Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths…Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out-of-place…” — Ephesians 4:29 and 5:4
Over this past weekend, while flipping through the channels, my wife happened upon a program that piqued her interest. It seemed to be a documentary on crime in San Francisco during the nineteenth century. Initially, the content of the program was informative. At the point in the show where we came in, an expert on the history of San Francisco was being interviewed. She was describing the early inhabitants of San Francisco, indicating that the population was overwhelmingly male.
We then heard the voice-over narrator glibly describe that era of San Francisco society as a “sausage fest”. I was only half paying attention because I was checking my email. But within his next few sentences, the narrator got my full attention as he used the phrase “ass to elbows” to describe the crowded conditions, and the term “ballsy” to describe aggressive attitudes and behaviors required to survive in that environment. I was outraged. My wife immediately changed the channel.
What we had been watching was a re-run of Hidden City Crime Files, hosted by Marcus Sakey, and produced by the Travel Channel. Common sense would lead me to believe that the Travel Channel audience consists primarily of individuals who like to travel or at least are interested in the variety of destinations available to those who can afford it. That presupposes a class of people who have money, education or both, which in turn, assumes a certain level of maturity. But rather than use language appropriate to such an audience, the narration was at a high school to early twenties “street” vocabulary level. Is that iPhone-texting generation even aware of the Travel Channel?
I found myself wondering how a writer could be paid to write such a script, or how a narrator could agree to read it. I wondered if colleges teach decent vocabulary any more. Anyone can use gutter language, but the foundation of a good education is a good vocabulary. An education is supposed to enable a writer or speaker to express an idea with clarity of understanding, and in a socially acceptable way. But, apparently, coarseness is not considered offensive in today’s culture, but rather, the norm. Many writers and producers apparently consider the standards of previous generations as passe and irrelevant. It’s as if they are saying, “Who cares that they don’t like our use of language? They’ll all die soon anyway. It’s our world now.”
I learned that Marcus Sakey is a considerably qualified writer. He has authored five best-selling novels, and the Chicago Tribune called him, “the new reigning prince of crime fiction” (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-02-16/entertainment/0802140137_1_crime-fiction-gang-brian-freeman). So, for me, the real shocker isn’t that the narration for Hidden City Crime Files contained crude language, but that Sakey actually made a conscious choice to write it that way. He intentionally was trying to create a low, seamy characterization of San Francisco society, in order to dramatize it as an incubator of crime.
Sakey’s choice was to be salacious in his word choice, something that may be appropriate in a novel, but certainly not in a documentary. Individuals who purchase crime fiction novels know what to expect. But the expectations of general audiences toward the Travel Channel are nothing of that kind. Sakey’s “sausage fest” comment was not only salacious, but opinionated, with no historical documentation to substantiate it. Describing nineteenth century San Francisco as a hot bed of rampant homosexual behavior is solely a product of his own prurient perspective, based on the political correctness of the present.
Just as in Brokeback Mountain, the reality of social mores of times past were swept aside, and contemporary sexual views were unceremoniously projected onto a people long dead — a people steeped in Biblical values, living in a society whose laws reflected the accepted standard, that homosexuality was not just a sin, but a crime. While sexual perversion has always occurred, back then it was considered an aberration. When it did occur, it was done in fear and shame, always hidden in the shadows, because if the facts became known, perpetrators would be humiliated, jailed or worse.
It’s not that writers today are uneducated or unintelligent, it’s that too often they assume and foster the kinds of attitudes that have always been associated with the unthinking classes. And by so doing, they are teaching people not to think, as opposed to writers of the past, whose driving purpose was to stimulate thought. To me, regardless of how rich or successful they become, writers who opt for the low, the dark and the dirty — when the exalted, the brilliant and clean are just as available — are nothing more than mental pigs.
It is not just filth that makes them pigs, but the dumbing down of their audience. In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, it was the pigs — “the cleverest of the animals” — who ran the farm with their cunning deceit. “With their superior knowledge it was natural that they should assume the leadership.” These most clever ones produced such memorable wisdom as, “If Comrade Napoleon [the “Leader”] says it, it must be right,” and “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
In that story, the pigs gained more and more influence as the rest of the animals let them do all the thinking for them — a relatively easy thing to do, in the case of “dumb” animals. If you’ve read the story, you know that what began as lies, designed to manipulate the ignorant majority, inexorably led to the merciless, despotic control of all the animals by the pigs. And whether or not you understand the allegory, the tyranny of pigs is only made possible by dumbing everyone down.
To the extent that writers today are doing this, they are playing the part of mental pigs — regardless of their so-called qualifications. And to the extent that society accepts their coarse gutter language, we are letting ourselves be dumbed down in order to accept the tyrannical control of our lives by ruthless liars.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. — Ephesians 5:11-12
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. — Colossians 3:1-2
You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. — Matthew 12:34