John Rocker, the famed Atlanta Braves relief pitcher, has been demoted to the minor leagues and fined again after having words again with Sports Illustrated reporter Jeff Pearlman. It was Mr. Pearlman’s piece last December that called Rocker to the attention of the liberal guardians of our society, who have devised standards of conduct by which they presume to judge the world. Those who fail their test and Rocker is surely one automatically are deemed holdouts for ancient conservative mores. But the guardians and their friends are directly responsible for much of what they excoriate.
Here’s what Rocker said about the New York scene, for which he may, only now, be paying the real price: He did not want to ride the subway “next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids” and not hear anybody speaking English.
While the Rocker syntax is patently inelegant, the same thoughts rephrased in professorial English might sound like this: “The ills of today’s cities are many and manifest. The deadly AIDS disease is prevalent, spreading and dangerous. Criminal recidivism is an especially problematic urban symptom. The repetitious welfare cycle is as yet unsolved, and Sen. Hayakawa’s effort to make English America’s official language has not succeeded, complicating life for many Americans.”
Rocker doesn’t talk like that because he is a product designed by liberal Hollywood. Remember how the people of early television talked the Leave It to Beavers, or Dennis the Menaces, or I Love Lucys? They said “please” and “thank you,” never discussed sex or told each other to shut up, and didn’t make personal comments except as part of object lessons that counseled better behavior. Their syntax was sufficiently correct that when Madison Avenue told us that “Winstons taste good like a cigarette should,” there was instant criticism not of the pro-smoking message, but of the grammar. The early “Andy Griffith” shows actually had to be edited because little Opie learned bad English from Pa.
Then along came Norman Lear with “All in the Family,” and we learned that it was amusing to call your son-in-law “meathead” and attractive to say “shut up.” Oh, certainly the opinions of the politically incorrect were satirized, but sympathetic and unsympathetic characters alike expressed themselves with rawboned “realism,” considered as “courageous” for its time as “Ellen” is for hers. Any producer who attempted classical diction, standard syntax or dictionary English today would be as scorned as … Rocker was.
Rocker is Hollywood’s child, left as a changeling on the conservatives doorstep. What is terrifying is that his heresies have become matters for policing by New York and Hollywood people with vast media-generated wealth who haven’t had to ride a New York subway train for years, if ever.
Modern Hollywood’s influence is even greater, extending now beyond speech patterns to actions. Today’s most wrenching news reports are of school children killing one another. The left would have us believe this is because guns are not “smart,” trigger-locked or outlawed altogether. But how was it 50 years ago when a much higher percentage of the population owned guns? Gunshot wounds a mere 20 years ago were so rare that the occasional hunting casualty had to search hard for a competent doctor.
What has changed over the past two decades? Hollywood has been serving up a daily diet of shooting, stabbing and wounding, all to the harmonic not necessarily that such behavior is good, merely that it is normal. The first-grader who recently shot and killed his classmate remarked after the shooting that “it was just like television.” And of course he was right.
Part of the liberals’ need for the bombast over gun control comes not from any desire to make the world safe for children, or anybody else for that matter, but from the desire to distract the public from the real causes of the new violence: television, movies and video games (many violent to the point of sadism). Protecting the producers of this material is a campaign necessity for the Democratic Party. Nowhere else is there to be found so rich, so vocal, so easily wooed, so publicly idolized, so apparently attractive, so generally beguiling a segment of society that, with few exceptions, is so willing to support the Democrat left.
Margo D.B. Carlisle was assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration and Daniel Oliver was head of the Federal Trade Commission from 1968 to 1989.