INCIVILITY REIGNS

Catalyst October Issue 2007, From The President's Desk

William A. Donohue

Entertainment critic Harvey Levin recently tried to convince Bill O’Reilly that the current wave of coarseness in our culture wasn’t entirely new; he made the point that there were plenty of examples of incivility in the 1920s, etc. O’Reilly wasn’t buying it: he replied that back then they didn’t celebrate such in-your-face assaults on our sensibilities. O’Reilly was right—things have changed, and not for the better.

There have always been young entertainers and actresses who have lived a tortured life, but the wholesale fixation on Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears has no rival. What passes as comedy these days is equally troubling, the contribution of Kathy Griffin being the latest entry (see the next page for the story). Sure, there have been actors and actresses who have used an awards ceremony to make political pitches, but the use of vulgarities—aimed at Jesus, no less—is not typical.

The problem extends beyond the world of the Kathy Griffins. When foul-mouthed bigots like her are warmly received by Hollywood, it is a cultural marker of dramatic proportions. She could not get away with using an obscenity to bash Hillary Clinton, never mind Muhammad. But Jesus is fair game among our cultural elites.

And when we protest, the elites go mad. When we published the e-mail address of Tim Curtis, Griffin’s agent at William Morris, he went bonkers. What upset him was the avalanche of e-mails he received from Catholic League members and friends. He begged us to take his name off our news release, which we promptly refused to do, and complained that he was “personally offended by the verbal attacks of the ‘good christians’ from your group [the Catholic League].”

I responded, “Your complaint about the verbal attacks from ‘good Christians’ is such a whine. You didn’t even have the decency to criticize her [Griffin's] vulgar comment and yet you think we should be upset because some on our side are using foul language? As they say in the schoolyard, what goes around, comes around. You’re lucky you’re dealing with Catholics—we just protest with words.”

Remember how earlier in the year we protested a movie that was shown at a film festival that featured 12-year-old Dakota Fanning being raped? Well, Fox News film critic Roger Friedman reports that at the Toronto Film Festival, held in September, a movie was shown, “Nothing is Private,” that went beyond Fanning’s “Hounddog.” He slammed the movie for its “graphic depiction of sexual, mental and physical child abuse that verges quite literally on kiddie porn.”

Never has Hollywood made films like these, and never have there been comedians like Sarah Silverman who repeatedly make jokes about abortion. She is hardly the first to do so—at a football game between Columbia and Fordham a few years back, the Columbia fans joked about partial-birth abortion during a half-time performance. Just as sick was the sight of religious leaders in Chicago who assembled on September 12 to pray in support of Planned Parenthood.

Brian K. Mahoney edits Chronogram, an edgy magazine for the bohemian types who populate some upstate New York communities. In a recent edition he favorably commented on a skit featuring actors dressed as Catholic schoolgirls. After the actors stripped down to their underwear, Mahoney discussed what happened next. “Communion wafers, cigarettes, and a chalice were all employed as props in a piece that ended with a profane reenactment of the crucifixion.” And how did the audience react? “The crowd hooted and roared.”

The late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned against “defining deviance down,” by which he meant what happens when deviance becomes normalized. Not only does outrage dissipate, what passes as uncivil becomes more and more gross. In other words, our tolerance for indecency abets more vile expressions of it. The evidence abounds that Moynihan was right.

But it would be wrong to conclude that our cultural elites have no standards at all—they just have different ones. Here’s proof. When I was on TV discussing Kathy Griffin’s remark, I mentioned that Imus got fired for calling black girls “nappy-headed ho’s,” and Michael Richards was banished for calling blacks “niggers.” CNN bleeped me—the so-called “N-word” violated its standards. Curiously, Griffin’s obscene remark about Jesus did not.

Our side has no choice but to continue the fight. Were it not for the Catholic League, Griffin’s comment would have been aired during the Emmy Awards and Dakota Fanning’s “Hounddog” would have been picked up by a distributor and shown in local theaters. So we are having an effect.

Our next big battle—”The Golden Compass”—promises to be a real test. Not content to confine atheism to the academy, today’s militant atheists want to get to the kids. Believe me, we will do everything in our power to stop them. This will be one fight you won’t want to miss.


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Written by Bill