In Defense of Fuddy-Duddies

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Being a leading critical observer of American popular culture necessitated my watching at least one episode of the television phenom The Osbournes. For those still living deep in the caves of Tora Bora, The Osbournes is the latest adventure in reality television depicting the family life of aging rocker Ozzy Osbourne.

This is the first time I’ve sat down to watch anything on MTV, which I understand is one long commercial. And yes, as I was nearly universally assured, The Osbournes was rather funny. That is, the idea is inherently funny.

How can it not be? A man who is filthy rich via his role as principal echo-chamber of the most sensationally nihilistic elements of our so-called culture seems to have the same problems that virtually every middle class father has — he can’t hook up the DVD player, his kids won’t listen to him, his pets are sick, etc.

But I get the joke. I’ve seen it once, and I predict that will be just about it for me.

Hearing bleeped-out expletives every other word ceases to be entertaining rather quickly, even in spite of the rich tapestry of personalities that comprise The Osbournes.

Don’t get me wrong — there is far, far worse television programming than The Osbournes; and I don’t think that Ozzy Osbourne’s Birmingham “working class values” could stomach most of what’s currently served on television. I can imagine him scrunching up his face when approached with any number of the repulsive scenarios that are common fare on network television sitcoms, just as he does when he’s served what he apparently considers the next alien course of the fancy dinner to which he is obviously unaccustomed.

But in many ways it typifies television programming, whose exact purpose is to celebrate mediocrity in the face of the culture of self-esteem. Why read a serious book with exceptional protagonists and complicated moral decisions when you can turn on the tube for reassurance: we’re really all the same, aren’t we?

But, if Viacom wants to pay the Osbournes twenty million dollars for two more years of this, and if their marketing wizards want to capitalize on it, and if there are enough Western Minds who want to watch it, they can all knock their lights out.

But surely our lofty leaders in the press and government are different — right? Exhibit A is an invitation for Ozzy Osbourne to attend the 2002 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner as the guest of the great legal mind Greta Van Susteren.

At what might be called “Mr. Osbourne Goes to Washington,” Jennifer Harper of The Washington Times noted:

He was rude. He was endearing. He swore, he mumbled, he stood on his chair. Mr. Osbourne inspired huge amounts of appreciative prose in the aftermath from journalists giddy over pomp, circumstance and studied misbehavior.

Not all were enthralled:

Mrs. Cheney was “embarrassed” over the fact that Washington’s power elite rose on its hind legs to laud Mr. Osbourne, now the focal point of a bizarre but engaging cable TV show, and still a working musician.

“He’s hardly someone to be applauding — not a role model,” Mrs. Cheney was heard saying, at least according to Mr. Drudge, who also attended the soiree.

It is truly mystifying how grown people, especially the ostensible elite of the free world, can treat a man like Ozzy Osbourne as Elvis Presley. But then again, I don’t understand grown people treating Elvis like Elvis, either.

And to be sure, watching the program is one thing, but acting like bobby-soxers is another.

But I’m just as mystified at Mrs. Cheney’s response. She thinks Washington parasites are good role models?

And why wouldn’t they celebrate a television icon as their own? Aside from perhaps relating their own mediocre skills to Mr. Osbourne’s, why would they not celebrate the true god of leftist ideology, Mediocrity, with its cosmology that none can be happy until all are equally ignorant, equally base, and equally decadent?

But surely poor Mr. Osbourne was way out of his league — no one can out-Goth the Gothic Ghouls inside the Beltway.

Main Street America was not as thrilled as the attendees, but I don’t believe in this case the president should be faulted for being polite:

Reaction to Mr. Osbourne’s Washington debut was darker on talk radio, with some listeners expressing their disappointment in President Bush’s recognition of Mr. Osbourne from the podium.

To be honest, Mr. Bush was just being friendly. If someone thought inviting Mr. Osbourne was in good taste, what’s Mr. Bush to do? Besides, when Osbourne managed to get Bush’s attention by yelling to him “You should wear your hair like mine!”, I thought the president’s reply was pretty funny: “Second term, Ozzy!”

If one wants to fault Mr. Bush for lack of propriety, how about when he was Texas governor, in 1997 he honored ZZ Top by naming 15 May “ZZ Top Day in Texas.” Yes, I know I’m impossibly old-fashioned, but I just think it’s not quite right for the governor of Texas to honor a band whose greatest hits include “Tube Snake Boogie” and “Pearl Necklace.” And to be sure, ZZ Top highlighted the “The Best Little Ball in D.C.” on inauguration day.

It doesn’t make the president particularly wicked, it’s just a sad sign of the times.

“Oh, the Republicans need to lighten up and follow their leader and realize that entertainment is entertainment,” said conservative activist David Horowitz, also by phone. “Any kid who has good core family values can listen to Ozzy Osbourne and just be amused.”

Of course, there is a kernel of truth to this. The first rock album I ever bought was by Black Sabbath, and I seem to have turned out alright. (Or did I?)

But one would think that Mr. Horowitz of the Center for the Study of the Popular Culture would have a different view. He has spent much time and effort railing against the depraved Clinton.

Well, specifically because of what our children “learned” about oral sex from the president, and from the generally cavalier approach to the “scandal” from the popular culture, there is an epidemic of oral sex even among very young teenagers who have about as much respect for themselves as Monica Lewinski. But wait, isn’t Monica Lewinski a successful spokesperson now?

And who was talking about “kids” anyway? The staggering aspect of this story is that it was not kids who were behaving like kids but the “elite” who attempt to control our minds and lives!

For a little perspective, they might listen to Mr. Osbourne: “I’m not proud of taking drugs … biting the heads off rodents … I’m just an ordinary guy.”

Well, let’s just say not extraordinary. And who would have thought otherwise? Apparently, quite a few folks in Washington — with perhaps the exception of Mrs. Cheney, whom commentator Bill Press said was the “fuddy-duddy” contingent.

But alas, Mrs. Cheney didn’t stick to her guns, lest she be seen as “morose and authoritative”:

Reports of Mrs. Cheney’s offense are greatly exaggerated, however.

“This is all untrue,” said a spokeswoman from Mrs. Cheney’s office yesterday. “I don’t know where this report came from. She never made any comments about Mr. Osbourne at all.”

Mr. Drudge remains adamant.

Who can blame her? Certainly anyone, that is, anyone, who acknowledges the concept of propriety in any context is a prig. Even if the prig in question is widely observed to be correct, they’re nevertheless a prig for saying it, even in good humor. (I will no doubt be called a prig for writing this column.)

And we wonder why simple manners, much less “core values,” are not being passed down from one generation to the next?

How does this happen? In this exchange from The Republic, Socrates and Plato recognize a social inversion:

… the father grows accustomed to descend to the level of his sons and to fear them, and the son is on a level with his father, he having no respect nor reverence for either of his parents; and this is his freedom, and the metic is equal with the citizen and the citizen with the metic, and the stranger is quite as good as either.

… And these are not the only evils … there are several lesser ones: In such a state of society the master fears and flatters his scholars, and the scholars despise their masters and tutors; young and old are all alike; and the young man is on a level with the old, and is ready to compete with him in word or deed; and old men condescend to the young and are full of pleasantry and gaiety; they are loath to be thought morose and authoritative, and therefore they adopt the manners of the young.

This pretty much sums up the predominant cultural, intellectual, and political environment in The West.

Why?

There are those who have better manners, but are afraid to speak, perhaps because they don’t know who they are. But if they do know, and still say nothing, their sins are far greater than those of the young and ignorant to whom they pander, and of whom they are so afraid.

Brian Dunaway [send him mail] is a chemical engineer and a native Texan.

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