What’s Wrong with the World

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But seriously, ladies and degenerates…

From the new Sacha Baron Cohen laugh-fest Bruno (per Drudge):

In one scene Bruno appears on a talk show holding a baby who is wearing a T-shirt reading "Gayby."

The sequence flashes to Bruno having sex in a hot tub while the baby sits nearby. He then boasts to the outraged studio audience that the baby is a man magnet.

My take: If you think this is remotely funny, there is something seriously wrong with you. And if you need an explanation of why there is something seriously wrong with you, there is even more wrong with you than I thought. But hey, let’s not argue about it; as Elizabeth Anscombe would say, corrupt minds cannot be reasoned with.

To be sure, “concerns” have been raised about the movie – not because of the baby sex jokes, but (oh dear, hide the children!) because of its possibly “homophobic” elements.

Don’t worry, gentle reader, things could always be worse. And will be. And soon. After all, we moderns do everything faster and better than our forebears, especially civilizational decline. As they say in show biz, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Comments (37)

[Comment removed. I needlessly offended my Episcopalian friends by my failed attempt at humor. Thus, I have also removed Mike T.'s clever reply - FJB]

And the blind shall lead the blind into a valley of mousetraps

Some inappropriate things elicit a guilty laugh or a snicker in private and make you realize you're a long way from finished with salvation.

This isn't one of them. Sick.

The more you rub their noses in the culture they have given birth to, and at the same time the more Christian philosophers magnify Christ the more it angers the godless. What a mark of success then "when they utter all kinds of calumny against you". :)

Pope Benedict XVI Europe and its Discontents (2005)

"Secular Europe is living off a constantly depleting stock of moral capital. At the hour of its greatest success, Europe seems hollow, as if it were internally paralyzed by a failure of its circulatory system that is endangering its life, subjecting it to transplants that erase its identity. At the same time as its sustaining spiritual forces have collapsed, a growing decline in its ethnicity is also taking place. Europe is infected by a strange lack of desire for the future. Children, our future, are perceived as a threat to the present, as though they were taking something away from our lives. Children are seen—at least by some people—as a liability rather than as a source of hope. Here it is obligatory to compare today’s situation with the decline of the Roman Empire. In its final days, Rome still functioned as a great historical framework, but in practice its vital energy had been depleted."

CS Lewis On the Transmission of Christianity (1946)

“As long as Christians have children and non-Christians do not, one need have no anxiety for the next century. Those that worship the Life-Force do not do much about transmitting it: those whose hopes are all based on the terrestrial future do not entrust much to it. If these processes continue, the final issue can hardly be in doubt.”

I've been following this blog for a bit over the past few days, and I'm really saddened by the "holier than thou" attitude that drips from the posts and comments by well-known Christian academics here, as well as the shamelessly derogatory remarks like Beckwith's crack about Episcopalians in the first comment on this thread. I say this as someone who mostly endorses the conservative moral views represented here. By virtue of that association, I'm embarrassed by what goes on here--in much the same way that I think a lot of atheists are embarrassed by the behavior of folks like Dawkins and Dennett. In fact, that the comparison between the most frequent posters here and those two figures is apt in many ways. Christian academics ought to be different.

[removed. see above. FJB]


A question about Aquinas, moral reasoning and corruption (raised by your post which was, admittedly, on a different issue). I have never quite understood Aquinas's view on why the corrupt cannot grasp the moral truth. To my mind, there are two possible reasons:

(1) Corrupt minds become unable to *perceive* the moral law, and so any reasoning they engage in, no matter how valid, sharp, etc. will come to conclusions that promote their own glory and sin.

(2) Corrupt minds become unable to *reason* correctly, since the intellectual virtues are affected by sin (and they are somewhat unified with other virtues certainly affected by sin). As a result, their intuitions are corrupted, their inferential ability is corrupted and thus they cannot make valid inferences about the moral law. And so any reasoning they engage in, because their reasoning abilities are shot, will lead to conclusions that promote their own glory and sin.

