I stole some rabbit ears from the Daily the other day so I could actually tease a few channels out of my television. Little did I know that when I turned the on television, Carson Daly would appear on my screen. Oh, the horror, the shock and awe.
Daly was interviewing someone named Connie Nielson, who was following a still couched Ringo Starr. Who despite the fact that he was in a television studio, on perhaps the lamest talk show I have ever seen, was still wearing those damned Ringo Starr sunglasses. And performing songs from his latest album, Ringorama.
It was not worth it, the thievery. Except for Roseanne, everything I watched that night made me nostalgic for four days ago when I stared wistfully at the television’s blue screen for more than15 minutes.
Starr closed Daly’s show with a smug version of the Beatles hit “A Little Help From My Friends,” which contains the now innocuous lyric “I get high with a little help from my friends.” Granted Daly’s show is on late at night and presumably not a whole lot of people watch it, but it still struck me that the weed reference elicited very little response from those present, save for the mostly polo-T-shirted crowd’s Pinocchian swaying and clapping. This wasn’t the Doors on the Ed Sullivan Show. It wasn’t even Drew Barrymore flashing David Letterman. Instead, Ringo safely warbled right through the reference, everyone grinned stupidly and I changed the channel.
At first, I was pleased – we can make drug references (or whatever) in our songs nowadays without some network hack hammering down on the bleep-out button. Perhaps most Americans realize now that cutting out the cursing and drug references in popular songs is a bigger waste of time than actually listening to most of them. But then I got to thinking about how rarely I hear people get riled about these sorts of things anymore. People don’t really seem at each other’s throats about culture.
Bipartisanship is a nice word and all, but I’d rather have Pat Buchanan rail against drug references in popular songs than plod along in a culture that emphasizes consensus over vigorously preserving a nuanced culture. At least at the height of the culture wars we picked sides. Today, much of the stuff of censorship and lifestyle legislation is ignored by nearly everyone except those with a direct stake in it or those who seek to bronze their morality in the law. All too often, Democrats and Republicans alike nod in agreement, Yes, that Eminem fellow is just too damn noisy. Increasingly, it seems Americans envision one big happy sterilized culture for themselves.
Case in point: the slew of municipalities across the country that are beginning to unilaterally ban smoking in bars, restaurants and bowling alleys. There’s very little that’s partisan about this issue. The way I understand it, some overzealous legislator who’s quit smoking and found his new crusade or who thinks smoking makes her jacket stinky simply introduces a bill to ban smoking throughout a city, everybody gets on board because everybody knows smoking is bad, a few smokers dress up in funny cigar costumes to protest outside city hall, shrill anti-smoking groups cackle about the dangers of second-hand smoke and the bill passes with little resistance from anyone who doesn’t own a bar; everyone’s happy. Except, of course, those of us who smoke.
I could go on and on about how interest groups greatly exaggerate the effects of second hand smoke in bars and restaurants. And about how people are usually not in contact long enough with second-hand smoke to actually suffer the effects. Or that many bars are already non-smoking and restaurants’ smoking sections are usually tucked away in a corner and/or ventilated. The point, though, is that by instinctively accepting lame Americanisms like “smoking is for losers,” Americans are gradually purging their culture of everything that isn’t rated PG, flag-related or shaped like a crayon.
Americans like to talk about freedom. So much so that it’s beginning to get really aggravating, actually. Freedom allows us our culture; it shouldn’t be it’s foundation. We should construct our culture around the very human interactions we have with one another. And like it on not, tobacco (which is, by the way, native to this continent) has been an integral part of American interaction for hundreds of years.
Get people to quit smoking if you’re concerned about their health, but those of us who smoke have chosen to do so and banning smoking in bars, bowling alleys and restaurants won’t make us quit. It’ll only make those places more boring.
Honkala can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.