I saw the movie Jackass 2 over the weekend.
I have some mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it is a better example of cultural trash than one can imagine. I mean, there is no artistic value to be savaged from the moral wreckery that was the runtime of this movie. No socially redeeming anything.
And yet I found it thoroughly entertaining. More than entertaining… engrossing (no pun intended). Worth every penny and minute spent… and yet I am no intellectually or spiritually wealthier because of it.
In some ways I think this is an extreme example of a conflict I feel a lot. I am in the camp that the sexualization and violence that pervades our music and television are harmful to society. Gangsta rap songs don’t create murderers, but they foster a culture in which moral depravity is indicative not of moral weakness, but of some perverse sort of strength.
And yet I enjoy some of the music of Eminem. It’s not only catchy, but it’s interesting. I could give a rousing argument about how (in his first two CDs, anywhere) there is a strong moral dimension wherein the narrator’s actions are the cause of his destruction. A destruction, unlike in much other rap, that is anything but glorious. But I also recognize that Eminem’s music was and is digested by a large number of people that dug any deeper than the most superficial message and appreciated it for some of the wrong reasons, much as many people that laughed at Archie Bunker didn’t realize that they were supposed to be the butt of the joke.
So how can I believe as I do that cultural filters, and even broadcast censorship, are often helpful and then on the other enjoy entertainment that would fall on the wrong side of any such filters?
About the only way I can figure it is that violence, sex, degradation, and dark post-modernism are like cultural junk food. The worst stuff, like Jackass 2, is analogous to cotton candy. There’s other stuff that is heavy on violence and/or sex in the context of something much larger, and that would be like beef. There’s some healthy stuff in there, but it’s usually made fattier than it needs to be and at least some of the healthier stuff can go down in other ways.
The problem is when a society’s cultural diet becomes inundated with junk food. Like would be boring with spinach, brocolli, and the History Channel, but we have to prevent everything from coasting to candy canes and MTV.