New and Threatening Becomes Acceptable and Mainstream
Recently I have been thinking about the cultural process whereby something that initially is perceived as dangerous to society ultimately becomes a part of the cultural mainstream. New is often perceived as threatening. Its newness is not understood, so if it canâ€™t be understood and fit into the status quo then it must be bad.
This thinking was triggered several weeks ago when reading an editorial in The Economist about the need for an age-rating for video games similar to the age ratings of the motion picture industry. The thrust of the article was that something new is not necessarily bad and in need of banning, it just might need some social rating system. The article mentioned some past cultural innovations that were initially regarded as bad or even evil.
In the 18th century there was something that began to get wide acceptance that alarmed those that populate the status quo. It was thought that it would poison the mind, corrupt the morals of the young, letting them immerse themselves in dangerous worlds of fantasy. What was it? The novel.
In the early part of the 19th century, waltzing was condemned as a cultural phenomenon that encouraged promiscuity. In the early 20th century motion pictures were called evil and destructive of social interchange. Those of us who are baby boomers can vaguely remember when Rock and Roll was something that would turn young people into â€œdevil worshippersâ€.
As a parent I remembered all of this as my son grew up through his teen age years as an avid player of video games. While the games held no great appeal to me, I let him show me what so absorbed him. I was concerned that video games might not be the best use of his time or that it might be making him less socially integrated. I did not however tell him that they were bad, only that they had to be integrated time wise into the rest of his life.
Politicians, though they donâ€™t intend to, certainly help us realize when something new is not as bad as they lead us to believe. I remember when a certain Senator from New York came out against â€˜violent video gamesâ€™ and suggested that our youth be protected from them. She was not the only politician who had climbed on the moral outrage bandwagon concerning video games. Politicians are always self described protectors of â€˜family valuesâ€™, because they think it gets them votes. What struck me about this politicianâ€™s stance was that here was a politician who complained about our 18 year olds being subjected to fantasy violence in video games at the same time supporting 18 year olds going to kill people in Iraq using real violence.
In the 1950s the same politicians that were calling Rock and Roll the music of devil worshippers were ones that thought nuking tens of millions of people because they were communists was a perfectly acceptable moral ground on which to stand. When John Lennon made the accurate â€” and critical â€” analysis of pop culture by saying that, unfortunately the Beatles were better known that Jesus, the politicians and religious leaders whipped their constituents and parishioners into a frenzy of record burning. So when politicians or self-aggrandizing preachers speak to their constituents about the new evil of_______________, you can almost rest assured that decades later, what was so evil will become an acceptable part of the mainstream.
It is humorous that what was creating devil worshippers we now listen to in elevators and at Super Bowl halftime shows. Have we all become lovers of Satan? It is amusing that films were going to destroy social interchange; how many animated discussions have you had recently about films you loved? So when a politician starts ranting about the violence of video games, ask them what they think about Iraq, global warming and universal health care. Then, when they start their shucking and jiving, tell them to come back to you with their moralizing about the new evil on the cultural horizon once they have tackled the issues that affect the health and well being of all of us.