In his terrific book Ex-Friends, conservative godfather Norman Podhoretz tells a tragicomic story about radical poet Allen Ginsberg. In the 1950s, at the end of a night spent in pugnacious debate in Ginsberg’s apartment, Podhoretz took his leave. As he did, Ginsberg yelled down the hall after him: “We’re going to get to you through your children!”
I thought of Ginsberg’s line recently, when I happened upon a copy of the magazine Current. Actually, the full title is Current with Newsweek, although the Newsweek letters on the cover are small. Current is a glossy magazine distributed to colleges and universities around the country; it is, as the title blurb says, “for college students, by college students.” Call it a farm system for the mainstream media.
It’s no secret that our college campuses are saturated with political correctness and Current is rotten with it. Still, when I read it something funny happened. I felt no shock or outrage — this despite the fact that the magazine was distributed in the latest issue of the Hoya, the newspaper of Georgetown University, a supposedly Catholic institution, and that I am Catholic. It reminded me of the time that my mother revealed that she had once in her younger days attempted to watch a dirty movie at a bachelorette party. She lasted ten minutes. “I guess part of me was revolted,” she shrugged, “but mostly I was just bored.” I guess Ginsberg and his libertine friends have finally gotten to us through our kids. But it’s a dull, self-destructive freedom they have embraced, one whose numbing, repetitive drone of identity politics, political correctness, and sex sex sex has ossified into the most supine kind of orthodoxy.
Then again, perhaps I should be outraged. It is indeed tragic when young people are assaulted with damaging messages and tradition and common sense are attacked. I do admit feeling a charge of emotion when I saw the above-the-title headline on the cover: “SPECIAL GUIDE TO A PIMPED-OUT ROOM.” Yep, instructions on how to decorate your dorm room to make a John proud.
But as I leafed through the rest of Current, I began predicting sentences before actually reading them. There was no surprise, just page after page of rote, boilerplate political correctness and tired rule-breaking. Nudity in a piece about streaking. Yawn. Anti-military screed. Wake me when it’s over. There’s the article “Sexpionage,” which encourages women to, well, act like prostitutes. Before reading a word, I muttered, “this will be a defense of the mainstreaming of porno and its co-option by so-called feminists.” A few paragraphs down, and bingo: “Raised on HBO softcore porn and Janet Jackson music videos, the modern woman has appropriated the proverbial pants in the mating ritual.” It is time, author Anna Ritner proclaims, “to wage a subversive war on courtship.”
Leaf past the obligatory genuflecting to “diversity” — a forum by college newspaper editors on whether their campuses are “multi-culti” enough — and there’s the piece on contraception. I sighed, announced it would in some way attack conservatives and probably my Church, and began reading. And here we go. Author Victoria Bosch describes a friend who was thrilled when “her long-time lust object asked her out.” The girl winds up pregnant, and in trouble: “as a student at a conservative school affiliated with a mainstream religion, she would not have been able to procure emergency contraception from the student health center. Too scared to go to Planned Parenthood, she had asked me to pick up the prescription.”* In case you’re not getting it, the next paragraph leaves no doubt: “My friend’s religious college did not keep her from gettin’ down. It did, however, make her situation more dangerous.” Is it possible that such thinking promotes risky behavior? Not according to Jack Trussell at Princeton University. He cites six studies. No need to find a dissenting voice.
But wait, what’s this? A long piece — the cover story in fact — about college students who actually get married? I felt cornered. “State of the Union” described young people who fall in love, desire a commitment and get hitched. It’s not possible, I thought. There simply must be some promoting the Ginsberg agenda in here. Two pages later, and there it is, a full spread titled “Here Come the Brides,” about gay marriage. Carolina Oster and Sylvia Glassco at Yale “met in marching band and fostered a relationship.” At the Harvard-Yale game, even alumni sent congratulations — “It seemed like no one could get enough of the young couple.” Of course, simply recounting these facts is good journalism, so I knew there had to be more — the indispensable shot at the conservatives. And like the sun coming up or leaves tumbling off the trees in the fall: “Even critics of same-sex marriage can’t help contracting the couple’s contagious enthusiasm.” According to Glassco, “A good friend of ours who is very conservative said to me, ‘Sylvia, I’m opposed to gay marriage, you know that. But I want good people to be married.”
Anyone who thinks that Chrissy A. Balz, a student at Georgetown and the writer of “State of the Union,” did not do her job by failing to interview those who have not been charmed by Oster and Glassco, or that Victoria Bosch fumbled her contraception piece by not noting any dissenters from the Playboy culture (Playboy has a half-page ad in Current, natch), or that promoting a pimped-out room in a magazine distributed on a Catholic university’s campus is in poor taste, just isn’t paying attention. Current is published by Newsweek. It’s a warm-up for big-time journalism. It is crucial that these kids learn how to ignore sources they disagree with, attack traditional religion and promote a libertine ethos no matter how poisonous to the soul.
But at long last, isn’t it all so dreadfully dull? Doesn’t it all lack the snap and crackle of those poor repressed students, with their manners and morals and faith, in Brideshead Revisited and pre-1960s America? Chesterton once remarked that it’s easy for a dead fish to go with the current, but it takes something alive to go against it. Reading Current is like watching dead fish float by. Ginsberg was right. The elites and the radicals got to us through our children. But I bet he never dreamed their corruption would be so absolutely, insufferably banal.