Culture Got Vulgar Just as Man Got Old

Lee Siegel, noted cultural critic and sock puppet, is in his mid-50s. What luck! By fate of birth, when he was younger, pop culture's sexy side was "perfectly calibrated" and "morally potent." Sadly, as Lee Siegel has aged, the songs on the radio have become "coarse" and "vulgar."

This is the gist of Lee Siegel's Saturday essay in the Wall Street Journal, a popular teen fanzine. Among the artists that Lee Siegel praises for employing just the right amount of sexuality and transgressiveness: Elvis, Madonna (early years), the Rolling Stones (early years), Lou Reed, and Frank Sinatra. Among the artist decried by Siegel for allowing their sexual innuendo to descend into The Common Realm of the Vulgar: Miley Cyrus, Eminem, Madonna (later years), the Rolling Stones (later years), and Kanye West. Though Lee Siegel doubtless regrets his ignoble fate of being bombarded with Filth in his twilight years, he can likewise thank his lucky stars that the Golden Age of Naughty Culture coincided almost perfectly with his prime.

And lest you think Lee Siegel is just some old "Fuddy duddy" who isn't hip to "what's happening," consider this:

When did the culture become so coarse? It's a question that quickly gets you branded as either an unsophisticated rube or some angry culture warrior. But I swear on my hard drive that I'm neither. My favorite movie is "Last Tango in Paris." I agree (on a theoretical level) with the notorious rake James Goldsmith, who said that when a man marries his mistress, he creates a job vacancy. I once thought of writing a book-length homage to the eff-word in American culture, the apotheosis of which was probably Sir Ben Kingsley pronouncing it with several syllables in an episode of "The Sopranos."

I'm cool, and I'm down with everything, you bet, but I miss a time when there were powerful imprecations instead of mere obscenity—or at least when sexual innuendo, because it was innuendo, served as a delicious release of tension between our private and public lives.

The salacious musings of a notorious rake? Nothing Lee Siegel cannot "be hip" with, friends. No rake-scorner, he!

TO: Submissions@wallstreetjournal.com, submissions@nytimes.com, submissions@newsweek.com, submissions@time.com, submissions@aarpmagazine.com

SUBJ: A "think piece," if you will, on the coarsening of our culture in this modern age. Please read and consider. My message is controversial, to be sure, yet I believe that my thesis is one that needs to be heard, in this age of burgeoning vulgarity. You will find my essay below. Though I am open to minor changes in order to comply with house style, I will not allow its message to be watered down, for editorial courage is something I demand in equal measure from both myself and the publications for which I write.

Look, I'm "cool." But I don't like these hip hoppers one bit.

-Hamilton Nolan

Critic, Essayist, Voice of Reason

[Photo: Flickr]