Pop Culture Smartens Up

Brooks' column today is, well, very good. Break out the party hats and noisemakers, it's a perfectly sound meditation on the paradoxical relationship between an increasingly sexual culture and a decreasingly sexual youth that doesn't pivot into insane ravings in the last paragraph. Huzzah! This culture stuff, by the way, is exactly the sort of column Brooks should stick to. He's quite entertaining and often profound when evaluating the contours of American life, it's when he tries to enter the political trenches that his pen loses its individuality and his fairness becomes a cynical ploy.

Anyway, I'm digressing. Brooks is right that culture is actually getting better, though he focuses only on the sexual aspect of it. My experience would back him up -- UCLA is a stunningly virginal campus, and many I knew in high school kept up impressively chaste profiles (many did not, but the orgies were rarer than the prayer meetings). Santa Cruz was much more sexually active, though it had an almost wholesome, adventurous ethos to it; it reminded me of nothing so much as a conscious effort to recapture the feel of the sexual liberation. So even there, more lovin', but it wasn't dirty or raunchy -- the campus was hyper-feminist and the overt objectification and sexualization of women you see in many venues wouldn't survive an instant there.

I'd take Brooks' theory a step farther though. It's not just the sex that's getting better -- or rarer -- the head is improving too. This is a kinda half-baked idea of mine, but think about the shows to achieve major popularity in the past few years. There's some unobjectionable fare, like Everyone Loves Raymond, some objectionable fare, like the reality shows, and then there's some pretty encouraging stuff -- West Wing, the Gilmore Girls, CSI, Law and Order, etc are all shows that, to varying degrees prize intellectualism. Sorkin's series venerates a bunch of policy savants who work in politics, the Gilmore Girls is a literary lovefest, CSI prizes the creative application of forensic science, and Law and Order shows attorneys some love. It's not a wasteland out there by any means, you're seeing smart, dialogue-based shows succeed with characters who are unabashedly, even definingly, intelligent. Pop culture is improving, or at least it looks that way to me.