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Porn Nation

As luck would have it, we have a late-summer camp-gap as we get ready for school to start. In our household, both my wife and I work at home. So, day-in, day-out, parents and children are spending a lot of time together.

I was reading what looked like an interesting blog post on some of the differences between the Western and Islamic worlds when it comes to women. The point was that women in fundamental Islamic cultures, who may only go out in public when fully covered from head to toe, may actually have more anxiety over their bodies and weight than do women in more permissive Western cultures. At least according to one report. Fair enough.

It so happened that my middle school age daughter wandered into the room at about this time. Just then, I clicked on a link that looked like it was a humorous aside to a Wikipedia entry. Oops. It opened up a Google image search page of paparazzi photos of celebrity nether regions. None of them were X-rated but they were all very, very R-rated.

There my daughter was, eyeing my computer screen. Of course, I panicked. I fumblingly tried to close the window. It seemed to stay open for hours before disappearing. My daughter asked me the question she wanted to ask, and wandered back out of my office.

It's things like this that make me and other parents feel besieged by a culture around us of non-stop porn. In my gym there is a flyer advertising an "Urban Striptease" class right next to the flyer for a kids' ballroom dancing class. In one of the most popular stores for middle- and high-school age clothing, Hollister, the images are all of bikini-clad beach babes and dudes with jam shorts down below their devil's horns, a faint sense of making out in the rec room wafting through it all. Oh, and in our mall, this store is right across from a Victoria's Secret.

None of it is explicit. Yet it all skirts the line. None of it is appropriate.

This is not an indictment of the Internet, nor is it a call for censorship. It's a plea for us all to show some decency and remember how easy it is to pollute the environment around us.

I recall an incident from my past that shames me to this day. I was in my mid-twenties, attending a baseball game with friends. I was a nihilistic little punk, filled with bile for everything. Goodness knows how I ended up at an Angels game. Regardless, I amused myself with running, sarcastic, bitter commentary. I was on a roll. Recalling that I was in a public place, I was not profane and avoided George Carlin's Seven Words. But, even without swearing, I was as graphic as a sailor. If you know me, you know my voice carries.

Finally, maybe around the fifth inning, a man behind me spoke up. He yelled at me to shut up. I turned and saw he had a young boy with him, maybe nine or ten years old, with a summer buzz cut and a baseball cap. Angry young man that I was, I laughed it off.

But I toned it down and felt inward remorse. It haunts me still, now that I am a father with children of about that age. I didn't just ruin that man's baseball game, I polluted his day with vitriol. He, no doubt, had to explain to his son why that man was behaving like he was, talking like he was. Or maybe he didn't - maybe he just fumed on his way home, hoping his son would forget it.

I benefited from being taken down a peg, there in the moment. In today's culture, there's no one for me to take down, no single offender. Everywhere I turn tells my daughter to be sexy, my son to be violent, and both of them to disrespect authority simply on principle.

What is a parent to do? I really am at a loss. Some of my friends say the key is education and fostering an open relationship with our children. Others say there's nothing wrong with sheltering our offspring longer than they would like. There are tools that help parents band together and make recommendations about appropriate movies to one another.

Sure, it's all true. None of it is a real answer; none of it gets to the root of the problem which, from a parents' perspective, is this: Our culture has run amok.

I feebly went to my daughter and asked her if she had seen the page on my screen. Yes, she said. I told her that I had gotten there by accident, that she ought to be careful too. She nodded, yes dad. It was all very lame. The horse was out of the barn, had left long ago.

Some days, it really does feel as if we live in Rome just before its fall.

Brad Rourke writes a column on public life called Public Comments, is founder of a Maryland neighborhood blog called Rockville Central, and is in a band called The West End.



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