Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2001 / 16 Teves, 5762

Stanley Crouch

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If the price is right --- just do it! -- WITH a new year looming, we might do well to look at what we have become as a culture. On Sept. 11, we were asked to face something that had never been so evident. We discovered just how vulnerable a free society is to those who would destroy it, or try to cow it with acts of mass slaughter.

It was largely new to us, but we had observed such acts on smaller scales all over the world. The tone of the future might have been set when Japanese terrorists opened up with machine guns at the Tel Aviv airport decades ago and stunned us all, forecasting what Israel would have to suffer off and on for years.

Then there was Black September at the 1972 Olympics, when Palestinian terrorists murdered members of the Israeli team. There were no sanctuaries from gangster politics.

Throughout the '70s, various groups shot, blew up and kidnapped people to make their demands clear and fight their wars in the mass media. Small, ruthless groups, they argued in effect, were the best answer to big, powerful armies and governments. And, say, what do you mean ruthless? History will decide who was ruthless and who was a fearless revolutionary hero. Besides, the oppressor never has the right to tell the oppressed how to liberate themselves!

Along the way, America's entertainment culture underwent a strange reaction to the nation's victories over puritanical sexuality and segregation and its grand debate over the Vietnam War. On the heels of a nonviolent civil rights movement and a largely nonviolent anti-war movement, our culture responded with a building level of vulgarity, violence and self-righteous paranoia that had no precedent.

Madonna appropriated all feminist theory about liberated female sexuality and used it to justify rank exploitation, which makes her the godmother of Lil' Kim and the rest of the contemporary tramps.

Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger created models for a special kind of self-righteous violence in which a single guy, disgusted with the failure and corruption of the system, fires thousands of bullets, kills off hundreds of people and sends up so much orange flame and smoke that those watching the World Trade Center attack in Hollywood thought at first that it was a clip from a forthcoming movie. Mass murderer as folk hero.

That violence also appeared in the lyrics of satanic rock groups and eventually spread into black pop culture when NWA emerged and spewed, "F--- tha Police." That set a money-making trend of thug entertainment that has sent negativity blasting around the world, promoting violence, vulgarity, empty-headed self-promotion and relentlessly rude behavior.

So what, then, does American freedom mean as expressed by much of our popular culture? It means you have the right to take the law into your own hands, mow down as many people as necessary and look at the police with loathing when they arrive, awed and impotent, at the end of the slaughter.

Or you have the right to present yourself as a whore if the price is right.

America doesn't want or need to return to the hollow happiness of the '50s, but we have to find another set of ways to be ourselves in a world as impressionable as it is dangerous.

JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


12/21/01: 'American Patriots': Book hat's a Gift for All Seasons
12/04/01: Tightening our immigration policies is cruel?
11/29/01: Modern-day abolitionists need help
11/27/01: bin Laden has exposed hard truths
11/20/01: Facing the hard truth about Africa & slavery
11/13/01: Let military run security for air travel
10/23/01: The media, where threats to flesh and blood have little meaning
10/17/01: Red, White Blue, black and white
10/11/01: We stand armed with compassion
10/05/01: Drawing the line on racial profiling
09/14/01: Let's rise above worst instincts
09/07/01: HBO's now big shaper of culture
08/21/01: Is Sharpton a changed man?
08/03/01: A writer misuses the great Louis Armstrong
07/20/01: When murder is justified
07/06/01: America's democracy has a music to it
06/29/01: The soul and pluck of women are to this nation's development
06/22/01: This history is music to my ears
06/08/01: A School Succeeds, A Union Fails
06/05/01: Sharpton's rise and fall
05/25/01: Third World Unity? Sorry, It's Just a Dream
04/13/01: Two murderers, two twisted fantasies
04/06/01: The problem with art is artists
03/16/01: Bush still has some pretty serious image problems he better address ASAP
03/09/01: Of gangsters, gangstas --- and spin

© 2001, NY Daily News