In the Walt Disney classic Mary Poppins, the magical nanny informs the impetuous Jane and Michael that their father will be taking them on an outing to his place of employment – an imposing London bank – the following day. Upon hearing the news, the children begin musing about all the wonderful sights their father will show them along the way. Mary uses this opportunity to educate the children about an unfortunate characteristic of their father. "Sometimes a person we love," she says, "through no fault of his own, can't see past the end of his nose."
Mr. Banks is a well-meaning man, but he is so self-absorbed that his view of the world is sadly myopic. He is incapable of putting himself in others' shoes, and he lacks true empathy with his fellow man. It takes several uncomfortable encounters with Miss Poppins to snap him out of his false reality so that he can be an attentive father to his children and a warm, loving husband to his wife.
The American people, increasingly, are suffering from the same malady that affected Mr. George Banks. We've become so self-centered that we're ignorant of the things that really matter in this life. A symptom of this pervasive myopathy is our historical ignorance. This was recently highlighted in a controversy that erupted over CBS's popular reality hit, "The Amazing Race."
Unless you are a faithful watcher of the Fox News Channel's "The Five," you probably missed co-host Bob Beckel's scathing monologue discussing an episode of "The Amazing Race" in which the contestants were dispatched to Vietnam for one of their weekly challenges. The episode featured a stop at the B-52 Memorial and at one point had competitors recite a song lauding the virtues of Ho Chi Minh's Communist regime. The show's producers didn't appear to appreciate the solemnity of the site, nor did the competitors. An article on foxnews.com described the episode in brief:
"On the show, the twisted metal of the downed plane is treated as any other prop, with a bright 'Amazing Race' 'Double-U-Turn' signed planted in front of it, signifying to contestants the next phase of their scavenger hunt.
The show also had contestants learn a song that was performed for them by children in front of a portrait of North Vietnam communist leader Ho Chi Minh, with subtitled lyrics that included 'Vietnam Communist Party is glorious. The light is guiding us to victory.'
'It's like One Direction,' one contestant said of the performance, referring to the popular boy band."
Beckel demanded an apology on air, and contacted the network directly to request an explanation for the stunt. This Monday, CBS issued a statement of apology.
As someone who remembers well the turbulence and strife of America's Vietnam era, I share Mr. Beckel's disgust at CBS's thoughtless exploitation of a hallowed piece of American history. Hearing this story only reinforces the growing sense that America is increasingly becoming a nation utterly ignorant of its own history – a people so obsessed with the false world of cyber land and "reality" television that they, like Mr. Banks, can't see past the end of their noses. It apparently never occurred to the producers of the show that festooning the wreckage of a downed war plane with plastic game show paraphernalia might offend the thousands of living Vietnam veterans, not to mention the rest of our Armed Forces and their families. Next thing we know they'll be requesting to conduct a contestant challenge at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery!
Clearly, the concept of appropriateness has been utterly perverted in American society. Organizations like the ACLU get up in arms over a cross memorial dedicated to fallen soldiers on a California mountaintop, but see nothing wrong with using a downed warplane as a game show prop. Our culture celebrates irreverence and irony to the point where shows like "Saturday Night Live" portraying Jesus Christ as a machine-gun wielding avenger or Seinfeld creator Larry David urinating on a picture of the Christian god in an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is seen as hilarious, and anyone who gets offended is dismissed as uptight and hypersensitive. Of course, it is usually Christianity and institutions generally associated with conservatism and the Republican Party that are insulted with impunity, while issues and demographics sacrosanct to Progressives are insulated from insults and mockery.
There was a time when America was united by a shared sense of national pride and cultural identity. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum one fell on, there was a general sense of pride in being an American and a respect for our foundational institutions. Our boys (and girls) in uniform were generally appreciated and accorded a basic level of respect and honor. As I and many others like Mr. Beckel remember all too well, the Vietnam War in many ways signaled a great turning point in American culture. For the first time our returning soldiers were greeted with scorn. The unpopularity of the war, which should have been properly a political issue, ended up smearing the reputation of our Armed Forces, a stigma from which they've never fully recovered.
The general dumbing down of the American populace has accompanied this cultural shift. High school graduates enter college with a pathetic grasp of American civics and history, and rarely is this deficiency corrected. Co-eds are discouraged from imbibing classical education – the stuff of dead old white men – and are instead indoctrinated with the prevailing Progressive agenda: God is bad, sex (with anyone, at any time, and without consequence) is good, and big government is best. Pair this with a generation that has tuned in, turned on, and dropped out of the real world in favor of cyber-reality and it's no wonder our culture has become a celluloid wasteland.
Kudos to Bob Beckel for drawing attention to this issue and calling CBS on the carpet for their callous insensitivity. It's a good thing that CBS stepped up and issued an apology as requested, but I doubt many Americans are paying attention. They are too busy talking about Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj's latest spat on American Idol, or tweeting about the crazy antics of their favorite reality TV star.
I would caution these folks that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it, but I fear we're already well on our way down the proverbial primrose path, to the great detriment of our children and grandchildren.