Most of the time, I'm pretty sure Aquinas has view (1), but here are some reasons to worry: (a) Aquinas thinks that goodness can be understood in terms of right reasoning, but he doesn't appear to understand right reasoning in terms of tracking the moral law (like some reasons externalists do). In this case, it looks like knowing the moral law is a matter of inference not perception. (b) Aquinas thinks that moral judgments are intrinsically motivating. If I judge that X is good, I am ipso facto (at least a little) motivated to choose X. But it is really odd to accept this view along with holding that we know the moral law through perception (this would make Aquinas a motivational internalist and a reasons externalist, positions that the vast majority of metaethicists do not want to combine because it wholly separates the tie between motivation and reasoning).

What do you think? Sometimes I think one of the following two things:

(c) Aquinas is combining two moral traditions, Aristotelianism and a growing sense of a distinct tradition of Christian natural law. I know you will hate, hate, hate separating these, but the more I study the natural law tradition, the more the external, eternal moral law of Aquinas and later natural law figures seem really different than Eudaimonists generally speaking (not just Locke or Grotius, who largely but not wholly abandon Thomistic metaphysics, but even Vittoria, who from what I can tell appears to believe that we just intuit the natural law; flourishing drops out of the picture gradually in the tradition).

(d) Something about Aquinas's metaphysics and epistemology makes the distinction between inference and perception (when it comes to grasping the moral law) untenable. My sense is that were one to pursue line (d), one could claim that inference and perception are only sharply distinct starting with Descartes, and that for Thomism inference always begins with data that contain forms from the world, and so is never sectioned off from reality in the way that moderns often allow. But I still don't see how that collapses my worry above. Further, I am also worried that the Thomistic theory of perception makes perceptual error harder to understand than it needs to be.

Given what has occurred over the last few days Mike your post reads like excessive self-preservation to me. But I don't know you and what risks you take personally to defend these little ones:


against this:


Now if a very robust criticism of the culture that acquiesces to this rankles you, I think that's a failure of sensibility.

It's not acceptable to allow the chief priests of secular culture who pave the way for this horror to go unchallenged "You brood of vipers, how do you think you can avoid going to Hell!?".

Ronald Dworkin on depravity becoming the wallpaper of society:

..it sharply limits the ability of individuals consciously and reflectively to influence the conditions of their own and their children’s development. It limits their ability to bring about the cultural structure they think best, a structure in which sexual experience generally has dignity and beauty, without which their own and their families’ sexual experience are likely to have these qualities in less degree.

Robbie George adding:

It is in a special way a matter of justice to children. Parents’ efforts to bring up their children as respecters of themselves and others will be helped or hindered—perhaps profoundly—by the cultural structure in which children are reared. Whether children themselves ever get a glimpse of pornographic images in childhood is a side issue. A decent social milieu cannot be established or maintained simply by shielding children from such images. It is the attitudes, habits, dispositions, imagination, ideology, values, and choices shaped by a culture in which pornography flourishes that will, in the end, deprive many children of what can without logical or moral strain be characterized as their right to a healthy sexuality. In a society in which sex is de-personalized, and thus degraded, even conscientious parents will have enormous difficulty transmitting to their children the capacity to view themselves and others as persons rather than objects of sexual desire and satisfaction.

This is in a similar vein of societal meltdown, but is actually hilarious in a cynical way since it involves self-assured cougars, not children.

One cannot reason with a corrupt individual because, while the intellect moves the will as an end, the will moves the intellect as an agent.

The will seeks the universal end of the good itself. The universal good cannot be sought unless it is first perceived, and it is perceived through the intellect's first grasp of being.

But since the will seeks the universal end, it is the will that directs all action towards any particular end. The truth of any particular inquiry is a particular end.

Now, a will that has been corrupted by concupiscence is one that has habitually chosen a false good. This habit disinclines it to choose a true good that is incompatible with the false good to which it is habitually attached.

So a corrupted will that habitually chooses the false good of the pleasure of sodomy will reject the true good of the moral truth that sodomy is wrong. It will not allow the intellect to investigate or assent to this truth because this will mean rejecting the false good to which it is habitually inclined. Thus a person who has a deeply ingrained vicious habit becomes nearly impossible to convince of the viciousness of said habit.

The St. Thomas' text on the way the will moves the intellect can be found here.


