The Friday before the second presidential debate, a truly deplorable video released of Donald Trump describing his brash view of women and sexuality. His language revealed a truly heartless, appalling, narcissistic perspective of his own power.
Much can be and has been said about how this affects him politically, but I want to take a second and step back from politics for a moment and look at his remarks from another angle.
No, I don’t want to look at the cringe-worthy fact that many “family values” evangelicals waffled or even refused to raise much protest against Trump’s comments, though I do worry that many leaders of the Religious Right have abandoned fidelity to Christ in exchange for political expediency.
Instead, I want to consider the response of a significant portion of Americans to Trump’s words. The revulsion against Trump’s comments has been warranted and welcomed, but few people have mentioned that such disgust has been more than a little overdue. The language and approach to sexuality has grown harsher and more lewd over the last several decades.
So while we are right to condemn comments the likes of what Trump uttered those eleven years ago, has anyone considered that many of the liberations from the old restraints on sexuality might have a part to play in this? What about our own complicity and hypocrisy in this coarsening of sexual behavior?
For example, how many people who angrily tweeted and posted about Trump’s comments gleefully laughed at the antics of sitcom characters such as Joey Tribbiani and Barney Stinson? How many millions of people have immersed themselves in the sexual worldview of shows like Friends and How I Met Your Mother without giving it a second thought?
Even if these shows never depicted outright sexual assault (though there may have been times where those boundaries may have become blurred), the line between seduction and molestation is not so easy to distinguish. The above characters would frequently “take women home” without any intention whatsoever of pursuing a relationship beyond the one-night-stand, and they would only be reprimanded in the most tangential ways: an eye-roll here, a “you’re a pig” there. Overall, these characters were basically celebrated.
While Joey and Barney were over-the-top stereotypes, the other men in these shows were not much better. Their approach to relationships were only slightly different, and they would oftentimes lament the fact that they couldn’t score as often as the playboys. All of the guys also openly and unabashedly soaked their minds in pornography with the women occasionally participating alongside them.
I could, in all likelihood, introduce a whole litany of characters from television and movies to illustrate the point, but these two shows are clearly ones with which I am fairly familiar. I’ve watched each of these series, and it wasn’t long after finishing How I Met Your Mother (terrible ending aside) that I decided that watching shows designed to make me laugh at personally and socially destructive behavior were terrible for me emotionally and spiritually.
Easily, these shows affected the way that I thought about sex and relationships as they coarsened my views and distorted my expectations. From time to time, I would get a glimpse of these negative effects in my thought and personal life, but it took a major wake up call before I finally realized the need to alter my viewing habits.
By no means is this intended to be an apologetic for Donald Trump, but if you were someone who bemoaned and ridiculed his language and behavior one moment then returned to consuming lewd entertainment the next, have you considered that the continued sexual and moral looseness of that industry has done extraordinary damage to the social and moral integrity of the nation as a whole?
In just the few short months, Donald Trump’s attitude and rhetoric have led to a coarsening of our society. This much has been apparent. The entertainment industry’s influence, however, has been more of a slow-burn, though in recent years, the pace seems to have quickened. Indeed, the coarsening wrought by the entertainment industry has often been celebrated.
Do we have a right to be appalled by the obscenity of Trump’s language while we have been more or less silent about how we have praised similar sorts of behavior with our laughter? When we’ve told the industry, “This is what we want; give us more,” every time we’ve tuned in to a television show or purchased a movie ticket?
If we’re appalled by Trump’s language (and we certainly should be), then perhaps we need to wake up and realize that many aspects of our society deserve our condemnation and should be changed.
We need to stop celebrating the coarsening and actually fight it.