September 25, 2010

The Prince Regent Hypothesis

Most Americans are culturally deprived for never having seen the British sitcom Blackadder. In the show’s third season (its third serie sas the Brits say), Atkinson plays Edmund Blackadder, butler to George III’s eldest son, the Prince Regent (Hugh Laurie, who now plays the title character on the medical drama House). In one episode, Edmund loathes having to accompany his extremely gullible master to the theater. The problem is, he doesn’t realize it’s made up, explains the butler to his assistant. Criticism of the mass media very frequently assumes your critical-thinking skills and mine to be scarcely better than the prince’s

Pornography incites rape. Violence on television causes violence in reality. Song lyrics can drive teenagers to suicide. Our government is corrupted by unfettered funding of political campaigns by the wealthy (as opposed to, say, chronic bad judgment among the electorate). All of these notions implicitly take media consumers for mindless dupes.

I don’t deny that I’m potentially capable of leaping to false conclusions about any given woman because of my assumptions about women in general, or that problems for justice can arise if millions of men do this. But Beggan and Allison go too far in describing my mind as a passive receptacle for images of gender in the media.

Liberty has its price, however: if art and entertainment can’t be forces for evil, then they can’t be forces for good, either. (If it’s not clear why this necessarily follows, please read this article by Reason’s Tim Cavanaugh.) Just as I reject the claim that Playboy pictures turn men into misogynists, I have to dismiss D. Bell’s “philosophy of female beauty” at Body in Mind [not work-safe], which regards the splendor of the female form as the source of literally all good in the world. Unfortunately, the ruse corrupted me until I was too sheepish in the face of authority, and too lacking in personal ambition, to grow up gracefully and become an unbitter adult. In principle, Marcotte surely hates that locker-room culture as much as I did.