Monday, March 10, 2008

Victims of the Culture

One of the more in intelligent programs on broadcast television is a show called Law and Order: SVU (Special Victims Unit). Its theme is most often about sex crimes. One might think that a show whose theme centers on sex crimes would be the last thing a religious Jew should ever consider watching. Normally I might agree with that. But the content of this show is not what one might expect. It is not in any way erotic and often deals with the subject in a very thought provoking manner.

This is true about a broadcast episode rerun a couple of nights ago. Briefly - the plot revolved around the rape of several children by a 12 year old boy. Some of the central characters on the show were Chasidic Jews. And once again, as was the case with an episode of House, I was pleasantly surprised to see a relatively positive depiction of religious Jews.

This time the Chasidim did not look like Lubavitchers as they did on House. They looked like Satmar Chasidim. Of course they were not identified as such. I doubt that Satmar would have given them permission to do that. But there was no doubt about which Chasidim they were talking about. It was Satmar. The show even featured the fictitious town of ‘Kehilat Moshe’ obviously a thinly veiled imitation of Kiryas Joel.

As is often the case in this series the plot points you in one direction - but by the end of the show it goes somewhere completely unexpected. As the storyline progresses: an investigation by the SVU police results in the arrest of the Chasidic Rebbe for the sexual molestation of a Jewish child.

I thought that storyline was going to be loosely based on the real life case of a Yeshiva Rebbe who molested his students. But as the storyline further progressed, he was declared innocent. Further investigation revealed the real perpetrator to be a 12 tear old boy. He was arrested and Rebbe was freed. The police officer who had earlier arrested the rebbe and called him a child molester at the time - apologized. And then came understanding, and forgiveness on the part of the Rebbe followed by words of wisdom… words that made a strong impression upon that police officer and caused him to totally change his attitude about the case.

This is the second time this year that religious Jews were made to look wise on a widely watched televisions series. This is very atypical for series TV and is a welcome change from the past where religious Jews were made to look primitive and moronic.

But that was not the point of the show. The point made in this very strong episode was a damning indictment of the entertainment culture in America. It spelled out very clearly how virtually every leisure time activity is sexualized. In the course of the boy’s trial, evidence was presented that showed the boy’s behavior was the result of an immersion in pornography and the ease with which it is available in so many different venues... due to the lack of any parental supervision.

During the trial statistics were cited to support this. Over 80 percent of television broadcasts have sexual content. One could observe the most intimate of acts on cable TV at will any night after 10 PM. And much of that is abnormal - ‘sold’ as normal. And when one gets tired of cable TV - one can go to the internet and find the worst of pornography just as quickly and easily. Similar statistics were cited about popular music.

This 12 year old rapist was indoctrinated by his immersion in porn into believing that having sex at will even in the most unnatural of ways… was normal - that everybody does it! That was the defense argued by his lawyer - and she won the case. The child was found not guilty by reason of mental defect and sentenced to time in a psychiatric hospital.

It was pretty ironic for a show that deals with rape as its almost weekly topic presented such damning statistics about its own industry. It is also ironic that featured characters in a show that sent this message were Orthodox Jews. At least some people in Hollywood know what the score is and aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.

To be clear, I’m not making any judgments about the verdict. Nor am I saying that all TV …or movies …or music …or the internet is bad. Nor am I saying that there isn’t any personal responsibility in a case like the one depicted on this show. Or that anyone that immerses themselves in smut will turn into a rapist. But it is nice to know the there are some responsible people in an industry that is so overly sexualized… and that they are aware of the harm it does to the moral fabric of this country.

I understand that money drives this industry. And that high ratings equals high advertising revenue. And that sex boosts the ratings. But the price of all that financial success is too high.

In the meantime this show should be a lesson - Mussar Haskel for those of us who participate in the culture - to realize what we are buying into. And to be aware of its ills. We need to make certain we choose wisely from our cultural menu - both for ourselves and for our children. If we don’t, we too will pay a price… one that we may regret.