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Laura Ingraham takes aim at the state of American culture

Bestselling author and radio commentator Laura Ingraham take on American culture in "Of Thee I Zing." Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

Conservative commentator takes aim at the state of American culture in "Of Thee I Zing: America's Cultural Decline from Muffin Tops to Body Shots," and few punches are pulled. Here's an excerpt.

Introduction Give me your slackers, your bored,
Your muffin-topped masses, yearning to eat free,
The wretched refuse of your tweeting horde,
Send these, the mannerless, TMZ-tossed celebrities to me,
I lift the golden lid of my rubbish bin’s door.
— The Inscription on the Statue of Liberty (circa 2011)

If you want to see evidence of America’s cratering culture, just stop by your local shopping mall.

I had never experienced vertigo before. But as I was riding down an escalator last September at a Northern Virginia shopping mall, I became so dizzy I almost careened over the railing. It had been a while since I had braved the mall scene alone. Rushing toward me were some of the most horrifying, unsettling images I had seen since Rosie O’Donnell posted her 9/11 video blog. Below me, on the left, was a group of six young girls wearing jeans so tight, Jacques Cousteau could have worn them on his last undersea expedition. And if he were alive today, he’d be shocked to know that humpback whales can not only survive on land, but text, snap gum, and suck down thirty-two-ounce milk shakes masquerading as coffee drinks. Then to my right, two adolescents were leaning up against a store window, shaking back their floppy bangs and fiddling with the waistbands of their jeans. Upon closer inspection, I saw they were pulling their pants down, not up, so as to showcase their pastel-colored boxer shorts. They paused briefly from their hair/underwear routine to venerate the cleavage of a model in the Victoria’s Secret window display. Whatever Vicki’s secret was, it appeared to be a secret no more.

As I stepped off the bottom of the escalator, I almost walked into an ugly collision. A Rascal scooter had a head-on with an over-under Bugaboo stroller. Upon impact, the elderly scootee was thrown to the ground. The infants, outfitted in Dolce & Gabbana baby couture, started wailing. In a white rage, their demure and compassionate mother cursed out Grandpa at the top of her lungs. “Do you know how much this stroller costs, old man?” she shrieked, pointing at the cracked front wheel. “More than your last Social Security check, I can tell you that!” As the dazed senior citizen struggled to get up, a forty-something guy wearing earbuds and a Quadrophenia T-shirt stepped right over him. The old gent just moaned.

Meanwhile, the Rascal had a mind of its own and kept rolling toward a portable kiosk where a man was getting his eyebrows threaded. The threader was so startled at the sight of the approaching scooter that she caught the tip of the man’s nose in the threads. “I knew I should have gone to Elizabeth Arden!” the now bleeding thirtyish man screamed, as he jumped up.

Everywhere I turned was a fresh horror. Outside a nearby toy store, a child was splayed out on the filthy floor, kicking his mother and wailing “ZhuZhu pet! Gimme a ZhuZhu pet!” Despite her leg injuries, the mother blithely continued walking, ignoring the display. On the other side of the mall, near the food court, a family devoured individual troughs of lo mein like hyenas hollowing a carcass on the savannah. Their faces literally pressed into the bowls, not a one of them even glanced up as I brushed their table.

Overwhelmed by the visuals, I fled into a nearby coffee shop. I took a seat between a senior citizen playing FarmVille on his iPad and two teens texting in trances. They didn’t even look up. Sipping my “skinny” latte, I suddenly thought, “I hate foam. I distinctly told the barista no foam.” Tossing the cup aside, I stared in disbelief at the tragic panorama on all sides. “Is this it?” I wondered. “Is this what our forefathers fought for? What my parents struggled for? Is this the American culture the Greatest Generation had in mind when they stormed the beaches at Normandy? So we could aspire to be like the Kardashians or land a role on "The Housewives of Miami"?

Our manners are shot. We dress like homeless prostitutes and derelict drug addicts. We spend countless hours social networking and end up becoming less social. Our pop culture has popped. In areas as broad as personal grooming, recreation, education, parenting, faith, and even the way we travel, the verdict is in: we have fallen faster than a discount facelift. We’re going to hell in a handbasket (and the handbasket was made in China). Even if our economic and national security challenges disappeared overnight, we’d still have to climb out of the cultural abyss into which we’ve tumbled.

