Friday, June 19, 2009

The shame of it

As Hannity railed on yesterday about David Letterman insulting Sarah Palin and her daughter, something occurred to me that I haven't seen anywhere else. Given how much this story has been pawed over, it probably has appeared somewhere else, but I've missed it.

That's the conservative component of Letterman's joke. One way that societies typically curb unwelcome sexual behavior is by publicly shaming those who engage in it. It's an ancient way of keeping young people and the parents responsible for them in line.

No doubt the hunters and gatherers who thought this up never imagined that public shaming would become part of the TV culture. But Letterman, whatever his motives, was fulfilling an ancient -- and profoundly conservative -- social sanction when he ridiculed daughter and mother for failing to adhere to social mores.

It was actually liberals, I think, who began to argue that public shaming isn't such a good idea. Now conservatives seem to have adopted it full scale, perhaps without realizing just how liberal they have become.


Dave Rye said...

It really is quite a stretch, David, to think that Letterman would be such a profound thinker. Anything "conservative" he might have done had to have been inadvertent. Being a conservative, or at least being labeled as one, will get you banned from mixing with the beautiful people, especially on either coast.

Letterman's whole TV persona, besides being an attempt to remain part of the "in crowd," is to show that a man can remain an adolescent smart-ass decades after his chronological peers have grown up--and that a celebrity can host can get away with being totally unprepared for every interview he conducts.

Worse yet, much of America seems to think such shallowness is clever.

David said...

Of course, I'm not saying that Letterman thought all of that through. But I think that's where the impulse to ridicule people in such situations comes from.