I brief argument in defense of "Borat"...I mean "Bruno". Actually, there is no real defense for his joke, but there is a delicious irony in his attempt at humor. Because satirical humor has an element of uneasy truth about it (think Swift), it is telling that some groups are already complaining about homophobia. Why? Because Bruno depicts his gay character as so morally corrupt (or hedonistic) that he will do anything to "get a man", including luring him with the prospect of an ersatz family. Presumably there are other examples of Bruno portraying gays in a traditional (i.e. flamboyant, obsessed with style, etc.) manner, which is why the pro-gay groups are probably upset. What Sasha should have done, to avoid the obvious tastelessness of the baby, is have Bruno show off his 20-year old adopted "son" as the lure for a man. I liked "Borat", so perhaps unlike you I am actually disappointed in Baron Cohen, because I think he could have made a very funny movie about "Bruno" without stooping to use the baby as a prop.

Mike (not Mike T),

Could you give me an example of something a Christian could vehemently criticize in a way that wouldn't offend you? -- since it seems the aborting of 60,000 babies, libel, jokes about statutory rape, sexualizing infants, etc. are in your view just not serious enough cause for moral outrage.

Hope that wasn't holier-than-thou...

I know from personal experience that I'm morally corrupt, but it nonetheless seems to me that one could laugh at Brueno's joke without thereby displaying oneself to be morally corrupt. It all depends on why you're laughing. (Moreover, one could know it's immoral to laugh, and laugh anyway, and feel guilty about oneself--that, to me, wouldn't show a deep--or as deep a--level of corruption because some people, such as myself, are more disposed to laugh at things than others.)

I've seen things and thought to myself, "oh my gosh, that is so awful!" while also laughing--indeed, while laughing _because_ of the awfulness. The laughing could be a defense mechanism (as one commenter has above noted), but it could also have to do with the element of surprise. As I'm sure you know, surprise is a big element in humor (not always, of course--when a woman walks through a darkened parking lot and is surprised by a mugger, laughter is not the usual or appropriate response), because humor seems to rely on what the psychologists call "Gestalt-shifts". If you expect one result and get another, laughter can ensue.

Also, "heightening" is a source of humor. I've done my fair share of improvisational comedy (even professionally), and I'll be darned at the things audiences laugh at because of heightening. Generally, there is something about detailed character studies that can make people laugh. If you know that someone P has character trait X, which you see exhibited in everyday situation S, you may not find it funny; but if you then transport that character to unusual situation S', where S' is such that it's tailor-made to interact humorously with anyone who possesses X, then humor can ensue because (a) you can watch the expression of the trait unfold at a safe distance (because you're an audience member); (b) you also know something about P's history, so you're invested in P, and so are curious about how things unfold; and (c) you're surprised by how things unfold. Of course, all this has to be done with the right level of artistry, but Baron-Cohen has shown that he is quite skilled in that area.

I'm going to be dead honest: I laugh at a lot of humor most people here would probably find either inscrutable or vile. Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Squidbillies. Sam Kinison. George Carlin. Family Guy (before it got all preachy and boring, and also excessive). Various internet stuff not worth even spreading awareness of. And Borat's one thing I've laughed at in the past.

But I'm going to have to side with Ed. I don't care if something makes me laugh - it can achieve that, and still be vile, and still be a thing that should not have been done. I believe CS Lewis said something along the lines of how, if you can just get someone to laugh, all is forgiven. Humor can be used as an excuse to corrupt, or to push excesses.

Sadly, I think the example Ed gives here is rather tame nowadays. More than once on Family Guy (I no longer watch it - American Dad's better anyway when politics are avoided) I've seen them make a "joke" which basically added up to, "Here, go put these words into google. You're going to get lesbian scat porn. LOL!" I don't care if the joke makes me laugh. That should be condemned, not tolerated or given a pass just because it was funny.

But I think we should give some thought on how to respond to things like this. First and foremost, how to raise children in a modern environment like this (I have no children of my own, but anyone who does has my utter and complete sympathy in this regard). Second but almost as important, how to conduct ourselves as adults in an environment this same environment. How do we best bring about cultural change? Because I don't want to merely lament the situation, talk about how bad it is, etc. I'd like to think of how to combat it actively and appropriately, rather than leave it at wishing the world would return to sane values.

