During the Clinton impeachment year, one got used to viewing television with a trigger finger on the remote, lest the children overhear with too much precision what all the fuss was about. My children are older now, but I still find myself in great sympathy with those home-schooling religious types who simply abjure television and radio altogether; walling off their homes and their lives from the putrescence that swirls outside.
As it is, we man the cultural battlements with an ever-increasing sense of futility. When the reporter following every hiccough of the Scott Peterson trial appears on screen, we may not get to the remote fast enough to prevent the children from hearing that a handsome, normal-seeming man may have murdered and hacked up his wife and baby son. A millionaire who admitted he killed and chopped up his neighbor was recently acquitted. "What does ‘dismembered' mean, Mom?" I don't want them to know. Change the channel, quick.
A few minutes later, they are likely to learn that basketball superstar Kobe Bryant stands accused of rape and that, at best, he was catting around. Is Bryant an exception among professional athletes? Hardly. The list of criminal convictions is long. The list of tasteless and boorish behavior is even longer. A recent test revealed that something like 7 percent of professional baseball players tested positive for steroids. "Say it ain't so, Joe," sounds so quaint now.
Where shall we search for men and women who do not disgrace themselves? To the clergy? The Catholic Church scandal is so broad and deep that it defies belief. So many children, for so many years! And the hierarchy dodged and covered up and lied. Change the channel, quick.
Careful, careful. Do we want the young to know that so many American businessmen cheated, lied and despoiled their companies? Do we want them to see the lavish, Roman-orgyish party Dennis Kozlowski threw for his wife on a Mediterranean island to the tune of $2 million? It would have been disgusting even if it had been honestly paid for. As it is, it appears that Kozlowski stole as much as $600 million from Tyco.
How about politics? Some political scandals are entirely spurious -- merely partisan attempts to gain advantage. But then ... What shall we say to the kids about Arnold Schwarzenegger? Plenty of comely skeletons in that closet. Though at least he had the decency to apologize.