Anyone who has ever met me knows that I’m an unabashed, unapologetic snob.
By which I mean that I like cool, interesting, thoughtful and (when possible) beautiful things, and I don’t like stupid, vapid, shallow, and meaninglessly coarse things.
Fortunately for those forced to spend time around me, my judgments about these things are reasonably broad and eclectic.
I am quite capable of spending a couple of hours watching Family Guy reruns, because the show’s satire of modern American everything is sharp and wicked enough to offset the often brutal ick-factor.
So, admittedly, my definitions of what does and doesn’t pass muster are fickle and fluid.
My standards resemble those of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, whose famous definition of pornography was “I know it when I see it.”
But there is one hard-fast rule that I don’t think be broken only at great peril: Some places, institutions and moments should be held sacred.
There are times when the gray-zone, wavering definition of civility and decorum that we’ve all come to accept in America should be replaced by something more old-fashioned and fixed and, yes, snobby and intolerant.
Go to church and you should act like you’re in church. If you come over to my house for a black tie dinner, you should wear a jacket.
When you’re dealing with children, a little potty humor is okay, maybe, but the hard, bitter ironic jokes should be shelved.
I mention all this because this week’s Academy Award celebration was so sadly crude. On the one hand, you had beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes talking about amazing accomplishments in the arts.
These are people who create powerful theater, translating emotion into poetry and performance.
And the movies this year — about Lincoln, about the French revolution, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, about mental illness, about the Iranian hostage crisis — were serious, moving works of story-telling.
Their moment of honor didn’t need to be somber or funereal. Daniel Day-Lewis’s humorous asides to Meryl Streep were both funny and tasteful.
But did there have to be a song about women’s breasts? A joke about the bullet that penetrated Abraham Lincoln’s brain?
There were an astonishing two jokes during the night about 9-year-old actress Quvenzhané Wallis.
One from host Seth McFarland tried to milk laughs from the idea of the little girl having sex with George Clooney.
The other from the satirical magazine the Onion, jabbed brutally at Wallis, using language that was so savage that it doesn’t bear repeating even in bowdlerized form. (The Onion has apologized.)
Some of these attempts at humor, or edginess, or hipness, would have been vile in any setting. But in this week’s ceremony, they smacked of desperation.
It’s like we’re not allowed to have anyplace where grown-ups gather and celebrate something loftier than side boobs, tabloid irony and a sniggering brand of sexuality.
I know it’s self-referential, but this is one of the reasons why I admire and cling to and spend the vast amount of my own listening time in the world of public radio.
Yes, public radio can be snooty. It can be self-serious. There is plenty within our corner of the media world that is prime for parody. And I know that many of our listeners have questions about our political leanings.
But whatever else you may say about the universe revolving around NPR and NCPR, we are not crude. We are not willing to pander to the cheap seats.
On our airwaves there is more conversation, less shouting. More real information, and less phony vote-them-off-the island cultural Darwinism.
We do that riskiest of things in an anything-goes culture, applying a bit of taste and discrimination. We say No to things. We tell people to keep their pants on, and their language clean.
And we also expect people to tune in who are bringing their minds and their spirits and, yes, occasionally their suit jackets.