I also don't want to make what I consider to be a fatal move: Pretend that these jokes cannot at once be vile yet funny. I can agree with Ed that the fact that I laugh at some of this stuff, rather than react principally or only with a sad shake of my head, may indicate a problem with myself. In fact, I'm sure of it. And being funny does not excuse the joke, and more than pleasure excuses adultery. But I don't want to therefore pretend that the jokes or bits aren't funny, because "funny" is too dependent on "whether or not a person laughs". If I say a joke isn't funny and another person laughs, I lose, at least with that person. Instead I'd prefer to say, "Sure, it's funny. It can make you laugh. But that doesn't matter - and let's talk about why."

Laughing at vile stuff may indicate a problem with you, but I don't think it does necessarily. You might be laughing at Brueno not because of the gayby joke, but rather because of what it says about society. Also, there is a lot of artistry to humor, and some people are so good at it that they can get most people to laugh at most anything. That won't exculpate them for doing something vile, but it may exculpate those who laugh.

Joseph A.,

As anachronistic as it is going to sound (but not to folks around here) I think we really have to push hard for a return to censorship. Awhile back I remember talking to Maximos about the difficulties involved in censoring the internet and he said something to the effect of "nonsense, the Chinese are quite good at it". I've thought about this more since that conversation and when I just came across this interesting article about the law behind internet censorship, I thought I would share it with W4 readers to show us all that when society says enough, we can and should pass laws that protect us from our worst selves (i.e. censor the internet):


Hello Octagon,

That’s a big question. Here’s how I understand it (perhaps going beyond what Aquinas himself explicitly says). Take sodomy as an example. There are both cognitive and affective factors to our judgment that it is wrong. On the cognitive side, there is the judgment that it is contrary to nature’s intentions and thus bad; common sense sees this much, and philosophy confirms it, since the classical essentialist-cum-teleological metaphysics and theory of the good that NLT uses to codify common sense make it rationally undeniable (certainly if these metaphysical assumptions are correct) that it is bad. On the affective side, there is the feeling of revulsion toward the act that nature puts into us as a spur to keep us from doing it.

So, there are these three factors: common sense knowledge; philosophical theory which codifies common sense; and affective reactions. Now common sense and our emotions give us pretty good guidance if they are left intact; that’s why most people for most of human history have judged sodomy to be wrong even apart from any fancy theory to explain why it is wrong. But they are also at best very general guides to action, and fairly unstable ones too, being subject to alteration as a result of cultural pressures, habituated vice, intellectual error, etc. So, theory is needed, not in the case of every individual, but at least as part of the cultural background within which every individual must act.

Now because we are rational animals by nature, the theory that explains why sodomy is wrong is always available in principle. Moreover, common sense and our natural affective reactions are never totally wiped out but at most deadened and submerged under strata of rationalization, habit, etc. So, even the most depraved person can in principle know what the natural law requires of him, but it becomes ever more difficult the more depraved he is.

Part of the reason is that his natural affective reactions have been so damaged (perhaps in some cases because of psychological or genetic defect). What he naturally would have regarded with horror he now regards with indifference; or , in the sexual case, the horror gets transformed into the thrill of transgression. (This is, I think, how it is with sexual sins – at least in many cases, we don’t so much lose our horror of them as perversely transform that horror into a reason to do them. No one thinks “How good, wholesome, and expressive of love!” of an act like sodomy; rather, they find such acts titillating because of their transgressive character, a reaction which itself testifies to their latent knowledge of the indecency of such acts.) The indifference or even thrill of evil moves him away from habitual good choices and his will to do good is thereby corrupted. And when the will to do good is corrupted, so too is the will to understand what is good.

This leads to the second part of the reason depravity makes it harder for us to know what is good. One looks away from the evidence that certain things are bad. That sodomy is obviously contrary to nature’s ends is something one doesn’t let oneself think about too much. One thinks instead of other things, such as how strong one’s desires to indulge in it are, how it isn’t so bad compared to adultery, how some people who indulge in it seem OK in other ways, how God is forgiving, etc. That none of this is in the least relevant is also something someone doesn’t let oneself dwell on. One lets oneself become confused, so that the resulting “Gee, who can know what the right answer is anyway?” mindset gets transformed psychologically (even if not logically) into a license to indulge in the act.

