‘It’s a quarter after one, I’m a little drunk, and I need you now.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a year that included that chorus line in one of its hottest country-music hits would end with a controversy over a Dancing with the Stars country gal going a few steps too far.
Julianne Hough’s striptease-acrobatics video “Is That So Wrong?” is wrong in more ways than one. And the primary one isn’t the scantily clad gyration. Hough, who also appears in the movie Burlesque, sings: “Doesn’t everybody just want to feel somebody? Just wanna hold someone to fill that empty space? When you’re missing that rush and a friend’s not enough?” She declares, “I just can’t deal.” “No tonight I just don’t wanna be alone. . . . You can let it go, lose control, and I promise it won’t hurt. . . . So throw it on the floor, I just can’t wait anymore.” You’ve, needless to say, seen more graphic, heard more graphic (probably without even trying to). As you open your e-mail inbox or walk into a deli for a sandwich, you’ll encounter ruder awakenings. But in a genre frequently — although by no means always — known for uplifting messages about faith, family, and freedom, Hough’s video comes at a time when Americans are drawing lines in the sand politically. That’s what the Tea Party movement has been about. And we ought to be drawing lines culturally, too. Because these things are not unrelated.
As young men and women reach for whomever to satisfy a feeling — divorcing sex not only from commitment but sometimes from even an illusory sense of love — their choices will have long-term impacts. Discussing his new study, “When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America,” W. Bradford Wilcox recently told me, “We are witnessing the emergence of a whole new class of communities — especially in rural and small-town America, and the outer suburbs — where scores of children and young men are growing up apart from the civilizing power of marriage and a stable family life.” He continued, “This does not bode well for the economic and social health of these communities. . . . . Among children in middle America, family breakdown typically doubles delinquency, drug use, psychological problems, and teenage pregnancy. Children who grow up without two married parents are also significantly less likely to do well in school, to graduate from college, and to hold down a steady job later in life.”
Children naturally learn from the models they encounter at home; but with children being fed — according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — 75 hours of popular entertainment every week, pop culture does matter. And a cautionary word to those of you who have kept television and video games and the like out of your homes: Unless your child is an island, he will be influenced by these poisons, directly or indirectly.
There is, of course, good and uplifting work being done in popular culture. And as consumers of these products — or simply concerned citizens involuntarily coexisting with them — we should encourage the good. Listening to, and watching, Miss Hough’s “Is That So Wrong?” it’s hard for a country-music fan not to think of myriad other songs that reach for a firm foundation, a moral core, an ideal. This year also brought us such songs as Miranda Lambert’s “The House that Built Me.” She sings of feelings, too, and a little bit of the same journey Miss Hough seems to sing of. Going back to the home she was raised in, as the title implies, Lambert sings: “I thought if I could touch this place or feel it, this brokenness inside me might start healing/ Out here it’s like I’m someone else/ I thought that maybe I could find myself/ If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave/ Won’t take nothing but a memory/ From the house that built me.”
When you’re on the verge of forgetting why you’re here, on the verge of or in the wake of a bad choice, it’s not a bad message to hear. Julianne Hough is perfectly free, of course, to sing such songs and make such videos as she has. But we don’t have to applaud it. We can ask more of our entertainment.
It’s like a broken record: Good girls in pop culture tend to go wild. It’s considered a commercial matter of broadening any young woman’s commercial appeal, as an act of independence and maturity. But real independence and maturity lie in countering that perverse message. Actual independence and maturity is having the good sense to embrace time-tested virtues. There’s wisdom in looking for healing, as Lambert sings — for true fulfillment, not a stop-gap rush.
In their 75 hours a week of pop entertainment, I want young men and women to hear songs about, say, a girl who knows she doesn’t have to settle, or how they can have more than they’ve seen modeled around them in their own lives, or how they can be made of the strong stuff of true commitment and love.
It’s throw-down time. It’s not about Left or Right or religious or secular. It’s about wanting better, always, for ourselves and for those we love. Out with any cultural influence that doesn’t inspire. Who has time for anything else? Why would we make time for that? Why wouldn’t we do everything in our power to make sure girls and boys know they don’t deserve anything less? Is that so wrong?
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is available exclusively through United Media.