Magazine article The Christian Century

Why I Am a (Moderate) Prude: Let's Face It: 'Mature Content' Is a Con Game

Magazine article The Christian Century

Why I Am a (Moderate) Prude: Let's Face It: 'Mature Content' Is a Con Game

Article excerpt

MIDDLE AGE began for me on the day I realized my oldest child was now an AC/DC fan.

For every enthusiasm of a nine-year-old, a father has only himself to blame. We go to several White Sox games every year, and he knows that I like to get there early enough to hear "Thunderstruck" before the game. I feel giddy in a ballpark, with that excessive rock-and-roll smorgasbord thrumming through the concrete. So when I suggested he select some walk-up music, like ballplayers have, to help push himself to swallow some revolting medicine--yes, this is cutting-edge Dad praxis--he chose "Thunderstruck" without a moment's hesitation. Thirty doses later, he knew the song intimately, down to its insipid lyrics. And he had branched out between doses to the other high points of the band's catalog: "Back in Black," "Highway to Hell," "T.N.T.," "You Shook Me All Night Long."

There is, of course, nothing at all unusual about a preteen learning pop music with so-called "adult themes" by heart. If anything, my kids are rather sheltered in that regard, forced by lack of alternatives to pick up music that was au courant during (or even before) my own childhood. And it's not that we have hidden the basic facts of human sexuality from him--let alone the more traumatic basic facts of American history, or the way AC/DC's first lead singer died. But he certainly hadn't learned, from his parents or anyone else, what a singer might mean by comparing a woman to a "fast machine" who "kept her motor clean." And for a moment, hovering over our new "Guys with Guitars" playlist, I wished against reason and hope that he never would. I can explain penises and vaginas whenever needed. I don't wish to explain why a single band has written hundreds of songs about penises and vaginas without once using either word. I was finally old enough to admit, at least to myself, that the mysteries of adulthood that we try to hide from the young are mostly stupid.

Prudishness is on the march--on this, everyone in our shivering republic seems to agree. The only point of disagreement is where it is marching to. Inhibitions and prohibitions recede in one area or among one cohort and advance somewhere else. In some places, including the Oval Office, crude and vicious characterizations of ethnic or racial groups have become more casual and widespread than at any time in my memory. In other places, newly refined terminology and attitudes are being constantly deployed. In some venues and some media, sex is less and less subject to any taboo. In others, there are overdue consequences for ungoverned mouths and hands.

Critics of the #MeToo movement have accused its advocates of inviting a new winter of prudishness. Writing for the American Interest, Claire Berlinski, along with articulating serious concerns about procedural fairness and proportionality, warned of a sullen age when men and women won't be able to "flirt, play, lewdly joke, desire, seduce, tease" in the workplace as they are wont to do. I confess this argument has caught me up short. Leaving aside how exactly one is to draw a clear line between bona fide harassment and innocent lewdness, I can't find the baby that is at risk of being thrown out with this particular bathwater.

Having worked mostly in churches, it's no particular surprise that the part of the sexual revolution where people felt free to chat about pornography at the office passed me by. Still, it's the height of oddity to claim that Americans--of whatever vocational circumstance, political bent, or religious affiliation--suffer from too much bashfulness. We may suffer from too little honesty or too little courage. But our self-expression--the voice we give our opinions, experiences, and desires--is the most sacred thing left in our emptying cupboard of household gods.

This self-expression was supposed to be the spoils of adulthood. We would win it by experience, good and bad, and the ensuing wisdom that would grant both freedom and discretion. …

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