Sadly for those of us trying to raise children, we live in an era in which the boundaries for polite behavior seem to have vanished. In no other era in modern times would popular culture be bombarded with this kind of stuff:
- A presidential administration that is so foul-mouthed, its obscenities alone are newsworthy.
- Newscasters on a major media outlet using crude sexual terminology to describe a purely political protest regarding taxes.
- A 50-something female television personality coming on to a young man (which was funny in an embarrassing way, but also grossly inappropriate).
- Two women kissing on a major awards show.
- A half dressed man grinding his bottom onto another man’s face, again on a major awards show.
- Toddlers writhing to images of half-dressed women (and, while the toddler’s are cute, and the song arresting, I was still somewhat creeped out).
- Gangsta rap (’nuff said)
- Abercrombie & Fitch, a formerly staid clothier, which now uses soft porn to sell clothes.
- A huge hit song with the bubblegum crowd promoting lesbian sex.
- The whole “Girls Gone Wild” approach to sexuality that permeates young adult culture.
- Public street fairs that feature, not just nudity, but the most perverse kind of sexual behaviors.
I bet you can add to that list, because it seems as if it’s pretty much endless. All societies have always had their secret cultures, the ones that come out at night, in the dark. Only in 21st century America, though, have those formerly hidden behaviors, the ones that polite company acknowledged but ignored, taken center stage.
And then I meet the military. Now, I’m not naive. I know that in the locker room, and the barracks, and the battlefield, troops are as crude, if not cruder (given their mostly male demographics) than the population at large. Hey, you only have to watch any Hollywood film about the military to know that guys can be really disgusting.
What Hollywood hates to show, though, is that the military’s public face is probably the last gasp of decorum, decency and manners in American culture. Whatever their behavior in private, in public the troops are well-dressed and extraordinarily polite. I know that, if my family finds itself in a room full of military personnel, whether on a captain’s bridge, at a reception, at a BART station, etc., my children and I will be privy to the highest form of public behavior, decency and kindness. And that is a real testimonial to an intangible virtue that truly sets our military apart from the rest of the American culture.