MUSIC’S DIMINUENDO: Fearing Cold Reality More Than Heated Imagination You know an art form’s stature has shrunk when people stop worrying about how it corrupts the young. Pop music hasn’t yet reached that point. However, polling conducted after the Columbine massacre indicates it has lost its traditional role as Parental Enemy No. 1. Newsweek asked adults to say which of several influences “make raising teenagers today a lot more difficult for parents.” Fifty-three percent accorded this status to the Internet, versus 14 percent saying that factor makes teen-raising “not much” harder. Likewise, 53 percent said movies, TV shows and videos make parents’ tasks a lot harder, versus 18 percent picking “not much.” For video games, “a lot” polled 46 percent and “not much” got 18 percent. Then there’s music, regarded within recent memory as the main portal through which teens pass on their way to easy sex and hard drugs. A lackluster 42 percent said popular music makes it a lot harder to raise teens, while 25 percent said it adds “not much” to parents’ difficulties. Elvis must be swiveling in his grave. Music’s relative decline as a threat to civil peace points to a broader phenomenon, though. Dating back to the ancients, people have fretted about how musical modes could stir the imagination of the young. But today’s pop culture leaves nothing to the imagination. At a time when visual media make so much explicit (sex, violence, bomb-building, whatever), we worry less about imagination and more about mere imitation. That may be a mistake in the long run, but it’s an understandable one. AMERICA FIRST ONLINE: Casting a Wide Net Since teenagers have grown up with the Internet, it stands to reason they’re more likely than their elders to go online. The surprise is that the gap between age cohorts isn’t larger than it is. Roper Starch polling finds 41 percent of U.S. teens use online services, as do 33 percent of 30-39-year-olds, 31 percent of 20-29s, 30 percent of 40-49s and 22 percent of those 50 and older. The big gap is between the U.S. and other major economies. While Roper pegs online penetration at 25 percent of U.S. households, the figure is 13 percent in Japan, 9 percent in Great Britain, 7 percent in Germany and 4 percent in Italy. On the topic of electronic commerce, the global study (covering some 30 countries in part or in whole) finds 31 percent of Internet habitu s using the medium to learn more about companies and 10 percent actually buying things online. INTOLERABLE: The Decline (Continued) Of Western Civilization Teenage massacres certainly deepen one’s suspicion that the country is going to hell in a handbasket. But it’s the day-in, day-out boorishness that grinds people down. Shedding light on such matters is a poll conducted for Shell Oil by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, summarized on the Polling Report Web site. (The survey was completed prior to the Columbine killings.) As the chart indicates, people see society defining deviancy down as cruddy behavior becomes the norm. Just 21 percent of respondents declared themselves satisfied with “the honesty and standards of behavior of people in this country today.” One of the poll’s most intriguing questions asked people to say which is the bigger problem: “society is too tolerant of behavior that is harmful, or society is too intolerant of behavior that is not really harmful.” It wasn’t even close, with “too tolerant” beating “too intolerant” by a margin of 67 percent to 24 percent. These numbers are particularly striking in an era when few sins provoke more disapproval than “intolerance.” Were respondents trashing their fellow citizens while feeling their own behavior is fine? If so, they exemplified the moral failing that respondents worried about most in today’s society: a tendency toward “blaming others.” CONSUMER HUBRIS: And the Champagne Isn’t Chilled Enough, Either There’s nothing like a booming economy to produce disgruntled customers. In a recent Harris Poll, people were asked whether they think companies in a dozen major industries do a good job or a bad job of serving their clientele. Only the computer industry (hardware and software) and the auto industry scored higher approval ratings this year than they did last, and those gains were modest. Other sectors, ranging from telephone companies to banks to oil companies, saw sharp year-to-year drops in the percentage of people saying companies serve their customers well. In some cases, one can see objective grounds for the decline in approval numbers. For instance, airlines are more crowded and less accommodating than they’ve been in living memory. But are pharmaceutical companies really doing a poorer job? One suspects the broad decline in consumer approval reflects a robust sense of entitlement as the economy makes people feel they need (and deserve) the best of everything.