Thursday 21st September 2017

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Where Is Hopalong Cassidy Now That We Need Him?

August 29, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

I see few counterparts of Hopalong Cassidy, Flash Gordon, and Nancy Drew these days. They have been replaced by pot-smoking “dudes,” sleep-around women, and homosexual super heroes. The world of rock music is worse. It seems as if modern rock stars go out of their way to project an image that is the antithesis of the clean-cut matinee idols of the past.
What else can be the purpose of the bizarre hairstyles, tattoos, body-piercings, and open allusions to their dissolute lifestyles than an assault on traditional values? Most of them make Elvis look like a choir boy.
The heroes of old were All-American boys, wholesome women, brave and courteous, self-effacing, devoted to God and country. They lived chaste lives in their on-screen personas. That is why some modern audiences find them “corny.” Young people who grew up with the role models of the past found it necessary to face the fact that the “real world” was not populated by people like their movie heroes; that even good men and women — cops, soldiers, nurses, and crusading attorneys — were not quite as virtuous as their childhood heroes. The experience was part of growing up.
It strikes me that young people in our time must experience the above phenomenon, too, but in reverse; that they learn not everyone they meet has a stash of drugs and is as sexually active as the characters played by Katy Perry and Brad Pitt. The people who make movies these days have created a new breed of hero for us, people who are part of the world of drugs, sex, and rock and roll. “Good kids” are depicted as prudes and phonies, toadies seeking to ingratiate themselves with the grown-ups.
That is a big change. Hollywood in the past would cater to a Christian audience that lived by moral standards more strait-laced than that which prevailed in show business circles. Nowadays Hollywood challenges those standards. The show business folks have become “missionaries,” and we the backward masses in need of conversion, in the new relationship between the creators of pop culture and their audience.
As far back as the late 1930s, George Orwell understood what was at stake in the relationship between society and popular entertainment. St. Ignatius Loyola is reported to have said, “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.” Orwell agreed (though he and Ignatius Loyola would disagree about many other things).
Orwell did not fear the power of Hollywood hedonists. His concern was that nationalists and corporate interests were shaping the values of society through the books and magazines marketed to the young. His essay “Boys’ Weeklies,” written in 1939 for the British magazine Horizon, threw the spotlight onto the power of juvenile entertainment to mold young minds. (The essay can be found in the anthology Orwell: An Age Like This.) Orwell deplored the influence of conservative forces exerted by these boys’ weeklies, but he knew it was effective.
The boys’ weeklies he focused on were what people in England at the time called “penny dreadfuls”: pulp magazines such as Gem, Modern Boy, Magnet, Champion, Wizard, and Hotspur. The impression I get from reading Orwell’s essay is that these publications were British counterparts of the comic books popular in the United States at about the same time, but with more text and fewer illustrations, perhaps British versions of what were called “Big Little Books” in this country.
Orwell attacked this pulp fiction for giving impressionable British youth a world where the heroes are soldiers, explorers, detectives, and historical figures such as Robin Hood, where the “‘good’ boys are ‘good’ in the clean-living Englishman tradition,” who “wash behind their ears, never hit below the belt, etc. etc.”
Beyond this, it was a world, Orwell continues, where “foreigners are funny,” where “Frenchmen are still Froggies and Italians are still Dagoes,” Indians are “comic babus,” Chinese are “sinister, treacherous” men in pigtails, and Negroes “comic and faithful.” The assumption “is not only that foreigners are comics who are put there for us to laugh at, but that they can be classified in much the same way as insects.”
Even worse, Orwell continues, the boys’ weeklies provided young people with an inaccurate understanding of working-class life: “Nearly all the time the boy who reads these papers — in nine cases out of ten a boy who is going to spend his life working in a shop, in a factory, or in some subordinate job in an office — is led to identify with people in positions of command, above all by people who are never troubled by a shortage of money.”
Orwell deplored the manner in which stories that appeal to young men “about Martians, death-rays, grizzly bears, and gangsters” were “wrapped up in the illusions which their future employers think suitable for them,” leading boys to “the conviction that the major problems of our time do not exist, that there is nothing wrong with laissez-faire capitalism, that foreigners are unimportant comics and that the British Empire is a sort of charity-concern which will last forever. Considering who owns these papers, it is difficult to believe that this is unintentional.” Every “adventure story gets mixed up with snobbishness and gutter patriotism.”
Orwell, as usual, has a point. Though I would take exception to his claim that the inculcation of these values was a con job carried out by capitalists and their media lackeys. My hunch is that the adults who published this juvenile fiction in Great Britain genuinely believed that bravery, honesty, and patriotism were admirable character traits, irrespective of whether Britain’s employers wanted their future employees to be people who believed in these things.
In fact, I would go so far as to contend that even the British corporate bosses held to this vision of what made a good man or woman, even if they may have honored it more in the breach.
The point just now, however, is that Orwell correctly understood the extent to which juvenile entertainment is a powerful force in shaping what Hegel called the “Zeitgeist,” the spirit of the age, the widely held ideals and beliefs that motivate the actions of the members of a society.
It makes a difference when young people grow up with people like Miley Cyrus and Kanye West as their role models, rather than Nancy Drew and Jack Armstrong. Look around the mall or at the crowds at a rock concert to see the effect. It is hard to overestimate what it says about us as a society that we have permitted such a devolution to take place.

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Popular priest disinvited from Catholic University’s seminary after protests over his LGBT book

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