Not-So-Family Feud

A certain person in my family listens to Family Feud at ear-rattling volume for about three hours a day. What is it that bothers me the most about this? It could be the sound pressure that would make Metallica jealous, but it’s really the incredibly tacky–and not terribly clever–questions and answers that make up the show. My theory is that for any given category, someone will answer “Your butt!”

Steve Harvey: “Name something you wouldn’t want to leave on an airplane.”
Player: “Your butt!”
Rest of Family: “Good answer! Good answer!”
Audience: Howls of laughter.

If there’s an obvious sexual reference to make, then you make it. The more crude and middle-school-worthy, the better. And I’m not the only one to notice this. It wasn’t that long ago, 1960 to be precise, that Jack Paar got into a huge kettle of hot water over a truly clever bathroom joke that he delivered as host of The Tonight Show. That jokewhich played on a linguistic misunderstanding as to what the “WC” might be, “water closet” (restroom) or “wayside chapel,” wouldn’t even budge the taste meter among today’s comics.

Over the course of sixty years, we’ve gone from finding the W.C. joke to be unacceptably suggestive to seeing the steady diet of crass stuff on Family Feud as perfectly okay–or even desirable. Steve Harvey is apparently pulling in $12 million a year for that gig!

And before you start suggesting that I’m overreacting, let’s remember that Paar’s Tonight Show, like Jimmy Fallon’s, aired well after primetime and when the kids had presumably gone to bed. Family Feud runs in the daytime or for hours during the evening on whatever cable channel that is blasting loud enough for the neighbors to hear from my family member’s house.

We’ve seen a coarsening of taste and standards over those sixty years. Of course, you could point out that Shakespeare had some–or a lot of–suggestive jokes. The Greek dramatist Aristophanes had a whole play based on fairly lurid stuff. So what’s the difference? I’d point to a couple of differences. First, for all their naughty humor, both Shakespeare and Aristophanes mostly supported healthy sexual mores. Second, those writers were actually somewhat funny.

The stuff that masquerades as humor on that game show or coming from any number of mediocre comics is the verbal equivalent of fake vomit. Fake vomit isn’t really funny, but it can be shocking. To continue to draw laughter, it has to grow ever more shocking. And then we get to a place where a steady torrent of crudeness seems normal.

People don’t lose their sense of decency in one step. They don’t slide from Leave it to Beaver to Bob’s Burgers in a single move. Instead, they allow stuff, little by little, to come into their home and seem normal. And pretty soon, they’re wallowing in a cultural cesspool.

Where exactly should we draw the line? Is Leave it to Beaver edgy? I’m not going to try to establish a line, but I do believe that we need to take seriously the stuff we allow past our eyes and ears.

Steve Harvey: Finish this statement: When you’re mentally lazy, you sit on _______.
Player: Your butt.



To Forgive Is Divine (Hebrews 5:3-4)

This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. (Hebrews 5:3-4)

I saw a bumper sticker in a convenience store a few days back. I read the words and then studied the image. They didn’t seem to make any sense. Then I realized just what I was seeing and blushed. I won’t describe the sticker, thereby giving it any value, but it was crass and tacky.

The acceptable level of crass and tackiness in our society has risen dramatically over the span of my life. It wasn’t in the Middle Ages that Jack Paar faced a firestorm of outrage when he told a joke that pivoted on the definition of W.C.: water closet or wayside chapel. Compare that with any random five minutes from How I Met Your Mother or Two and a Half Men. Yes, standards have changed.

Essentially, people have decided that things that used to be “wrong” are now “okay.” At the same time, many things that used to be “okay”–telling racist jokes, for example–are now decidedly “wrong.” I quotate these words because I believe that what’s wrong has always been wrong and will always be wrong. Just because society decides that abortion is a “woman’s right to choose,” does not make it acceptable. Similarly, just because a nation decided for several hundred years that enslaving Africans was acceptable did not move slavery out of the sin column.

Only God can decide what is sin and what is not. Only God can provide the means to settle our sin problems. Only God can call the “High Priest” who will make that settlement. No government office or journalistic position can change these things. No amount of television propaganda or talk therapy can eliminate sin. That’s why the existence of Christ as our high priest is such a miracle.