The Culture Beat

September 25, 2005

Smart Asses

Filed under: Politics — Culture Beat @ 12:57 pm

I’ve been a New Republic subscriber since the early 1980s. If I could keep only one of my many magazine subscriptions (don’t ask), it’d probably be TNR; for me, it’s the closest thing to indispensable reading.

That’s not to say that I like everything about the magazine. On the contrary, some things annoy me no end. One of these is the tone that TNR often adopts when discussing matters of import to cultural conservatives: it’s the smartass (both words are in the Bible) air of superiority you’d expect from, say, twenty-somethings who have spent their whole lives being told how smart they are.

Case in point: an entry from this week’s “Notebook” about the creation of anti-pornography squad within the FBI and the memo that went out from Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to FBI field offices. This is how TNR summed up what the squad would be doing:

According to The Washington Post, Gonzales and Mueller are asking for eight field agents, a supervisor, and assorted staff to stop what they’re doing–presumably safeguarding national security–and start watching porn.

In case you didn’t grasp that you were in the presence (sort of) of a superior wit, the writer then drove the point home

As one FBI agent remarked to the Post, “I guess this means we’ve won the war on terror.” Indeed, if Gonzales wants to call on citizens instead to do their part in identifying this national scourge, we here at The New Republic stand ready to take up the challenge.

That still leaves the question: what exactly is the problem with Gonzalez’s proposal? Is it the diversion of resources away from “safeguarding national security?” I hate to point this out but the FBI’s mandate includes a lot more than “safeguarding national security,” unless your definition of “national security” includes things like organized crime, civil rights, financial crimes and crimes comitted on Indian reservations. And if it doesn’t, then are the resources devoted to these concerns somehow making us less safe?

Obviously — at least I hope so — TNR doesn’t think so. So, what’s the problem? Is it that the folks at TNR approve of the depiction of “bestiality, urination, defecation, as well as sadistic and masochistic behavior?” Do they think the production and distribution of this kind of material constitutes a “victimless crime?” (For a superb look at the porn industry, including its susceptibility to legal pressures, check out Frontline’s report “American Porn” which is available online at If so, say it. I look forward to reading the letters they will receive in response to this position.

Something tells me that I’ll be looking forward for a long time: the same “something” that tells me that TNR’s real problem with Gonzalez’s initiative is that it will please the wrong people, i.e., cultural conservatives. Of course, putting it quite that bluntly would seem petty and vindictive and we can’t have that, especially when we can always fall back on being a smartass.


1 Comment »

  1. Ah, yes, the “victimless crime,” the values-based laws which don’t have the right kinds of “facts” to prove their threat to society, i.e., in family impact and human misery. Don’t tell the wife whose husband spends more time with virtual women than her and can’t stop.

    Last week’s Chicago conference with Gospelcom featured a speaker from XXX Church who talked about the awful human toll on the users and promoters. One young woman at a both near XXX’s was the star of the porn films produced by her family. One of the most lucrative arms of the “entertainment” industry and no one wants to talk about it. Did that snarky remark from the FBI agent reflect the average person’s? If so, eight agents and a support staff is hardly a drop in the bucket against the giant business that sells something more powerful than heroin.

    Comment by Alex — September 25, 2005 @ 7:51 pm | Reply

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