The temperature has cooled, the leaves are turning colors, and the new fall television season has begun. Enter the mudslide. The Shock and Awe manipulators have been unleashed to air evermore graphic sex and grotesque violence -- and, predictably, a combination of the two. The first "winner" in this race to the bottom was the FX cable channel, another sure bet. On Sept.17, viewers of the appropriately named new series "Sons of Anarchy" were "treated" to a graphic castration scene, complete with hacked-off genitals shown lying in a pool of blood.
Completely tasteless programming is in, and FX bathes in it. The mastermind of all that Rupert Murdoch-backed villainy is an executive named John Landgraf, who pronounces his philosophical approach thusly: "One of our writers used to say, 'Bad men do what good men can only dream about.' There is a sense that what these characters are doing is allowing us to explore, in a safe context, our id and subconscious, what we might do if there were no restraints of society or conscience on us.''
Defenders of graphic violence in television or films insist that the power of these images do not corrupt. A person can view these programs without dreaming those dreams or acting upon them. But it's pathetic to argue that Hollywood is somehow performing a public service, taking the violence out of society, so as to "allow us to explore in a safe context" how much we'd like to castrate someone.
No one should attempt to argue that "exploring our id" is a socially constructive crusade instead of a cynical attempt to shock your way to some extra ratings points, at least not without a laugh track attached.
It might be amusing to watch a Hollywood executive try to argue before a minister that allowing someone to fantasize about unleashing his violent subconscious is a path to holiness. Most ministers would reply that someone who constantly dreams about committing violent acts, but never actually does it in real life is not a "good" person. They would see a flaming sinner with a socially helpful amount of cowardice.
Landgraf's brazen attempts to play a moralist suggest a different maxim, one that fits a Hollywood executive: Bad men corrupt good men by bombarding them with entertainment that shocks them so aggressively and consistently that they're programmed to seek out an ever edgier, more graphic "entertainment" experience.