds of our young people in a war that can have no end? Is becoming more like the people we are fighting against not defeating the purpose of the war? Democracy offers the people, all the people, a voice. America is trying to stifle the voice of half its citizens through censorship, whether imposed by self, or through intimidation by the FCC.

Perhaps a violent outburst by a few basketball players and a few football players is just a reaction to the feeling of suffocation of self, being placed upon those we expect to perform in a certain manner for our entertainment. Granted the latest controversy is considered morally offensive because our sports figures are supposed to be of a higher caliber and not succumb to the temptations of average men. They should not fight with fans, or be caught taking steroids or snorting cocaine, or raping groupies who throw themselves at the sports figures.

The message we expect from our sports heroes is one of consumerism; a message of signing endorsements for footwear, clothing, viagra, condoms, sports equipment, and hotel chains and airlines. We don’t want to see our sports heroes frolicking with scantily clad housewives, or fighting with fans.

A moral stance must be taken. The question is whose measure of morality do we use? There is a chance that 48% of the people won’t agree with the stance imposed by 51% of the people. How do we say what is moral in a world where lying puts one woman in prison and allows a man to start a war and run a country?

Do the actions of current events mean society is crumbling?

No. It’s just another day. Life goes on, if we let it. If the American public would stop trying to hold back the inevitability of changing times, and stop looking to the rose-colored past of a era that was not all that idyllic for a large portion of the population, perhaps positive changes would occur? Instead of cajoling and intimidating and outright imposing one sense of morality on all of the people it is time to simply accept the progress of society, whether it is into a violent and obscene mob mentality world, or a world of open enlightenment and acceptance of human beings as being capable of great good when given the chance.

We cannot stagnate into a 1950s mindset, when a large portion of our population doesn’t even remember the era other than from what was recorded in movies or on television. It wasn’t an I Love Lucy world, or a Father Knows Best society. Leave It To Beaver was a fantasy of the ideal American family, just as were Ozzie and Harriet.

In order to be representative of all the people, we have to acknowledge all the people, including those like Betty Paige, Elvis Presley, Bette Grable, the camp followers of General Hooker, the forefathers who might’ve enjoyed a flash of skin from an entertainer, and reach a compromise between prudish puritanical pomposity and loose liberal lasciviousness.

Either way, the fighting in basketball is just wrong. Leave violence in hockey where it belongs.


Robert is the author of the novels Cool Mint Blue, Melba Ridge, and the recently released The Adventures of Homosexual Man and Lesbian Lad; and the creator of the on-line comix Impure Thoughts found at his web site Inside R.A. Melos, as well as having been an on-line staff writer for QBliss where he had a monthly humor column, Maybe A Yip, Maybe A Yap. In his non-writing time, when he's not studying the metaphysical or creating a tarot deck, he sells real estate in Middlesex County New Jersey, hangs out with his dog Zeus, and spends time at the Pride Center of New Jersey in Highland Park, NJ, where he is on the Board of Trustees.

more about robert a. melos


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tracey kelley
11.27.04 @ 3:09p

I personally think people are confusing courtesy and manners with morality in general.

These same people who scoff at bad language or a little nudity think nothing of waiting on their children hand and foot and not expecting the children to respect adults, help in the household or do anything of consequence. They don't talk to their children to help them understand the human body and human diversity, but instead buy their "love" and quality time at Kohl's...and expect the television to teach them morals.

Nope. Sorry. Not going to happen.

tracey kelley
11.27.04 @ 3:09p

oops- got a little posty, there.


robert melos
11.27.04 @ 6:00p

Television has taught morality to our youth, unfortunately the violence we are currently seeing is a result of that morality.

Simplistic thought it may seem, didn't we all grow up knowing the Coyote and the Road Runner counld never reach a peace accord? Didn't we grow up knowing that Daffy and Bugs only joined forces against Elmer Fudd when it suited their best interests, and they would turn on each other and sell each other out if that were in their best interests?

I use cartoons as an example because teaching our youth starts that early, and cartoons are what most of modern society can relate to. We all remember Elmer Fudd singing the operatic "Kill the wabbit."

Our parents didn't object to the the subliminal violence, and parents still don't object to violence. Yet sexuality in any form is still uncomfortable for most people because most people aren't comfortable with their sexuality.

I think many parents are more comfortable not talking to their children about anything.

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