America: Voyeurism and Exhibitionism?

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The Christian Science Monitor notes, “One of the reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire was the decadence of its people. Are we headed down the same path and is history going to repeat itself?” Though decadence may have been more of a symptom of Empire itself, there’s valid criticism to be made against certain excesses we witness nowadays.

A published message from CSM reads:

Is anyone else concerned how America is becoming a voyeuristic and exhibitionist society? Pornography, the increasing popularity of surveillance cameras, movies like the Real Cancun, more and more women exposing their breasts in public for fun, reality T.V., and a host of other things are becoming more common. Americans are being desensitized. When did watching other people have sex and exposing oneself in public become acceptable? Many Americans don’t know the difference between right and wrong anymore.

To start, I find it remarkable that individuals no longer set boundaries in public for themselves. Everything in their life is public, open, on display, and flaunted for others to see and hear. People, quite often, have no moral base from which they act. They no longer value personal matters as being private. They are no longer humiliated by their debauchery and shameful moments. Just watch Cops, especially when the show is filming at Mardi Gras.

Take cell phones, for instance. Of course I detest the cell phone Nazis, because I feel I have control of my cell phone situation, so take your phone fascism and back off, please. However, there’s much room for criticism of people in that realm, when speaking of privacy boundaries. Is anything more disrupting and exhibitionist than loud-mouthed cell talkers in a public place? Note how these people babble on and on, while on their cell phones, in very public places. They gab boisterously on their phone, in hair and nail salons, retail store lines, airport hangars, waiting rooms — you name it. They loudly and proudly reveal all details of their personal life, their dating life, their previous night’s partying, the cost of their night out, who did what or said what, and the various cross-sections of their interpersonal relationships. They purposely heighten the volume of their voice; they speak loudly and self-importantly, gladly giving everyone around them all the details of their rather pitiable, personal lives. It’s not only pathetic, it’s disrupting to others and it’s uncouth.

I rarely hear folks try to keep their cell phone conversations quiet in public. I can’t even begin to identify with this nonsense. If I absolutely have to talk in a public place, I look for a quiet corner, and even then, I talked in hushed tones, embarrassed that someone might hear the least little detail. What is the thrill of slicing your personal moments wide open for all others to hear? Are Americans that desperate for attention?

Certainly, TV is one of America’s largest and most popular sources of depravity. I abhor the TV censor Nazis that clamor for public sector regulation, because it’s real painless to just turn the tube off if you don’t like what’s on. I do that 99% of the time. So what’s the problem? The problem is lazy parents, disinterested and selfish parenting, and parents who desire that electronic babysitter for their kids 24/7, yet they want someone else to handle the censorship for them.

A voluntary parents television network, such as the CSM is promoting, is a great start. Now, the trick is, to get more parents to care what their kids are watching, and get them involved in self-censorship within their family. Of course, the ideal parenting is ripping the TV cord out of the wall, but that is a rare household in this country.

TV is full of nauseous reality shows, wherein transitory actors put their personal moments into the public eye, as if all they are made of is owed no protection of privacy. Kissing time, sex, romantic conversations, gossip, fights, emotional outbursts, crying over a lost boyfriend — all of that is now acceptable public viewing. I’m embarrassed to watch it, so how do the participants carry it off?

Another thing — mentioned by the CSM message — that dumbfounds me is the obsession that women have with flashing their breasts. MTV has become the unanimous breast-flashing source for all the land. Everywhere and everyplace this has become a fashion. Women delight in doing it, and others around them cheer it on, with no sense of good conduct or self-control. Why, for the life of me, does anyone take pleasure in lifting their shirt for strangers in a public street, bar, party, or otherwise? Is it really pedantic to find this behavior barbaric and repulsive? Or is it good sense to reject animal-like, unrestrained behavior?

Oh sure, we can laugh at the breast-flashers, cell yappers, and other exhibitionists in the short-term, but further reflection bears out a more ominous riddle in the long-run. We are seeing a turn toward a decadent, exhibitionist society wherein individuals purport to clamor for privacy from the regulatory wolves, yet they put their shameful persons on open display shelves, in their worst moments, and then relish others’ attentions upon that.

Many Americans, I sense, just have too much unoccupied time on their hands, and they alleviate that with attention-getting tactics that pass the time. A self-image boost is somehow given to them via any slight notice, good or bad. These kinds of people have too little self-respect to draw that boundary that should separate that which is public from that which should be private and restrained. It’s a universal Attention Deficit Disorder that has struck our nation.

Can’t we arrive at an acceptable halfway house between Puritanism and complete depravity?

Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a paleolibertarian freelance writer, graduate student in Austrian Economics, and a business professional from Michigan. Her first book is currently in the works. See her Mises Institute archive for more online articles, and check out her website, along with her blog.

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