U.S. society's mixed messages

I had a pop-culture epiphany listening to, what else, pop radio. On a station popular with my kids, the song “Friday Night” by Katy Perry was playing. It is the latest in a record-setting string of hits for Perry, and its opening lyrics are: 

There’s a stranger in my bed 
There’s a pounding in my head 
 
And we soon learn that 
 
It’s a blacked-out blur 
But I’m pretty sure it ruled … 
Last Friday night 
Yeah we danced on tabletops 
And we took too many shots 
Think we kissed but I forgot 
 

Lest any foolish parent think that the point of the song might be that one should not drink oneself into a “blacked-out blur,” the song ends with the resolution: 

This Friday night 
Do it all again  
 

This wasn’t the epiphany. After all, this is, unfortunately, pretty PG-rated stuff these days and hardly worthy of mention. Except that the song was, by sheer coincidence, immediately followed by a public service announcement warning listeners not to drink and drive. “If you’re not sober,” the stern voice concluded, “You’ll be pulled over.” 

No wonder our kids are so confused. 

There it was, before my very ears, the schizophrenia at the heart of our culture, the bipolar disconnect between the behavior we celebrate in song and image and the behavior we officially recommend in our public service announcements. 

Of course, it’s not just booze and drugs; it is also what booze and drugs can lead to: “The stranger in my bed.” 

Popular culture is virtually aquiver with sexual liaisons, most of which happen quickly and with a minimum of lasting complications. In fact, this summer’s “romantic” movie theme is where hooking up leads to getting hitched: casual sex partners who end up falling in love. Even when there are complications, these are seen more as collateral damage than as very preventable and very terrible misfortunes willfully caused. We lecture kids about sexually transmitted diseases and wring our hands about teen pregnancies, but meanwhile we are virtually awash in messaging that subliminally and overtly contradicts the “official line.” 

And it isn’t just the kids who can’t handle these mixed messages. I’m having serious doubts about the adults as well. 

A friend who does marriage counseling talks about Facebook divorces and the growing number of couples who are dealing with the devastating fallout of adultery. Men and women, he said, fail to use the brains God gave them, and suddenly they are wondering why their world has fallen apart, their spouse is leaving and their children won’t talk to them. 

When it comes to human nature, everyone claims to be a realist. Some folks say that being realistic means accepting that monogamy is virtually impossible and teen sex inevitable and so we must provide the technology to prevent pregnancies and other unwanted side effects. This is another mixed message that keeps getting broadcast.

I think being realistic means recognizing that we are all sinners, and even the most high-minded of us are capable of doing pretty bad things, should the dark stars align. Human nature hasn’t changed much from back in the days when birth control and Facebook and jello shots didn’t exist: You know, the Old Testament. We’ve just made it so much easier for human beings to mess up. 

The Church has a great deal of practical wisdom here, since it knows human beings, and it knows that there isn’t much new under the sun when it comes to sin. It talks about avoiding temptation and near occasions of sin and other really old-fashioned stuff: advice that actually works, but that isn’t always easy. Especially not when Friday night rolls around. 

Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.