The torture was acute. Two weeks past was a combined celebration of the one-year anniversary of the death of Princess Diana and the long-awaited release of "Titanic" on home video. Safeway featured cantaloupe alongside "Titanic"discounts. Newspapers had pull-out princess sections. Those of us who passed on the official Franklin Mint Diana doll, preferring to wait for the Mother Teresa likeness (as yet not announced), were humbled by sociology professor Tony Walter: "There's a certain anti-Diana snobbery in intellectual circles. But, if anything, I think it shows how out of touch many intellectuals are."
Diana fans had host David Hasselhoff, of the Baywatch ministries, lead a prayer to Diana for relief from a storm that had rained upon the concert gala opening of her memorial. When the rains stopped, the Rev. Hasselhoff said that surely the former bulimic had answered their prayers. Ah, to be so in touch with reality.Watching this tawdry worship of an adulterous jet-setter and a movie with Huckleberry Hound dialogue and story of shallow infatuation is rather like learning Grace Kelly had tattoos or that Queen Elizabeth has a Range Rover up on cinder blocks on the lawn at Balmoral. This once Fifth Avenue nation has descended to swap meet level.
Mark McGwire, with the benefit of the dietary supplement androstenedione, banned in the NFL, has stepped up to Roger Maris levels, with no asterisk. The worst influence Roger Maris had was making children eat Wheaties. Sales of androstenedione are soaring as McGwire dethrones a true athlete. What's a little performance enhancer when we've got ourselves another celebrity?
Records set without rules. Honor bestowed without morality. Instead there are the sacred rules of comfort and self-indulgence. New morality never disappoints in its push of the envelope of silliness. The U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed guidelines for airlines on accommodation of passengers with allergies to peanuts. Airlines must have a designated "peanut-free zone" with a "buffer zone" of one row between the peanut passengers and the non-peanut passengers. One pictures the gate agents now querying, "Will that be aisle or window, peanut or non-peanut?" Security screening will search for guns, explosive devices and Planter's. Out, evil insensitive peanuts. Make way for performance enhancers.
Such is this surreal world of morality lite. Fidelity is material for Leno. Teen Michael Pitt, who caught a Mark McGwire ball, offered this moral insight at his press conference: "I did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky."
This diminished propriety has made condemnation the sin and conscience the problem. David Cash happily attends the University of California at Berkeley after witnessing his friend's assault on 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson at a Primm, Nevada casino. The assault became a murder and Cash said nothing before, during or after. Cash said his responsibility is to himself, none others. My life, my time, your problem.
Decorum has fled the "cash" culture. Following a mistake based on inconsistent stories, the Chicago police department dismissed murder charges against two young boys (ages 7 and 8) in the slaying of 11-year-old Ryan Harris when a review of scientific evidence of sexual assault made their participation physically impossible. Asked whether a lawsuit would follow, a lawyer for the children said, "These boys are going to Disneyland." A young girl was brutally murdered, these boys are at least guilty of being dishonest with police about what they saw, and contingent fees are at tip of tongue.
Speaking of contingent fees, Ralph Nader is opening the Museum of American Tort Law in his home of Winsted, Conn., complete with McDonald's coffee cups and Corvairs, but not with photos of children killed by his group's mandated air bags. A tribute to torts, and money and fame, however you can get it.
Phillip Howard's "The Death of Common Sense" documents our culture of excessive litigation. William Bennett's "The Death of Outrage" indicts our lack of disgust for the immoral. In place of outrage and common sense, we have idle and idol worship. A 1998 survey of teens revealed that 75 percent can identify the 90210 zipcode (Beverly Hills), but only 35 percent can name the first three words of the Constitution (We the people). Eighty-one percent know how many brothers are in the musical group Hansen while only 21 percent know how many U.S. Senators there are. Celebrity rocks on.
Surreal though the worship of Diana and "Titanic" may be, it is us. Say a prayer to the gods of me for we have reached nirvana. The Clinton approval polls should not surprise us. He is a man of celebrity, silly rules, and morality shunned at the almighty altar of privacy. It truly is the economy, stupid.
Our country, once an elegant lady beyond reproach, is like Dolly Parton's self-description, "It takes a lot of money to look this cheap." Once the world's conscience and a bastion of good sense, we are now a wealthy nation of silliness, feigned achievement, and litigious materialism all in moral-free, guilt-free zones with no peanuts.