Bookworm at Right Wing News has this excellent article on the decline of social norms and values, and how popular culture trivializes virtues such as honesty and self-sacrifice and encourages self-centeredness, irresponsibility, and victimhood.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and we get a remarkably different pop culture vision for children’s moral and social development. Whether one thinks of books or television shows or movies, the message is always the same: being disrespectful to your peers and to adults is attractive; adults are buffoons; men are useless; clever manipulation often trumps honesty; and, at the end of the day, what really counts is your feelings. If any given episode of Miley Cyrus or I Carly or Suite Life of Zack and Cody actually carries a so-called moral, that moral isn’t that a specific behavior is wrong, but that the bad behavior might hurt someone else’s feelings. In other words, in the world our media hands to our children, all ethical questions are resolved by a quick glance at ones own navel.
Aside from a moral vacuum, today’s media also offers an aspirational vacuum. The heroes it sells to our children are athletes or movie stars. While I may appreciate an athlete’s skills or a movie star’s pleasant screen persona, neither has distinguished himself (or herself) by willingly making a huge sacrifice, perhaps the ultimate sacrifice, on behalf of someone else. A-Rod may show superb self-discipline when it comes to honing his skills, but he’s doing it to be rich and famous (and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that), not for the betterment of mankind. This is not a hero by any traditional standard.
Sleazy behavior is also normative. As any parent of a little girl can tell you, Miley Cyrus morphed from snarkily wholesome to unutterably sleazy. That’s bad enough, but what’s even worse is the excuse pop culture offers her: she’s just growing up. In this moral vacuum, growing up doesn’t mean taking on responsibility or displaying elan, class and sophistication. Instead, the only thing growing up means is to engage in tawdry acts of public sexuality. As a mother, it’s a great challenge to explain to ones children that becoming a sleaze-monger is not the normative external sign of maturity.