On the boardwalk

It is hard to protect your daughter’s innocence these days, even when you are going for a stroll along the boardwalk at Myrtle Beach, S.C. 

This has little to do with a local shop called the Gay Dolphin, a reference to the apparent happiness of dolphins back in the 1940s, before the word took on other meanings. The Gay Dolphin is a curio shop filled with tacky T-shirts, pictures of Jesus and all the other kitsch that tourists apparently love: mood rings, alligator heads, fetal sharks in formaldehyde. 

For rude and crude, the Gay Dolphin pales in comparison to the T-shirt shops and tattoo parlors nearby. A sexual double-entendre would be a big step up for these places, and probably beyond the grasp of the barely dressed young — and not so young — men and women with piercings and tattoos and bored looks walking by. 

Being concerned for a daughter’s innocence these days is a full-time job, however. Not only is nighttime television increasingly rude and crude in its humor, but even the newspaper is a challenge. The latest bit of weirdness is the Anthony Weiner affair, an event so bizarre that it seems more like a fantasy letter in a men’s magazine than a front-page story. 

A congressman taking pictures of himself in various states of undress and sending them via Twitter to virtual strangers? Really? This is why comedian Jon Stewart and his “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central has become the primary source of news and commentary for the under-30 demographic. Who else but a comedian could tell this story? 

We have had a long list of errant congressmen and senators over the past 20 years, and even a president. They don’t seem to be getting any smarter. “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” Henry Kissinger famously said, but the concoction becomes even more dangerous when mixed with stupidity. 

Although Weiner apparently did not break any laws (that we know of as of this writing), one commentator suggested he still deserves to lose his job simply because he was a social media idiot. In this day and age, nothing stays private, even for ordinary people. For someone in a position of power, authority or celebrity, it is worse. 

The Internet never, ever forgets. That cellphone picture you took and posted on Facebook from the fraternity party? Years from now a human resources department for the company you want to work at will find it. Those dirty little pictures or naughty emails you send to your spouse, or someone else’s spouse: Surprise! They don’t disappear, either. There may not be statistics for this sort of thing, but marriage counselors and divorce lawyers can testify that more and more marriages are coming unraveled because cheating now leaves a digital trail. 

The Internet may become the ruin of us all, but it could also become our conscience. Because it never forgets and because we are now in a world where privacy is an endangered species and the public appetite for scandal seems unquenchable, contradictions between our public personas and private lives are easily exposed. The family values politician may actually have to live his values. The married movie star may have to actually work at being married. And so will we all. 

That’s the potential upside. But after a stroll down the Myrtle Beach boardwalk, I worry that we as a society may just decide it’s more fun to wallow in the filth. 

So, when it comes to protecting our children, it’s up to us, and it is never too early to have “the talk.” Only now, “the talk” is this: If you would be embarrassed to have your mother and your father read it right now, or 10 years from now, don’t click it, text it or send it. Don’t end up like a congressman. 

Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.