Selective Morality

Why is our contemporary society so selective about our own morality, based simply on the object or individual? Essentially, why is it okay for certain people to be immoral based on who they are or the medium in which the immoral behavior is being disseminated?

Why do Americans claim to despise immoral behavior in certain contexts, but seem to readily accept it from popular culture, politicians, athletes, and actors? Why does it take extreme instances of immorality (such as Harvey Weinstein) for people to finally speak out against this sort of thing?

And even then, there are instances when society is willing to “look the other way” because of who the offending individual is, what they’ve done, or the overall perception of the situation.

For example…

  • Elvis Presley met Priscilla when she was only 14, and their eight-year courtship culminated with their marriage in 1967. Why is Elvis not a pedophile?
  • Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin in 1957. Why is Jerry Lee Lewis not an incestuous pedophile?
  • The Beatles’ 1963 song “I Saw Her Standing There” begins with the lyrics, “Well she was just seventeen, and you know what I mean.” Why aren’t John Lennon and Paul McCartney pedophiles?
  • Chuck Berry served 3 years in prison for crimes which surrounded his relationship with a 14-year-old girl. Why isn’t Chuck Berry a pedophile either?
  • Donald Trump had sex with a well-known porn star named Stormy Daniels in 2006, while he was married (and soon after the birth of his child). In 2016, he paid her $130,000 prior to the Presidential Election and had her sign a nondisclosure agreement to keep their sexual escapades a secret. Why is he not an adulterous philanderer? Why does the Christian Right accept and support him?
  • On the 90s television show Dawson’s Creek, one of the main characters, Pacey (a 15-year-old high school student), kisses his 30-something English teacher in the first episode, and by the third episode, they’re having sex. Why is this presented as a taboo romance rather than an act of sexual abuse by an authority figure?

The Dawson’s Creek example actually did kind of blow my mind a little. During the pilot episode of the series, Pacey goes on this frustrated diatribe about why he thinks his 30-something English teacher is attracted to him as a high school student. Here’s the clip:


From my perspective (which might be relevant here), his insight is on-the-money accurate regarding why (from a more-or-less clinical point-of-view) teachers have relationships with their students. And her response is a perfect example of the cognitive distortions these teachers embrace in these situations.

To be honest, I’d never seen a single episode of Dawson’s Creek until recently. My wife mentioned that she loved the show when she was younger and it reminded her of her childhood; so I surprised her with a gift: The complete series on DVD. And, of course, she asked if we could watch it together. Evidently, she forgot about the relationship between Pacey and his high school English teacher (and I think she felt bad for having me watch it, thinking it would bother me, and although it kind of did, it was also interesting to hear Pacey’s diatribe and see the teacher’s response — perfectly illustrating the message I’ve been trying to spread about the issue itself).

OH, and in case you think I’m kidding about the way this was viewed and/or perceived as a “romance” rather than statutory rape, check out some of the online comments about this video:


So here’s my point: Society should stop being shocked by immorality in our everyday lives when we relish and enjoy it within the context of the pop culture we seem to love and cherish so much. Because as much as we’d like to think art imitates life, it doesn’t; life imitates art.

Morality is a diverse concept. However, there should be (at least) a few absolutes. And those absolutes should apply to everyone, not simply the select few who are famous; those absolutes should apply to the entertainment we perceive as acceptable, not simply accepted because it’s fiction. Just because the Dawson’s Creek romance between a teacher and a student was fictional does not mean it’s okay to perceive it as a taboo romance rather than statutory rape.

We as a collective society must be consistent with what we consider moral and immoral. Otherwise, the ever-growing chasm will continue expanding between what we allow and what we accept.

When there’s a difference between what we allow and what we accept, we walk a very tricky and slippery slope, leading to a large-scale societal confusion between perception and reality.

Certain parts of morality are not subjective.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this article is meant to “blame” popular culture for the choices I’ve made in my past. I am, in no way, placing the blame for my choices on anyone or anything other than myself.