w<ndinbenexncenciingr:nth.nnonwilnpanerenen>nKainYornTHnShadows in thenLimeUghtnby Bryce J. ChdstensennAn American television viewer will witnessnmore violence in a single eveningnthan an Athenian would have seennduring a lifetime of theatergoing. Actsnof violence were virtually prohibited innGreek drama, and Aristotle goes so farnas to argue against the use of “merenspectacle” to produce the desired catharsisnof pity and fear; “Those whonemploy spectacular means to create ansense not of the terrible but only of thenmonstrous are strangers to the purposenof Tragedy.”nOur modern pursuit of the spectacularnhas more “monstrous” consequencesnthan anything Aristotle could havenimagined. The old distinction betweennthe publicly decorous and the obscenen(literally “off scene”) has been all butnobliterated as journalists learn how tonexploit the pornography of grief. Lastnyear a newspaper photographer in Bakersfield,nCalifornia, eagerly snapped anphotograph of a distraught fathernkneeling beside the body of hisndrowned child. His editors’ qualmsnabout publishing it quickly gave way tonirrepressible hopes of a Pulitzer prize.nEven when there is no anguished parentnin the scene, the press dishonorsnthe dead and their relatives by publishingnphotos of those who die violently.nA modern Antigone would have ton: dead brother quickly if sheno protect his corpse from thisnishonor.nmore omnipresent than then;s of violence and death, eroti-n;gularly violates all the propri-n: once held it in check. Thenes of pornography have longnsted above the banks of thengazines — whose existencenDosed to channel certainn— and are now spilling overndalously explicit advertise-n•lebrity posters, and primeoperas.nWe should be just asn)y public displays of sex as byndolence, although the twondifferent responses: fear andnthe one hand, titillation onnRelatively few wish to com-n”er acts of violence, but fewn1 for celibacy. Still, there arenguuu icasons for keeping lewdness outnof the public eye. S.I. Hayakawa struckna note of truth when he argued againstnpornography not on traditional moralnprohibitions (which he did not accept)nbut on the grounds that some humannactivities are transformed and coarsenednby any public display. Actionsnthat in private could express sharednfeelings of love must always deteriorateninto exhibitionism when performed fornothers’ viewing.nThe psychology of debasement cannotnexplain, however, why the cult ofnpublicity has grown so strong in ournday. Part of the problem lies in thengreed of advertisers, but we must looknmore deeply into our culture to find annexplanation for the growing impulse tonpush every human activity into publicnview. We may take a cue from literaryncritic J. Hillis Miller, who has detectednin the late Victorian era “a movementnfrom the assumption that society andnthe self are founded on some superhumannpower outside them, to a puttingnin question of this assumption, to thendiscovery that society now appears tonbe self-creating and self-supporting,nresting on nothing outside itself”nFor centuries, men had understoodnthat events not in public view were stillnunder divine scrutiny and judgment.nBut when society replaces God as thenobject of worship (as Emile Durkheimnbelieved that it should), then societynmust become as all-seeing as Deity.nThe Supreme Court was merely followingnthe spirit of the age (but not thennnConstitution) when it ruled in thenfamous “Fanny Hill” case of 1966 thatncommunities could not ban any obscenitynwith “redeeming social value.”nFor a society can “redeem” its claimsnto omniscience only by permitting,ninviting, and even coercing everythingnof potency and force into public view.nBut even the optimists of the HighnCourt began to blanch at the consequencesnof their ruling. In 1973 innMiller v. California, the SupremenCourt abandoned its “redeeming socialnvalue” standard for obscenity andnreplaced it with “contemporary communitynstandards.” Because mostncommunities — at least those west ofnNew York and south of Washington —nstill dimly remember that they are notnautonomous or self-generating, thisnnew standard has proved more satisfactory,nalthough seven years of unrestrainednsmut seriously eroded publicnstandards even in Peoria, Illinois, andnTuscaloosa, Alabama.nBut our cultural weakness for obscenitynwill not be resolved merely bynkeeping the sexual, violent, and pervertednout of public view — thoughnthat would be a splendid start. Unlikenthe modern entertainers and journalistsnwho turn every human experience —ncelestial or bestial — into a medianevent, ancient philosophers and saintsnunderstood the need to conceal preciousnexperiences and truths from thenmob. In the first book of The Laws,nPlato points out that serious politicalncriticisms should be shared onlynamong the wise and not in the publicnmarketplace: “If an older man has anynreflections to make, he must impartnthem to a magistrate of his own age” inn”a private conversation” when “nonenof the younger men are by.” Plato’snrefusal to record his dialogue on thenGood reflects in part his distrust of allnpublicity, even writing. Plato understoodnthat the highest truths emerge innthe living conversations of earnest mennbut that even speech proves inadequatento re-present them fully. It is no accidentnthat the crudest of political ideologies.nCommunism, has its roots innHegel, who at a time of rapidly increasingnliteracy falsely supposed that “Antruth cannot lose anything by beingnwritten down.” The antireligious biasnof Communism grows naturally out ofnan insistence that while revolutionariesnmay have to use clandestine means fornAPRIL 19881 45n