Can anyone who has lived long enough (60 plus years) doubt that American culture has changed dramatically in the past half century? Can anyone who has watched television for a half century or more doubt it?
I well remember when Soviet Union premier Khrushchev pounded his fist (some say his shoe!) on the podium at the United Nations and declared “We will bury you!”—speaking to and about “the West,” especially the USA. He didn’t mean in a war; he meant in terms of decadence, cultural decay—something he accused the USA of. He meant that we, the USA and western societies generally, were in such cultural decline that we will inevitably fall.
Well, as we all know, the Soviet Union fell first and mainly for economic reasons. Is it about to rise again? Only time will tell.
But back to the USA. What does “decadent” mean? It comes from the same root word as “decay” and means being in a state of decay. From almost any religious point of view, anyway, it seems that our society is decadent, in a state of decay. Hedonism, extreme individualism, crime (e.g., mass shootings and police brutality), alcohol and drug addiction, extreme political division, intensity of so-called “culture wars,” loss of moral compass, hopelessness about the future, cynicism, homelessness, widening gap between the rich and the poor…all seem to be symptoms of cultural, societal decadence.
After Khrushchev, another Russian declared the USA decadent. At first Alexander Solzhenitsyn was hailed by most Americans, including especially social-political progressives, as a hero for his criticisms of communism and the Soviet Union and for his exile to the USA. But then he dared to criticize our culture and society for its decadence, especially its loss of true spirituality, belief in transcendence, even practical atheism. Suddenly he was in “inner exile” here. He died in virtual oblivion. He was a prophet to America as he had been a prophet to the Soviet Union.
Is it too late to turn America around? I think it is. Only God could do that and since God is real, anything is possible. But America has changed so dramatically in my life time, sometimes for the better but often for the worse, that I have no real hope. After all, America was never guaranteed a future by God. Augustine’s “The City of God” is still relevant. No earthly human “kingdom” or “empire” is God’s City. All can die out or simply change so drastically that they are no longer what they once were.
There was a time when the vast majority of Americans believed that sex outside of marriage was sin, that promiscuous sex was wrong, that “doing whatever feels right” is not okay, that we should respect the law except when it is blatantly oppressive to groups of people, that believing in something or someone greater than ourselves, the “God” in whom “we trust,” existed and should be respected and obeyed, that some values and virtues are more than human creations, that there are absolutes of right and wrong, that extreme vulgarity and obscenity are bad. What has happened? When did things change? How? Why?
Of course there are still enclaves of the older America within our borders, places where what I described above are still the norm. But television reveals the change. Now, with streaming services repeating older television programs and movies, we can compare the changes.
I admit it. I watch “The Big Bang Theory” because its just plain funny. But what I wonder is on what the rules about sex are based? Apparently, it’s very wrong for people to have sex outside of a “going steady as a couple” relationship when such a relationship exists. But why? What if you don’t get caught? It’s still wrong—apparently. Again, but why? I also watch the series “Parenthood.” I have the same question. Why is it wrong (on the show, among the characters) to have sex outside a relationship (e.g., boyfriend-girlfriend going steady, engagement, marriage) but okay to “sleep around.” One leading character congratulates her sister-in-law for having a “one night stand” with a near stranger while she is still married—because she and her husband are temporarily separated. (The husband has not cheated on his wife.) The intention of the writers SEEMS to be that it was okay because it made her, the wife, feel good and be happy. On the other hand, she is shown to regret it. However, throughout the seasons, even teenagers are shown having sex set to romantic music.
Talk about confusion! There seem to be some rules, but the over riding one is “Do what makes you happy” and “Do what makes you feel good.” I have gone back and watched quite a few episodes of sitcoms and dramas from the 1960s through the 1980s and such confusion about sex is not nearly as flagrant.
How long will it be before “cheating on” one’s spouse is portrayed as a good thing—on TV and in movies—so long as it feels good? That already happened in “Parenthood” (with Julia cheating on Joel). Is that not social-cultural decadence? What would “decadence” mean—if not that?
Am I just an old fogey? Maybe. I’m okay with that if that means I believe there are transcendent norms of right and wrong behavior and that we, as a society, used to at least praise adherence to them and not celebrate their violations.