THE DECLINE AND FALL….Martha Bayles has long been troubled by the modern debasement of American popular culture (rap lyrics, video games, R-rated movies; you know the drill), but a few days ago she seemingly jumped on the Dinesh D’Souza bandwagon in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute. The decline of American culture is no longer merely a domestic issue, she says, it’s something that may be helping us lose the war on terror:
Human beings everywhere are drawn to the freedoms enjoyed in this country. Yet they are also repulsed by what they perceive as our abuse of freedom. This is true of ordinary mortals, not just fanatics. When people, especially young people, in rapidly modernizing societies look at America through the lens of our no-holds-barred popular culture, what they see most glaringly is a passion for personal liberation from tradition, religion, family, and restraint of all kinds. They might be forgiven for missing the part about self-governance.
In the past (at least in the pieces I’ve read), Bayles has limited herself to fairly standard traditionalist critiques of modern culture. Now, though, she seems perilously close to suggesting that we can hardly blame budding terrorists for hating America. After all, we continue to shove their faces in (what they perceive as!) our “abuse of freedom.” No wonder they approve of their compatriots blowing up our skyscrapers.
I wonder if this is a budding new meme in the conservo-sphere? It seems tailor-made for Newt Gingrich, though I don’t think he’s taken it up. (Yet.) (But keep your eye on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page.)
Of course, conservative cultural critics condemning the modern degeneracy of gangsta rap and Grand Theft Auto might want to remember that their critique should sound familiar: it’s exactly the same one that Sayyid Qutb made when he sampled middle-American folkways back in 1949 — the precise point in time that Bayles views as a high point of American popular culture. (Qutb held a rather, um, dimmer view of jazz than Bayles does.) Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.