There's a song that's been getting heavy play on the Top 40 stations for the last few weeks, a real catchy tune that's got my kids singing along and punching buttons on the car radio, hoping to find it when we're out driving.
The song, with its chorus that gets stuck in your head and stays there for a while, has cracked the national Top 10. You've probably heard it. It goes like this:
Follow me, everything is all right I'll be the one to tuck you in at night. And if you wanna leave, I can guarantee You won't find nobody else like me. I was singing along, having just as good a time as the kids were until I caught the verse that comes along right after the first go-round of the chorus: I'm not worried about the ring that you wear, Cause if no one knows, than nobody could care. You're feeling guilty and I'm well aware, But you don't look ashamed and baby, I'm not scared.
Well, now. That changes the tune a little.
There's also a movie that recently made the round of the theaters, featuring a high-powered cast including Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Gary Shandling. The review in the paper notes that Beatty and Shandling "stray from their wives" after 20-something years of marriage with, since the movie is billed as a romantic comedy, we can only assume are hilarious results.
My point isn't to single out any particular song or movie. Like I said, the song is catchy and I've always been a fan of Goldie Hawn. I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to turn up other examples. But isn't what we're talking about here, when the music stops and the laughter dies down, simply adultery? And isn't that a bad thing?
It's also not my point, or my place, to judge anyone who's ever committed adultery. Countless very good, but very human, people have done so, including some whom I hold near and dear. I understand the powerful pull of temptation, the lure of the forbidden and the cycles that marriages go through, and I know that we're all vulnerable and that the best of intentions can go awry. It's real life.
But that doesn't make it OK, and it's left me wondering a few things. I wonder why we so often minimize, even romanticize, something that is so destructive. I wonder why we sing or laugh along with something that turns lives upside down. I wonder if it's because we've reduced adultery to less offensive euphemisms such as "having an affair" or "cheating," as if some kind of card game is involved. But adultery isn't slipping an ace up your sleeve. It's the ultimate breach of trust with someone you're supposed to love more than anyone else on earth. It's the breaking of a sacred promise you vowed to keep. It destroys relationships, marriages and families. It's not something that deserves to be portrayed positively.
And it's something I wish my kids wouldn't sing about.
Does that make me a prude, or politically incorrect? A fan of censorship? I don't think so. I think we all know, in our hearts, that adultery is terribly wrong. People who commit it don't announce their adultery and expect approval. They get caught, and then either attempt to rationalize their actions or renounce them.
So if it's wrong and destructive, I wonder why we seem so willing to be entertained by it. Is it because in a song or a movie it doesn't affect us directly, thus providing us a safe detachment? Or that, like so many other things, we've become desensitized to it? Is it a case of the lack of significant disgruntlement creating tacit approval?
I also wonder why the often-devastating consequences of adultery aren't usually depicted. In movies, unlike in real life, we don't often see scenes of the world crashing down around adults and children after adultery happens. In songs, singers don't usually include a verse about the guilt and regret that so often follow adultery. I know a couple whose marriage survived adultery, although it was seriously wounded, and two couples whose marriages didn't. Their stories, which also include bewildered children and friends caught in the middle, probably won't make it to the airwaves anytime soon.
Certainly, it's not the job of musicians or filmmakers to instill or campaign for strong values regarding marriage and commitment, and I have no desire to infringe on anyone's First Amendment rights to free expression. In the end, the responsibility is yours and mine, because what we take in can, subtly and incrementally, change us.
I just wonder why we aren't sometimes a little more guarded, and thoughtful, about the things we let into our minds and hearts in the guise of entertainment.
Tom Allen is editor of the Virginia Journal of Education and a free-lance writer.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.
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