This only takes one so far, though. To maintain oneself in such vices without a guilty conscience, some worked-out rationalization is needed, and that brings us to the third reason depravity makes it hard for us to know what is good. To get around the spur of our natural affective reactions and common sense judgments, we need to come up with some reason to reject what these reactions and judgments presuppose, and thus we are led to adopt moral and metaphysical theories that entail that there are no final causes or purposes in nature in the first place, that what is good is therefore entirely subjective, etc. Intellectuals are especially susceptible of this sort of thing, because their greater intelligence allows them to construct more sophisticated rationalizations, to get lost in bodies of theory that have no connection to objective reality, etc. They are, because of their greater intelligence, also more susceptible to pride, which serves as a guardian to other sins. (“Harrumph! How could educated people possibly be wrong about sexual morality and the average Bible-thumper right?” Well, quite easily, actually…)

This is one reason sexual sins are (contrary to what modern people liked to tell themselves) so very serious. They, more than most other sins, have a tendency to dull our sense that nature intends certain things for us and that to act contrary to nature is contrary to what is good for us. And in doing so they thereby destroy the affective and cognitive preconditions of morality itself. This, I would argue, is why traditional moralists have always condemned them so strongly, and why a sexually depraved society is necessarily a depraved society full stop. (Another reason these sins are so serious is that they naturally tend to lead to the widespread commission of the sin of murder, in the form of abortion.)

Anyway, that’s the way, it seems to me, that vice corrupts the mind from a Thomistic POV. So at least on one reading of “perceive” and “reason,” it’s a little bit of both your (1) and (2). But it isn’t that one can no longer perceive the good in some absolute sense analogous to having one’s eyeballs completely destroyed; it’s more like piling up cataracts on the eyeballs. And it isn’t that one’s power to reason becomes destroyed altogether in a way analogous to losing one’s legs so that one can no longer walk; it’s more like losing oneself so far in a maze that one finds it increasingly hard to find out which direction to walk in is the right one.

Jeff Singer,

See, that's tempting in some ways. And I have to admit, I'm shocked that the chinese government takes threats to morals and values (they explicitly say this is why they censor) seriously. And sure enough, all that talk of "You can't control/censor the internet or media!" is exposed as malarkey.

But I'm not convinced that's the best way (or the worst way, for that matter), nor the only way. What about self-censorship - I seem to recall one previous point was to get cable companies, etc to allow a la carte programming to be selected by consumers so they'd be able to get cable access without having to allow objectionable channels into their homes. Maybe business models, ISP models, that voluntarily adhere to certain standards. Web-blocking programs on computers, etc, I think fail more often than not. But even a voluntary ISP-based solution would be helpful.

Mind you, I don't have perfect answers to this myself. I think the amish (go ahead, laugh), while obviously off in their own extreme, serve in many ways as a good model for how far one can get with self-censorship and self-control even in this day and age. And it also illustrates how the problem is broader than merely allowing for censorship - it's a cultural problem, and to whatever degree is related to people being isolated from their neighbors and communities, a lack of unity when it comes to agreeing to common standards, etc.

Hello Jeff, Bobcat, Joseph, et al.,

While I haven't seen even Borat, I have seen lots of Cohen's other stuff, especially the Ali G stuff. Lots of it is very funny indeed. But some of what I find funny I'm pretty sure I wouldn't find funny if I had a better moral character.

Anyway, the baby thing is just one example of something I think went over the line, not only of imperfection or bad taste, but arguably of positive depravity. (I'm aware that much of what one will find on Family Guy, South Park, etc. is worse, but every time I've watched a snippet of those shows I've found them so vile I just stay away.)

The other disturbing thing about Cohen is how much of what he does is evidently motivated, not by good-natured joshing, but by positive contempt for most of his fellow human beings and for the very idea that there are some things that should not be joked about. That and his implicit assumption that some background liberal moralism suffices to justify whatever he does.

Edward Feser: "But hey, let’s not argue about it; as Elizabeth Anscombe would say, corrupt minds cannot be reasoned with."

*grin* Some people get really annoyed when I point out that truth. Of course, I'm even blunter than she about it.


If I say a joke isn't funny and another person laughs, I lose, at least with that person. Instead I'd prefer to say, "Sure, it's funny. It can make you laugh. But that doesn't matter - and let's talk about why."

I agree with you. We should do exactly as you say, as far as we can. Unfortunately, some people are so far gone that the discussion is likely to go nowhere or end in anger; and in fact, in my experience it is people on the other side of these issue from you and me who don't even want to have a genuine discussion about them in the first place. Hence my Anscombean reference to corrupt minds...


