I learned about this great moment in the Decline and Fall of Western Culture from a rather mind-boggling thread at Reason's Hit & Run blog. The post by fellow Reasonite Kerry Howley, memorably tittled "The Hidden Threat of Vaginofascism," was inspired by an almost equally remarkable piece in The American Spectator, in which attorney and blogger Carol Platt Liebau laments these pantyless antics. Writes Liebau:
Note Liebau's unself-conscious use of the word "bottom-feeders," quite hilarious in this context: it bespeaks a peculiar tone-deafness and a severe humor impairment, characteristic, in fact, of the entire piece.
What's most remarkable is the deafening silence from the larger culture that has greeted the antics of the young starlets. It may be that many adults take it for granted that flashing one's privates is so tawdry and declasse that a dignified silence is the only appropriate response. But perhaps that's because they've enjoyed the benefit of growing up in a time and with a culture that was unified in its disapproval of such behavior. Sadly, such a cultural consensus has long since eroded.
It's hardly admirable that adult males say nothing about the exhibitionism, but perhaps it's understandable; while they may not respect young women like Lohan and Spears, the visuals are doubtless intriguing. But older women who fail to speak out about why Spears' and Lohan's behavior is inappropriate and wrong become complicit in it on a much deeper level. By their silence, they are allowing little girls (like they once were) to absorb the destructive message that vulgarity is the same as sexiness, that exhibiting oneself to be stared at or drooled over like a prime cut of meat constitutes "empowerment," and that it's "cool" to flaunt one's sexuality indiscriminately, rather than sharing it with a man who's shown he's interested in more than just another female body.
Just as Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears need to practice a more elegant method of leaving the car, perhaps the adults need to learn their own lesson: That if the young women of America are going to understand the importance of behaving in a way that maintains their own dignity and self-respect, it's time for men and women alike to begin stigmatizing vulgar, exhibitionist displays. Reacting to them with nothing more than voyeuristic amusement or bored indifference allows the bottom-feeders to set the standard for what constitutes glamorous female behavior -- a thought that should strike terror into the heart of every parent (or aunt or uncle) in America.
In the Hit & Run thread, some posters take libertarians to task for seeing a menace to freedom not only in governmental restrictions on personal behavior but also in social stigmatization of promiscuity, immodesty and other sexual wantonness. (Watching them make these serious arguments in the midst of bawdy banter about female anatomy is part of what makes the thread so surreal.) And they might, actually have a point. But the real irony (which Kerry Howley's post misses) is that Liebau is barking up the totally wrong tree. "Deafening silence"? Actually, Britney Spears' indecent exposure has been roundly condemned and ridiculed. Even Rosie O'Donnell on The View pleaded with the pop starlet to keep her parts hidden, and issued an appeal to Victoria's Secret to give Britney, Lindsay, and Paris an unlimited supply of undies ("it's supposed to be a secret down there!"). There's that condemnation from older women that Liebau finds lacking. Celebrity gossips, too, have been quite hard on Britney; the gossip blog PerezHilton.com, which posted the naughty shots, ran them under its "Icky Icky Poo" tag, with such titles as "This Pains Us" and "Britney, This Has to Stop" and with such inscriptions as, "GROSS!" I'd say that's a much more effective deterrent to any girl who contemplates flashing for fun and profit than tongue-clucking from Carol Liebau, Michelle Malkin, or even Rosie. And I haven't even mentioned the unkind comments from readers on various websites, ranging from "Britney, get some help" to brutally disparaging remarks about Britney's "precious flower" (to quote Kerry Howley).
So the bottom line, as it were, is that "vulgar, exhibitionist displays" are being stigmatized plenty. At least on that score, America's parents, aunts and uncles can rest easy, and conservatives can give the hand-wringing a break.
P.S.: As a follow-up to yesterday's post, I considered giving this one the title "Speaking of uncovered meat..." But then I chickened out.