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The Real Twilight Zone

By Russ Smith | Posted 12/15/2004

I look forward to the time, perhaps in the next year or two, when disappointed Democrats and sore-winner Republicans will turn their attention to more pressing issues in the United States than the temperature of pop culture.

In the past week, representing the pious, blinkered right wing was New York University professor Herbert London, writing in The Sun (Dec. 12) mourning the loss of sitcom caricatures of women like June Cleaver, the self-deprecating spouse featured on Leave it to Beaver more than 40 years ago. In her stead, London writes, “In television land, this wholesome woman has been transformed into a character from Desperate Housewives—women who are narcissistic, adulterous, and generally oblivious to their children.” London predicts the United States “is in the throes of a cultural revolution whose emphasis is on the abandonment of traditions.”

Demonstrating that he’s been asleep since about 1965, one of London’s prescriptions for cleansing the imaginary cultural decay is this howler: “Despite some reservations I have about the conversion of books into film, the manner and courtship practices in the Jane Austen novels converted into movies could serve as models of appropriate behavior.” Hell, why not bring back the scarlet letter for women who have sex before marriage?

Frank Rich, kibitzing for the left wing, argues in his Dec. 12 New York Times column that the “country has entered a new cultural twilight zone.” Equally out of touch and condescending, Rich’s prime evidence of this intolerable state is that New York’s local PBS station, WNET, cancelled a promo for the current biopic Kinsey, an inoffensive, overly-earnest film that’s currently drawing large crowds to art houses. Rich’s column, headlined “The Plot Against Sex in America,” implausibly predicts that even in blue states, religious zealots will successfully convince citizens that the don’t-ask-don’t-tell sexual mores of the early-to-mid 20th century should once again prevail.

Rich frets about the right-wing “crowd”: “Empowered by that Election Day ‘moral values’ poll result”—largely discredited by now, as pollsters have explained that moral values” were, depending on phrasing, a main issue in Bill Clinton’s two White House victories—“it is pressing for a whole host of second-term gifts from the Bush administration: further rollbacks of stem-cell research, gay civil rights, pulchritude sightings at NFL games and, dare I say it aloud, reproductive rights for women.”

London and Rich both ought to be hosed down. In the former’s fertile imagination, a national holiday honoring the recently deceased Ol’ Dirty Bastard is just around the corner. As for Rich, he all but says that gay Americans will soon be imprisoned for engaging in sexual acts that are nobody else’s business.

In fact, there is no cultural “revolution,” but rather the same evolution that’s led from Elvis to hip-hop, Ozzie and Harriet to Sex and the City, the rhythm method to any number of contraceptives. Gay marriage is inevitable, and, given the media’s attention, church attendance might spike. The culture adapts, it doesn’t enter a “Twilight Zone” because a born-again president was re-elected.

What’s more troubling than the trifling debate over entertainment, at least to me, is the absurd controversy over legalizing “medicinal marijuana.” Never mind that pot ought to be nationally decriminalized at the very least—it’s less dangerous than alcohol and probably tobacco, and would decrease the prison population—and perhaps even legalized. Denying patients who suffer from cancer and glaucoma, for example, is cruel. More than 20 years ago, my mother was dying from brain cancer and in intermittent pain from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She asked me to get her some marijuana—an idea that previous to her illness would have been incomprehensible—and I did. It wasn’t likely that my mother’s introduction to an illegal drug would lead to the “harder stuff.”

Equally disturbing is the reaction to incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) racist remarks about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the Dec. 5 edition of Meet the Press. Reid praised Antonin Scalia’s intelligence, and then said of Thomas, without evidence: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written.” Does anyone think that if Thomas, a black conservative, was, say, a pro-choice liberal, that Reid would offer the same assessment?

In a Dec. 10 editorial that’s indicative of the left wing’s mindset, The New York Times chastised Reid not for his unsubstantiated dismissal of Thomas, but for suggesting he might support Scalia as a replacement for Chief Justice William Rehnquist. This attitude is truly Twilight Zone material.

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