A Tale of Two Declines
Even if the economy were to fix itself overnight, we'd still face sincere cultural challenges.


Mark Steyn

Perhaps the saddest part of the book is Ingraham’s brisk tour of recent romantic ballads. Exhibit A, Enrique Iglesias:

Please excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude

But tonight I’m f**king you . . . 

 Well, at least he said “excuse me,” which is more than this young swain did:

Take my order ’cause your body like a carry out

Let me walk into your body until it’s lights out.

Lovely:  I am so hot for you I look on you as a Burger King drive-thru.  That’s what the chicks dig. That’s what you’ll be asking the band to play at your silver wedding anniversary as you tell the young ’uns that they don’t write ’em like they used to. Even better, this exquisite love song is sung not by some bling-dripping braggart hoodlum of the rap fraternity but by the quintessential child-man of contemporary pop culture, ex-Mouseketeer Justin Timberlake.

It’s not the vulgarity or the crassness or even the grunting moronic ugliness, but something more basic: the absence of tenderness. A song such as “It Had To Be You” or “The Way You Look Tonight” presupposes certain courtship rituals. If a society no longer has those, it’s not surprising that it can no longer produce songs to embody them: After all, a great love ballad is, to a certain extent, aspirational; you hope to have a love worthy of such a song. A number like “Carry Out” is enough to make you question whether the fundamental things really do apply as time goes by.

Yet one of the curious features of a hypersexualized society is that it becomes paradoxically sexless and joyless. Guys who confidently bellow along with Enrique’s “F**king You” no longer quite know how to ask a girl for a chocolate malt at the soda fountain. It’s hardly surprising that, as Miss Ingraham reports, the formerly fringe activity of computer dating has now gone mainstream on an industrial scale. And, even then, as a couple of young ladies happened to mention to me after various recent encounters through and the like, an alarming number of chaps would rather see you naked on their iPhones Anthony Weiner–style than actually get you naked in their bachelor pads. I was reminded of The Children Of Men, set in an infertile world, in which P.D. James’s characters, liberated from procreation, increasingly find sex too much trouble.

Laura Ingraham’s book is a rollicking read. But, as I said, I picked it up after a re-immersion in The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, a melancholy portrait of the decline of the Habsburg Empire seen through the eyes of three generations of minor nobility and imperial civil servants in the years before the Great War swept away an entire world order and its assumptions of permanence. Roth was a man of the post-war era, yet he could not write his story without an instinctive respect for the lost rituals of a doomed world: The novel takes its title from the great Strauss march that the town band plays in front of the District Commissioner’s home every Sunday. As much as the Habsburgs, we too are invested in the illusions of permanence, and perhaps one day it will fall to someone to write a bittersweet novel about the final years of the republic. But we will not even enjoy the consolations of a Strauss march. It doesn’t have quite the same ring if you call the book “Carry Out” or “F**king You.”

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2011 Mark Steyn.


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