Here's how much we've evolved in this country over the past 40 years: In 1962, a young truck driver named Elvis Presley had become a rock superstar singing about hound dogs, tender love and his mama, whom he apparently loved.
In 2002, Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, has become the country's hottest recording star rapping about rape, drugs and his mother, whom he apparently hates. She sued him for $10 million. He called her a slut in one of his songs.
In both cases, polite society cringed. Elvis was blatantly sexy and a danger to so-called nice girls. Eminem's lyrics are so corrosive and coarse that many stores refuse to sell his CDs to minors. Yet young Americans flock to Eminem - 70% of those who paid to see his new movie are under 25.
Elvis, of course, had a profound effect on young Americans. Millions of young boys slicked back their hair and adopted Elvis moves on the dance floor. I was one of those boys.
Eminem has left his calling card as well. Two school teachers here in New York told me it is not uncommon for 10-year-old boys to call little girls in their classes bitches and ho's (whores). Movie chains report that tens of thousands of teens and pre-teens have been turned away from Eminem's R-rated flick.
The Vivendi Corp. of France is the force behind Mathers, gleefully counting the money as their boy rolls out songs about sexually transmitted diseases and beating up women and homosexuals. The mouthpieces for Vivendi and its U.S. subsidiary, Universal, say he is producing satire or "giving voice to the disenfranchised," whichever rationalization pops into their minds first.
Elvis was controlled by Col. Tom Parker, who stole him blind by taking half his income and selling him out to a cynical Hollywood for cinema classics like "Clambake." Presley allowed it to happen but was really guilty only of being incredibly dumb. Eminem has a lot more to answer for.
Any way you slice it, he sells degenerate behavior to kids. The entertainment industry, long devoid of any social conscience, provides him with cover and calls him a creative genius and a sensitive soul. Students of history will remember they called Caligula that once as well.
The problem I have is that the regular folks, people with kids, have not risen up and scorned Eminem and his enablers. I mean, Ed Sullivan almost broke a blood vessel when Elvis swiveled his hips on Sullivan's Sunday night TV program. Now, Marshall Mathers can threaten to kill his mother and we Americans just shrug. What has happened to us?
The answer is that we have become shell-shocked. We have seen too much over the past 40 years, and we have run out of outrage. The baby boom generation embraced Elvis but then went progressively off the deep end. Drugs became chic, rebellion against authority a fad. Greed became good, and self-indulgence ruled. And now we're surprised our lax social attitudes have produced an army of degenerates like Eminem?
This is what happens when standards die and money rules. Why are we surprised when 10-year-old Timmy calls his baby sister a bitch? Timmy hears that word and worse all the time. He sees his idol being praised by adults on TV. Timmy knows what the F-word is, knows what pot is and knows he can say anything he wants if it rhymes. Heck, he might get paid for threatening to beat a pregnant woman, as Eminem does in his music.
If you think this Eminem person is harmless, you are astonishingly wrong. Like Elvis, he will leave his mark on America. But unlike Elvis, the legacy Mathers will leave is one that will injure many children, especially those without much parental guidance.
Elvis just wanted to be our teddy bear. Mathers wants your kids to hate you.