I'd agree, at least with some. I think most people tend not to give it a thought anymore, and people who care about moral codes (across religious spectrums) have responded mostly with avoidance, unless the joke in question crosses some particular line.

I think progress can be made with persuasive and calm arguments (of which there are scores) - maybe I'm optimistic. But I'm well aware that there are people for whom the only offense is the suggestion or act of censorship, whether enforced or voluntary. Usually the people who complain loudly about such common sense standards and morals do have their own censorship agenda besides.

Those who criticize Sacha Baron Cohen have not done the relevant legwork to understand the comedic tradition from which he arises. Is it any wonder that they find him unfunny when they haven't spent the necessary amount of years studying the performance comedy of Andy Kaufman?

I've studied Andy Kaufman, and I find him funny--indeed, probably the greatest comic mind of the second half of the twentieth century--, but that doesn't mean that some of the funny stuff he did wasn't cruel, just as some of Baron-Cohen's stuff is. For instance, in the Bob Zmuda biography of Kaufman, Zmuda pointed out that most of their performance-based jokes never aired for an audience, but just for themselves. Here's an example: Kaufman and a woman went into a restaurant together, and (if memory serves) Zmuda was already there as a customer. It was clear to all the other patrons that Kaufman and the woman he was with were in love when he proposed to her in the middle of the restaurant. Shortly after his proposal, though, he went to the bathroom. At that point, Zmuda struck--he went to Kaufman's abandoned seat and audibly asked the woman to run away with him. The way they played the scene, it was clear that the woman and Zmuda knew each other. After some hesitation, he and the woman indeed left the restaurant together. This was followed by Andy Kaufman coming out of the bathroom to see his bride-to-be, only to be confused and then distraught at her absence, while he asked the other patrons about her whereabouts. Later that night, Andy, Bob, and the woman had a big laugh about it. And it was indeed very funny. But it was also very cruel, I think, to the other patrons.

And of course, with Baron-Cohen, there's the Romanian villagers, who had no idea they would be portrayed in Borat as they were (and of course Baron-Cohen's people had no intention of informing them of this). They were very hurt by it, and understandably so. The scenes in the village were amusing, but once again, this was pretty cruel.

Bobcat, 'Leiter Admirer' was attempting a rather silly comedic analog to PZ Myers' rather silly 'Courtiers' reply.' Somehow, it seems to me that the relevant disanalogies between Thomism and the comedy of Cohen et al. are overwhelming, but hey, that's just me.

Well, I'm sure Leiter Admirer meant it tongue-in-cheek. Anyway, I'm heading over to Blockbuster to rent Man in the Moon as background research for my forthcoming socio-cultural analysis of Cohen's role as Jean Girard in Talladega Nights...

Dammit, I meant Man ON the Moon. Guess Leiter Admirer really did catch me out -- I obviously haven't done my homework!

Oh right, the Courtier's reply--that whole deal where atheists use their ignorance of what they're criticizing as a defense. I have to start using that when I talk about rocket science.


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I'm holier than thou? Nonsense I say unto you. :)

"some of what I find funny I'm pretty sure I wouldn't find funny if I had a better moral character."

Bingo, as you Catholics say. I had this exact realization after seeing "There's Something About Mary" in the theater. I laughed all the way through it, but then afterwards reflected upon what I was laughing at. I found that I had let myself down, so to speak. From that angle, the issue of "what's funny" becomes not so much a legalistic or Puritanical argument, but an ascetical one. Not so much "is it wrong to laugh at that?" but "is it good for me to laugh at that?"

Briefly and without any degree of originality I would only add that if those who are in position to transmit and refine the eternal verities, the best and most beautiful of a vast culture, cannot or will not do so, it is only a matter of time that those who do care will be witness to the decay and wreckage of what becomes a willful dissolution.

Ignorance becomes a virtue, grossness becomes liberation, amnesia is progressive, aggression turns into activism, vulgarity, the coin of the realm.
Any idea of what transcendence means or is disappears and in the empty space left behind, the vacuum where we may play, the void where we can "reinvent" ourselves, power enters and grows. For there are those to whom the nothingness of the present offers opportunities, Force remaining as the one true god, the elixir of the Age.