Look around you. Do you even recognize what passes for American “culture” these days? If Thomas Jefferson were penning a Declaration of Independence for America today, he might write: “When in a coarse state of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bonds between themselves and the cultural blight degrading the Republic . . . they should declare the causes which impel them to separation . . .”

What follows are “the causes” that compel us to sever ties with this culture, halt its decline, and find a better way. It is a patriotic intervention. When you love something you fight for it—and I can’t bear to see America go down like this.

The first step toward recovery is admitting we have a problem. Since others are either incapable or too distracted to identify the cultural threats afflicting America, I take the patriotic duty upon myself. Herein I will point out the cell phone barkers; the four telltale signs you are in a lousy restaurant; our penchant for inane exercise fads; the worst children’s names in American history; our idiotic fixation with high-end cupcakes; each fraudulent holiday created by the card industry; and the young people who, like, speak in grunts, not full sentences.

So bring along your gas mask and something to protect yourself—we’re going deep into the nether regions of American culture. As harrowing as this journey may be, it is also rife with hilarity. So rejoice, fellow Americans! Our cultural renewal begins here.

Maternity 9-1-1

My mother had me when she was in her forties. She smoked and drank socially for the entire pregnancy. The extent of her preparation for the birth of her first child (my brother Jimmy) was packing a bag to take to the hospital. Back then, having children was just what you did, not something requiring a “birth plan” and endless strategy sessions. Today, women who have a laidback attitude about pregnancy are cultural misfits, shunned by the parenting-industrial complex. “Maternity consultants” are all the rage. They instruct ladies about a range of “pre-conception, pregnancy, post-partum and parenting topics.” I can almost hear my mother now: “You mean you pay someone to tell you that childbirth hurts, and that you have to push the baby out? Honey, women are born to do that. It would be like paying someone to tell us how to flirt.” (She’d be shocked to learn that now women pay for that advice, too!) Bravo cable network has tapped into this sad phenomenon with the show Pregnant in Heels, hosted by “maternity concierge” Rosie Pope. She helps rich women turn their baby’s gestation period into one nine-month-long trip to the spa at Canyon Ranch. A self-described “pregnancy guru,” Pope assists expectant moms with their pressing, critical dilemmas, such as arranging for the perfect stylist to do pre-birth hair and makeup. Gotta look fab for the ultimate delivery room close-up! Heaven forbid, the first thing your baby sees is your chipped nail polish and unwaxed bikini line! At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before the umbilical cord gets its own lighting consultant!

Stupid Kid Names

Children should not be named after a piece of furniture, a planet, a fruit, or an herb. Today’s little ones are saddled with some of the most ridiculous names ever—it’s as if the parents are trying to force the kids to hate them early.

There are consequences for the name you confer on your child. According to a 2009 study in Social Science Quarterly, a child’s first name can predispose him to a life of crime and incarceration. The top ten most dangerous names for boys are: Alec, Ernest, Garland, Ivan, Kareem, Luke, Malcolm, Preston, Tyrell, and Walter. The odder the name, the more ridicule the boy is likely to encounter in life. Reporter Erin Burnett explained it this way on the Today show: “Basically, if you’re teased mercilessly your entire childhood for your name, you become an angry, bitter person, and you lash out in a way that could be negative.” Certainly there are exceptions to the rule (but Alec Baldwin isn’t one of them).

Celebrities have escalated the baby name stupidity, tempting the public to ruin their children’s lives as well. The Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver, and his wife Jools (another winner of a name), are raising what sounds like a victory garden at home. Their daughters are named—and I am not joking—Daisy Boo, Poppy Honey Rosie, and Petal Blossom Rainbow. But these celebri-tot names can’t be topped:

• Apple and Moses (Gwyneth Paltrow). I think she’s going for an Old Testament theme here. • Sparrow Madden (Nicole Richie). Does Sparrow tweet? • Bronx Mowgli (Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson). Hope he’s a Yankee fan. • Pilot Inspektor (Jason Lee). A future FAA official? • Denim and Deizel (Toni Braxton). I guess Wash and Wear were already taken. • Jermajesty (Jermaine Jackson). The sibling will be called Jerhighness. • Blanket (Michael Jackson). Why not Glove? • Bamboo (Outkast’s Big Boi). Is he trying to ensure his son’s also an outcast? • Kyd (David Duchovny and Tea Leoni). You’re kydding me. • Mars, Puma, and Seven (Erykah Badu). A candy bar, a sneaker, and a lucky number. Why not go for three more? Mounds, Adidas, and Eight?

