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Showbiz runs on schlock, shock, sleeze

So I was walking down the dark city street when I saw this scowling, weird-eyed guy with an artificial metal hand. I stepped back into a doorway and watched him.

He shoved that claw of a hand into his mouth and tore out his teeth and gums. Screaming like an animal, he flung them into the filthy gutter.

At that moment, a beautiful young woman came out of a nearby apartment building.

Blood running from his grotesque mouth down his shirt, the crazed and disfigured man ran toward her. She was too frightened to move.

He threw her to the pavement. Then he ripped off her clothing with that terrible metal hand. Terrified, she tried to shield her naked breasts with her hands.

But with a shout of bestial lust, he tore off his clothes and, stark naked, he lunged toward her and he . . .

And he . . . and he what? Actually, nothing. I made that whole stupid thing up. Took me only a minute and a half, or it would have been far more lurid.

But wasn't it disgusting? Probably the most awful, shocking thing you've ever read in a newspaper.

So why would I write something that creepy-crawly?

Well, we have this national debate going on about violence on TV and in movies. Does it warp the brains of the young? Does it goad the simpleminded into criminal acts? Is all this violence and carnal behavior reducing our collective sense of decency?

You can get an argument either way.

The TV people say, no, it's simply entertainment. Supply and demand. It is what the public wants.

And there is some truth in that. A lot more people will eagerly watch Arnold Schwartzwoozits' latest bloodbath than will attend the local symphony. And Madonna, the national floozie, is a bigger star than anyone currently playing Juliet.

But is there really a demand for trash? Or are the suppliers _ the New York and Hollywood fantasy weavers _ giving us a supply of slop over which we have no control?

And if they are, why? Is there a conspiracy to corrupt our minds, to make us so accepting of violence and sex that we become desensitized to it all?

The answers to these questions are yes, no, maybe and who knows?

To the question of whether the violence is bad for us, of course it is. That applies to all cultural trash _ violent or pornographic TV, movies, books.

See, you can't have it both ways. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is supposed to lift our spirits, enrich our souls. So is Mozart's music, great literature and other powerful and lasting works of art.

Well, if great art is good for us, then real junk has to be bad for us. You can't say that Shakespeare elevates us, but Madonna has no impact. Of course she does. Lord knows how many young ladies aspire to bimbo status due to her influence.

But is there a showbiz conspiracy to muddle our brains, turn our children into little meanies and create a craving for mental garbage?

Nah, there is no conspiracy. It's simply a lack of decency, standards and self-control in show business.

To put it as charitably and fairly as I can, they are mostly a bunch of tasteless scum.

I hope I haven't hurt their feelings, but it's true. They are probably the lowest two-legged creatures outside of penal institutions.

Let's talk about standards.

Have you ever seen the F-word in this newspaper? Or the S-word, the mother-word, the anal-passage-word, or any of the other words and phrases that are common to movie dialogue or the babbling of comedians on cable TV?

No, you haven't, unless a major public figure uses them in public and they are part of a news story. And that rarely happens.

But there is nothing to prevent us from using this language if we chose. I mean, look at the first few sordid paragraphs of today's column. Tasteless, shocking, yes. But completely legal. That's why I wrote them _ to make a point.

There's nothing to prevent us from putting photos of nude women, grimacing with joy, as they sit astride a male companion _ a standard scene in modern movies shown on cable TV.

But because we have professional standards, fuddy-duddies that we are, we don't do these things. You would be amazed at how much time good newspapers spend fretting and sweating over ethics, standards, codes of decency and political correctness. I'm surprised I've lasted this long.

This makes us dull, I suppose. And maybe some day there won't be a good paper left in this country. It isn't easy competing for the attention of those who sit slack-jawed and glassy-eyed in front of MTV.

Newspapers have traditional standards of decency. They aren't imposed by any legislative body, judge or federal agency. We don't need anyone to tell us not to be slobs. (Okay, there are a few exceptions: I have my weaknesses.)

But in the worlds of movies, schlock TV and shock radio, there are no standards. If glop draws a big audience, hikes ratings and makes a big buck, it has met the ethical standards of the movie and TV industries.

Of course, the people in TV and movies will tell you that by churning out violence and soft porn, they are simply giving the public _ from children to geezers _ what we want.

I don't buy that. I think they are giving us what is easy to make and market. And eventually, we start to believe that is society's standard and what we want.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we are really a society of tasteless boobs.

If so, keep your passport up to date.

Chicago Tribune