Where do we stop?
In his book Our Culture: or what’s left of it, Theodore Dalrymple discusses what he calls the culture of vulgarization which has led to a present-day society without moral compass. He talks about the “mass drunkenness” of our youth and of the crude practice of casual sex leading to what he calls “mass bastardy” as examples of what is being done to our young people and our society by the decline in morals, values and standards of behaviour.
Of particular interest to us as writers, Dalrymple traces the lowering of standards in writing from 1914 when George Bernard Shaw titillated his audiences with the stage play “My Fair Lady” and in particular the line; “not bloody likely”. In 1914 it was shocking, and the tragedy of what we now see as a fairly ordinary cuss-word is that it opened the gates to more and more profanity. The problem is that once you use one profanity, the next time you have to use a worse one in order to get the same result.
The logic is simple; once you let loose the imps of evil there is no stopping them.
In 1960 D H Lawrence’s book Lady Chatterley’s Lover was the subject of a court case in which Penguin won the right to publish the book in an unexpurgated form, replete with profanities, non-existent morality and turgid writing. The flood gates were opened to writing that today can border on the pornographic and very often oversteps the mark.
A case in point is the book by E L James, Fifty Shades of Grey. According to Wikipedia; “It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism”. It is troubling to note that the book has sold over 40 million copies. Is the writing of such deviant sexual practices degrading not only to the writer but, more importantly, to the reader? Yes. And is it acceptable? No.
We need to define what the boundaries are that keep our society intact. We need also to ask some important questions:? Are we in a downward spiral where morality is something that went out with corsets? Have our values and standards been so eroded that a book like Fifty Shades of Grey can appeal to the hoi polloi? What responsibility do writers have? Is it our place and duty to be society’s moral compass? If so, have we failed in that task? And, most importantly, how far do we pander to the basest in our society before we break down the very fabric that holds our civilization together?
W B Yeats said it all in his poem “The Second Coming”:
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Has “the beast” already entered Bethlehem and have writers assisted in its dreadful birth?