Pubdate: Wed, 26 Jul 2006
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Section: The Wry Side
Copyright: 2006sThe Australian
Author: Emma Tom
Bookmark: (Heroin)


AUSTRALIAN society has gone to the dogs. The young are intravenously 
connected to iPods at birth and think nothing of pulling out a pink 
bit and performing a turkey slap live on national telly. Parents are 
permissive, schools are postmodern, and cruise ships, once innocuous 
floating nursing homes, are now dens of druggish vice and nudist 
iniquity. If only we could return to the golden era. You know, that 
time when neat nuclear family units flourished behind white picket 
fences, blissfully free from the multitude of social ills that plague 
us today. No scary new technology, no sleazesome celebrities, no 
teenage girls in slutty porn-star singlets. Just good, old-fashioned 
moral uprightness.

Although it's tempting to allow social conservatives to whisk us back 
to the good old days in a metaphorical time machine, perhaps first we 
should work out where to set the co-ordinates.

And that's where things get tricky. According to Why TV Is Good For 
Kids, a new book by Catharine Lumby and Duncan Fine, it's difficult 
to find an era when society was given a clean bill of moral health.

Despite the endless "end is nigh" headlines, many of our contemporary 
social concerns actually have extraordinarily long histories. 
Consider the following quote: "Many young girls, from morning to 
night, hang over (SCANDALOUS ACTIVITY X) ... to the neglect of 
industry, health, proper exercise and to the ruin both of body and of 
soul ... The increase of (SCANDALOUS ACTIVITY X) will help to account 
for the increase of prostitution and for the numerous adulteries and 
elopements that we hear of in the different parts of the kingdom."

Such hysteria could be applied to any number of modern evils: being 
taught about frangers instead of abstinence at school, buying 
celebrity-endorsed tween-age bras, watching old Baywatch reruns on 
pay television.

But this quote comes from a 1792 book called Evils of Adultery and 
Prostitution, warning about the moral corruption caused by reading 
novels: the 18th-century equivalent of internet surfing. That's 
right, Austen lovers. Back in 1792, all of today's Australian 
commentators urging a return to the teaching of classic fiction in 
schools would have been run out of town as pimps and whoremongers.

Lumby and Fine go on to reveal that debauchery and crime have also 
been blamed on nefarious villains such as premodern feasts and 
festivals, 18th-century theatre, the music halls of the 1890s, Elvis 
Presley's rumpy-pumpy pelvis and foreign disease-infested comic 
books. But what about youth culture? Surely that's a new problem 
that's getting worse by the minute? Grumpy old Socrates certainly 
thought so. Back in about 399BC, the Greek philosopher grouched that 
the young "love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for 
authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place 
of exercise". Worse still, they "no longer rise when elders enter the 
room", "they contradict their parents", "tyrannise their teachers" 
and spend too much time gorging on treats.

Sound familiar?

In the 1950s, the sordidly back-combed hair and over-plucked eyebrows 
of the widgies copped the same treatment that kinderwhore midriff 
tops and micro skirts get today.

The alleged masculinity crisis is also old news. Why TV Is Good For 
Kids explains that the Scout movement was founded by Lord 
Baden-Powell because he thought the appallingly feminising influence 
of female teachers had rendered 1900s boys altogether too soft, 
sensitive and flaccid. And next time you bemoan Australia's literacy 
standards, remember you're joining a long line of shrill Chicken 
Littles, including several NSW chief English examiners who accused 
secondary schools in the 1940s and '50s of failing to produce 
literate students able to write proppa sennences.

The overwhelming evidence is that the more things change, the more 
they stay eerily similar. But this is unlikely to come as a comfort 
to a society that loves working itself into a sky-is-falling frenzy. 
Oddly enough, we seem to prefer the panic.

Oh well. At least the troubled populace is now free to drown its 
sorrows in the odd novel, even if soothing heroin and cocaine tonics 
- -- once widely prescribed in Australia -- are no longer as readily 
available as they were in the so-called good old days.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman