Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cultural Decay On Parade

There are many reasons why I no longer subscribe to a newspaper. Online accessibility of major newspapers, the fact that internet news doesn't pile up and moulder in the recycling bin at a rate that boggles the mind, and the fact that you don't get newsprint all over your hands while reading the online version of the New York Times are among the major reasons why we gave up buying a subscription to our local paper.

But a week or so ago, my husband picked up a copy of the Sunday paper, and as I sorted through it to throw away the sections we didn't want I came across another reason why I won't subscribe to a newspaper anymore.

The Parade Magazine insert in the Sunday paper has always been a waste of perfectly good ink and paper, of course. But it has gotten so much worse over the years that its decline almost seems like a cultural indicator. I can remember a time when, as a teenager, I could flip through the Parade section, reading about a celebrity or enjoying a cartoon. The edition that wound up in my house the other day, though, wouldn't be an appropriate section to give a teenager, at least not a Christian one; the celebrity gossip, articles, and general content betray the magazine's absorption of our sex-saturated culture and its display of consumerism as if it were a virtue.

That, in itself, isn't so surprising, of course. We encounter such examples of fetid cultural rot every day; getting through the checkout line at the grocery store without having early readers pick up disgusting words or zero in on salacious imagery is a Sisyphean labor, and as our children age the opportunities to encounter the inane, immodest, and inappropriate world of celebrity-inspired culture only grows. But the inclusion of a token of that world into something once as relatively innocuous as the Sunday paper represents an intrusion into the home itself, a sort of "all or nothing" proposition wherein one either accepts the filth along with the front page news, sports section, and stock reports, or bypasses the whole thing altogether.

It may be argued that curious children might see too much inappropriate material in the rest of the paper, not excluding the front page section itself; but the newspaper is unwieldy and difficult to handle for a small child, who often must spread even the section somewhat aimed at him, the comics, out on the floor or fold it into smaller squares to read it. The absence of very many pictures and the dry tone of the front page section are, in some ways, a built-in protection against the curiosity of the young, who are unlikely to wade far enough in to an account of a murder, for instance, to read the violent or seamy details.

That can't be said for the Parade Magazine, of course. Its small size, abundant illustration, and small blocks of text, not to mention the comics page included within it, are all going to seem more interesting to a young reader than the rest of the newspaper. Add to that the fact that some of the celebrities pictured may even be familiar to the children and you have the very real likelihood that children may pick this section up and read it, cover to cover.

And what would they have learned from the example that ended up in my house recently?

That celebrities often have "partners" instead of husbands or wives, that women who can't have babies and end up using surrogates may become best friends online, and that a nationally known comedian not only loves technology and encourages everyone to have as much of it as they can buy, but compares his iPhone experience to being like having [insert reproductive word here] for the first time. And that's just for starters.

Newspaper publishers of America, if you want people to subscribe to your product, quit including this trashy sewer rag in the Sunday paper. The cultural decay our families have to fight against is draining enough; we really don't need you to put it on parade.

No comments: