When it comes to the increasing sex, violence and profanity in entertainment media, the social libertines are indifferent. They insist that children will hardly be warped or ruined by the media they consume. They chortle at the paranoia of Hollywood critics. Their mantra: If you don't like it, just turn the channel.
But if the issue isn't indecency, but instead, say, obesity, so many of those titans of "tolerance" suddenly become the censors. Behold San Francisco, the paradise of permissive sexual attitudes. The city council may welcome flowers in your hair, but they have just voted to ban "Happy Meal" toys unless the "happy" menu is low in fat and sodium, and includes fruits and vegetables.
Apparently, that villain Ronald McDonald has been leading a Vast Child-Fattening Conspiracy.
This is hardly the first step toward dietary dictates in San Francisco. In 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom banned city-government use of bottled water, and this past summer, Newsom instituted a ban on sugary sodas in city vending machines. And not just sugary sodas, but sports drinks and even artificially sweetened water. The rule insists juice must be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice with no added sweeteners, and machines should allow the choice of soy milk or rice milk.
Then there's the Big Apple, San Francisco's East Coast cousin, another hub of libertine behavior. New York City schools now regulate the types of foods that students may sell for fundraising inside the school: Acceptable products include Fiber One bars, Soy Crisps and Ayala's Herbal Water. To qualify as an approved item, a snack must meet 11 criteria developed by the city. All products must be in marked, single-serving packages with a maximum calorie count of 200. Artificial sweeteners like Splenda are banned. Less than 35 percent of the item's total calories may come from either total sugars or fat. Grain-based products must contain at least 2 grams of fiber.
After resistance to the city's ban on bake sales of homemade goodies, the city relented partially: Parents may sell cupcakes and cookies -- but only once a month, and not in the school cafeteria.
Entire blue states have capitalized on the dietary-puritan wave. In the state of Illinois, the legislature raised taxes last year not only on alcohol, but on candy and soft drinks. The state tax on candy was multiplied by six, from 1 percent to 6.25 percent, unless it needs refrigeration or contains flour. That rate also applies to soda and non-carbonated sweetened drinks, like iced tea. They did it for the children (and, allegedly, for roads and bridges).
What weird people they are. Now their media friends are getting into the act. The same networks that think it's harmless to put orgies into dramas and profanities into sitcoms are utterly panicked about drinking a Pepsi. The Business and Media Institute found CNBC anchor Erin Burnett asking the president of the American Beverage Association why anyone lets Coke or Pepsi be sold. This is what's next? Soda Pop Prohibition?
Burnett demanded to know: "Let me ask you, is there anything good about drinking a full-calorie soda? Why do they even sell it? What's good for me in drinking it?" When she was told it's delicious, Burnett replied sourly: "I'm sure you could say we like cocaine, right?"
So when parents buy their children a Mountain Dew, they might as well be pushing cocaine? All that's missing here for CNBC is the dietary equivalent of documentaries like "Reefer Madness." You don't hear anyone using the mantra that "If you don't like a Pepsi, don't drink one."
In the journal Policy Review last year, Mary Eberstadt tackled the "curious reversal in moralizing" about food and sex: "Modern man (and woman) ... has taken longstanding morality about sex, and substituted it onto food. The all-you-can-eat buffet is now stigmatized; the sexual smorgasbord is not ... According to them, after all, consensual sex is simply what comes naturally, and ought therefore to be judged value-free. But as the contemporary history outlined in this essay goes to show, the same can be said of overeating -- and overeating is something that today's society is manifestly embarked on re-stigmatizing."
The libertines love to mock those anti-Hollywood puritans in Menckenesque tones, suggesting the critics are haunted by the fear that someone somewhere might be happy with their sleazy television. It's now just as easy to say that the big-city food police are haunted by the fear that some child somewhere may be enjoying a Happy Meal, with French fries and "cocaine" on ice.