From Charles Kingsley's Plays and Puritans:

But were these plays objectionable? As far as the comedies are concerned, that will depend on the answer to the question, Are plays objectionable, the staple subject of which is adultery? Now, we cannot but agree with the Puritans, that adultery is not a subject for comedy at all. It may be for tragedy; but for comedy never. It is a sin; not merely theologically, but socially, one of the very worst sins, the parent of seven other sins,--of falsehood, suspicion, hate, murder, and a whole bevy of devils. The prevalence of adultery in any country has always been a sign and a cause of social insincerity, division, and revolution; where a people has learnt to connive and laugh at it, and to treat it as a light thing, that people has been always careless, base, selfish, cowardly,--ripe for slavery. And we must say that either the courtiers and Londoners of James and Charles the First were in that state, or that the poets were doing their best to make them so.

We shall not shock our readers by any details on this point; we shall only say that there is hardly a comedy of the seventeenth century, with the exception of Shakspeare's, in which adultery is not introduced as a subject of laughter, and often made the staple of the whole plot.

Anybody wondering what Charles Kingsley was talking about in the passage quoted by Gintas above should check out William Wycherly's The Country Wife (1675) - one of the funniest things that anybody ever wrote, and also one of the smuttiest. Consider, for example, "the notorious 'China scene'":

[Re-enter Lady Fidget with a piece of china in her hand, and Horner following.]

Lady Fidget: And I have been toiling and moiling for the prettiest piece of china, my dear.

Horner: Nay, she has been too hard for me, do what I could.

Mrs. Squeamish: Oh, lord, I’ll have some china too. Good Mr. Horner, don’t think to give other people china, and me none; come in with me too.

Horner: Upon my honour, I have none left now.

Mrs. Squeamish: Nay, nay, I have known you deny your china before now, but you shan’t put me off so. Come.

Horner: This lady had the last there.

Lady Fidget: Yes indeed, madam, to my certain knowledge, he has no more left.

Mrs. Squeamish: O, but it may be he may have some you could not find.

Lady Fidget: What, d’ye think if he had had any left, I would not have had it too? for we women of quality never think we have china enough.

Horner: Do not take it ill, I cannot make china for you all, but I will have a roll-waggon for you too, another time.

Mrs. Squeamish: Thank you, dear toad.

Lady Fidget [Aside to Horner]: What do you mean by that promise?

Horner [Aside to Lady Fidget]: Alas, she has an innocent, literal understanding...

* * * * *

Etc., etc. Now that's what I call filth!

We shall not shock our readers by any details on this point; we shall only say that there is hardly a comedy of the seventeenth century, with the exception of Shakspeare's, in which adultery is not introduced as a subject of laughter, and often made the staple of the whole plot.
And that puts the Puritan's suppression of plays into a whole new light, doesn't it?

I feel the need to point out there are now two Mikes (not including MikeT) posting on this blog, and I, the designated representative of postmodernism, am not the Mike engaged in this conversation.

Steve I'm rather with Thomas Babington Macauley:

"The only thing original about Wycherley, the only thing which he could furnish from his own mind in inexhaustible abundance, was profligacy. It is curious to observe how everything that he touched, however pure and noble, took in an instant the colour of his own mind. Compare the Ecole des Femmes [Molière's School For Wives) with the Country Wife. Agnes [in the School For Wives] is a simple and amiable girl, whose heart is indeed full of love, but of love sanctioned by honour, morality, and religion. Her natural talents are great. They have been hidden, and, as it might appear, destroyed by an education elaborately bad. But they are called forth into full energy by a virtuous passion. Her lover, while he adores her beauty, is too honest a man to abuse the confiding tenderness of a creature so charming and inexperienced. Wycherley takes this plot into his hands; and forthwith this sweet and graceful courtship becomes a licentious intrigue of the lowest and least sentimental kind, between an impudent London rake and the idiot wife of a country squire. We will not go into details. In truth, Wycherley's indecency is protected against the critics as a skunk is protected against the hunters. It is safe, because it is too filthy to handle and too noisome even to approach." (Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1841)

Priapus has his place but:

"When the play concludes with no poetical justice that makes Horner really impotent, leaving him instead still potent and still on the make, the audience laughs at its own expense: the women of quality nervously because they have been misogynistically slandered; the men of quality nervously because at some level they recognize that class solidarity is just a pleasing fiction" (Canfield, p128)

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