"It's a quarter after one, I'm a little drunk, and I need you now." It shouldn't come as a surprise that a year that included that chorus line in one of its hottest country-music hits would end with controversy in the air about a "Dancing with the Stars" country gal going a few steps too far.
Julianne Hough's striptease-acrobatics video "Is That So Wrong?" is wrong in more ways than one. And the primary one isn't the scantily clad gyrating. Hough, who also appears in the movie "Burlesque," sings: "Doesn't everybody just want to feel somebody? Just wanna hold someone to fill that empty space? When you're missing that rush and a friend's not enough?"
You've probably heard more graphic lyrics. But Hough's video, in a genre frequently known for uplifting or otherwise fundamental messages about faith, family and freedom comes at a time when Americans are drawing more and more lines in the political sandbox. That's what the tea party movement has been about. And it's a reminder that we ought to be doing so culturally. Because these things are not unrelated.
As young men and women are just reaching for whomever to satisfy a feeling -- divorcing sex not only from commitment but, sometimes, from even an illusory sense of love -- their choices are having long-term societal results. Discussing his new study, "When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America," W. Bradford Wilcox recently emphasized: "We are witnessing the emergence of a whole new class of communities -- especially in rural and small-town America, and the outer suburbs -- where scores of children and young men are growing up apart from the civilizing power of marriage and a stable family life.
"This does not bode well for the economic and social health of these communities. ... Among children in middle America, family breakdown typically doubles delinquency, drug use, psychological problems and teenage pregnancy. Children who grow up without two married parents are also significantly less likely to do well in school, to graduate from college and to hold down a steady job later in life."
Children learn from what is presented to them at home, of course; but with children being fed -- according to the Kaiser Family Foundation -- 75 hours a week by popular entertainment, pop culture matters. And a cautionary word to parents who have opted out of those influences by keeping television and video games and the like out of your homes: Unless your child is trapped on a "Lost"-like island, he or she will be influenced by these poisons.
There is, of course, good and uplifting work being done in popular culture. And as consumers of -- or simply concerned citizens involuntarily co-existing with -- these products, we should encourage the good. Listening to, and watching, Miss Hough's "Is That So Wrong?," it's hard for a country-music fan not to think of myriad other songs that reach for a firm foundation, a moral core, an ideal. This year also brought us songs like Miranda Lambert's "The House That Built Me." She sings of feelings, too, and a little bit of the same journey Hough seems to sing of. Going back to the home she was raised in, as the title implies, Lambert sings: "I thought if I could touch this place or feel it, this brokenness inside me might start healing. Out here it's like I'm someone else. I thought that maybe I could find myself. If I could just come in I swear I'll leave. Won't take nothing but a memory. From the house that built me."
When you're on the verge of forgetting why you're here, on the verge of or in the wake of a bad choice, it's not a bad message to hear. Julianne Hough is perfectly free, of course, to sing songs and make videos like she has. But we don't have to applaud it. We can ask for more of our entertainment and entertainers.
It's like a broken record: Good girls in pop culture tend to go wild. It's considered a commercial matter of broadening any given young woman's commercial appeal, as an act of supposed independence and maturity. Real independence and maturity is countering that perverse message. Actual independence and maturity is having the good sense to embrace time-tested virtues. There's wisdom in looking for healing, as Lambert sings -- for true fulfillment -- not a stopgap rush.
A song about a girl who knows she doesn't have to settle is the tune I want young men and women and children to hear. They can have more than, perhaps, they've seen modeled around them in their own lives. They can build their own houses. And they can be made of the strong stuff of true commitment and love.
It's not about Left or Right or religious or secular. It's about wanting better, always, for ourselves, for those we love. Have it out with any cultural influence that doesn't inspire. Who has time for anything else? Why would we make time for that? Why would won't we do everything in our power to make sure girls and boys know they don't deserve anything less? Is that so wrong?