Cultural Coarsening Update

Channel-surfing yielded up “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart the other day. His guest was former network newsman and conservative author Bernard Goldberg, who was promoting his new book “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.” For the record, the list ranges from Paris Hilton’s parents and Jerry Springer to Eminem and Howard Stern. I like Goldberg.

Timing is everything, I thought.

Stewart, however, treated Goldberg with disdain and flippantly dismissed his “coarsening of the culture” thesis. Washington was the problem, sniffed Stewart, not Hollywood — as if the proposition were either/or.

But, on balance, I rationalized, still better than having landed on BET videos.

The following morning I picked up one of my daily newspapers – the St. Petersburg Times — and digested a quick cultural update. It included ponderings on gratuitously violent, sexually explicit video games, questions about the venue for the “Anger Management” hip-hop concert and commentary on Sen. John McCain’s cameo in the racy, R-rated “Wedding Crashers.”

And then I saw a movie review of “The Devil’s Rejects” by Times’ film critic Steve Persall. It could have been Exhibit A for what Goldberg had been trying to talk about while being interrupted and pre-empted by Stewart. The rating was R: for “pervasive, sadistic violence, harsh profanity, nudity, sexual situations.” Grade: “A-“.

One can only wonder what criterion shortfall kept “The Devil’s Rejects” from an unconditional “A”. Lackluster impalings? Bland hurlage? Discreet sex?

Here’s the review’s lead paragraph: “Hands down (or chopped off), the best horror movie in decades is Rob Zombie’s “The Devil’s Rejects,” a ruthlessly violent, viciously entertaining blood feast. Not since “Leatherface” first swung his chain saw has anyone spewed such a delirious obscenity against human nature onto the screen. If there’s such a thing as a vile classic, this is it.”

To re-iterate: “A-“.

Granted, I haven’t seen the film, nor do I plan to – even with the “vile classic” allure and the tease of “delirious obscenity.” I was burned a couple of years ago by the “Blair Witch” hoax and film critics’ confusion of amateur production with cinema verite. Neither am I swayed by Ebert & Roeper’s irrational “Two thumbs up” exuberance for “The Devil’s Rejects.” I just assume those two thumbs were up their celluloid keisters.

If not being personally privy to cultural flotsam undermines my credibility, I’ll live with it.

But I think this sort of fawning, establishment praise – not just acceptance – is a function of the cultural coarsening that Goldberg almost spoke out against on “The Daily Show.”Timing is everything.

And these are the times we’re living through.

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