Well, the Attorney General was in a no-win situation. The statue was covered, so there was no embarrassing photo, but instead of enduring some mild sniggering, Mr. Ashcroft was excoriated as a puritanical bluenose with no appreciation for the finer things in life (statuary, that is, not undressed women). Let us flash forward to 2018, when the progressive left that was prepared to smirk and scorn at Mr. Ashcroft now seeks to ban the song Baby, It’s Cold Outside, because it is either sexist or encourages bad behavior, etc.
How do we get from ridiculing “censorship” to insisting upon it? Yes, fashions do change. Cole Porter said it best, way back in 1934. “In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, but now, God knows, anything goes.” Ed Sullivan infamously would not show Elvis Presley’s hip-shaking; Lenny Bruce and later George Carlin were pulled from stations because of words they used in their routines; and several very famous radio comedians made a living with suggestive remarks or leers that were shocking in the 1940s but are not today.
It is hard to believe that the culture that endorses, promotes and rewards vile, derogatory lyrics in modern music seeks to stamp out flirtatious or mildly suggestive lyrics from an iconic song written nearly 75 years ago; but it really isn’t that hard to understand, for the “Culture War” is with us always, and whatever side the majority of the population is on at any given time is “wrong” in the eyes of the progressives. If some “family-values” organization objected to Baby It’s Cold Outside on the grounds that it promoted seduction or unwanted advances, the progressive left would react the same way it did to Attorney General Ashcroft – with sarcasm and ridicule.
There was a time, and maybe it continues today, when major movies did not want to receive a “G” rating for fear it would mean the film was somehow not serious or realistic. Studios and filmmakers actually added some words or images to keep the movie on the (im)proper side of a G rating. And let’s not get started on television, for the “adult” programs of the 1950’s, ‘60’s and 70’s seem more “family-friendly” than many of the family-hour shows of today. We don’t have to delineate the differences between a “John Wayne” western and a “modern” type, relative to appearance, language, theme and amount of blood.
Some changes are deserved or overdue - racial stereotypes that were common in movies, songs and culture of the early- to mid-20th century are not acceptable today, and that is as it should be. Moving toward fairness and decency should appeal to us all. But when what once was unacceptable becomes acceptable, and as our culture shifts and tastes change, the “politically correct” assume control. The selective indignation of the politically-correct is the true problem we are confronting. People have been scorned for discouraging radio stations from playing songs because they might not be suitable for children to hear or because the church-going crowd might be upset; but the politically-correct think it is perfectly right not to play the same song because it might “offend” some favored group. “Good authors, too, who once used better words Now only use four-letter words writing prose. Anything goes.”
Well, “anything” might go culturally, but not politically, and although poking fun at middle-class morality will always be with us, political correctness just gets worse.
The legal name of the Federal holiday is “Christmas,” yet that word is seen as offensive by the “right kind” of people. “R” rated movies that almost no one goes to see can get the Oscar nominations today, but somehow a brilliant lyric from 75 years ago in an Oscar-winning film has transformed into a threat to decency. “In God We Trust” may be our National Motto, but there are a great many people today who seek to expunge it from our currency, our police cars, or our schoolrooms.
“The world has gone mad today and good’s bad today and black’s white today and day’s night today. . .” Cole Porter’s lyrics predate Baby It’s Cold Outside by ten years, and we perforce see the past in the eyes of the present, but we also must remember that true intelligence includes the ability to draw distinctions. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and being stumbled over.” In many cases we have lost the ability to make honest distinctions, and we have to be careful not to allow “present-mindedness” to make something from decades ago into something it was not, and is not.