One day, these children are going to grow up and they will either legally change their names or just march into their parents’ bedroom one night and beat them to a pulp. The research suggests the latter.

“It’s my party and I’ll cry— if I don’t have a petting zoo”

Remember the good old days when a birthday party for a six year-old involved nothing more than a homemade sheet cake, store-brand vanilla ice cream, paper hats from the drugstore, and (if you were really splurging) a cardboard pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game? The really rich kids got to invite six friends to the McDonald’s birthday party room. Those days are long gone.

I fell into this party trap a few years ago. When the Sleeping Beauty moon-bounce arrived at my house, I felt like I had done something special for my daughter. Until, that is, I overheard one of the pre-K invitees groan, “Not another moon-bounce!” Little did I know, I was behind the party curve. To be truly memorable, a child’s party now must be an over-the-top, choreographed adventure complete with its own stylist and professional photographer.

Farm Parties: Horses, sheep and assorted livestock are trucked in to entertain invited guests. The stench of these movable petting zoos is particularly unpleasant in warm weather. It used to be that pony rides were restricted to the carnival or the county fair. No more. Now they can happen right on your front lawn. To keep up with the Joneses, do we now have to bring in a big top and P. T. Barnum himself ?

Spa Parties: Not long ago, my five-year-old daughter came home from her friend Cynthia’s birthday party looking unusually relaxed and in a great mood. I immediately noticed that her fingernails and toenails were exquisitely manicured. Hello Kitty! stared back at me from every digit. It turns out there were “mani-” and “pedi-” stations at this soirée. Each girl had her own dedicated beautician. Hand, shoulder, and foot massages were included. When girls are pouting because there are no seaweed wraps and oxygen facials—we know we have created pampered monsters. During my mother’s seventy-nine years on this earth, after decades of working her tail off as a waitress and a housewife, the only spa she knew was the Tupperware basin that she soaked her feet in at the end of a long day. For her, splurging was adding the Epsom salts.

Laser Tag and Gym Parties: These parties are a plaintiff attorney’s dream. If you are interested in spending most of Saturday night in an emergency room, make sure your son or daughter is invited to one of these accident-prone shindigs. You feel like you’ve entered some twisted 1980s music video when you walk into one of these laser tag joints. It doesn’t take the Supernanny to know that fog strobe lights + cramped quarters = disaster for a dozen rambunctious boys. Inevitably, somebody gets a black eye or trampled before the buzzer goes off. The gym parties are just as bad. Cake and ice cream are preceded by kids going through Olympic-style events in rapid succession. Unless your daughter has been coached by Shannon Miller herself, the safest party games for her might not be the uneven bars and the vault.

Princess Parties: Once upon a time . . . a very indulgent mother contracted with a local theater’s wardrobe department to help costume her daughter’s birthday production. The guests were expected to choose costumes from rolling racks where princess gowns, jewelry and tiaras hung. They were then forced to mingle with college students moonlighting as fairy tale characters. Brother, was it Grimm! Little girls who thought they were coming for cake and ice cream had to sing for their supper—literally. Before they knew what was happening, the girls were cast in skits adapted from Snow White and Cinderella. Does the pressure to perform ever end?

Face Painting Parties: You bring your child to a party, and she is suddenly set upon by maniacs with paintbrushes. These are people you wouldn’t let paint your house, let alone your kid’s face. After one of these painting extravaganzas, I was horrified to find my poor daughter covered with brown, black, and white makeup, looking like a mangy cheetah. Was she just cast in the touring company of Cats? Then when I suggested washing it off, I thought she was going to call Child Protective Services. “You can’t take this off, Mommy!! I’m a cheetaaaaaaaah!” Nothing was really lost by removing the paint. Like the Shroud of Turin, the image is there forever on my brand-new white Turkish bath towel.

The Disaster in Aisle 5

If your child is defiling a public space, it is probably a good idea to remove said child from the premises immediately. For some inexplicable reason, I have encountered parent after parent who allow their children to do inexcusable things without any concern for those around them.

Case in point: I am walking down the aisle of a big-box store when a little girl begins to projectile vomit in all directions. (I nearly threw up myself.) The mother is standing there placidly sipping her Frappuccino, watching the child retch as if this were the fountain show at the Bellagio. “That popcorn mustn’t have agreed with your tummy,” the mother says calmly. Since the entire contents of the child’s stomach are covering the aisle, this seems obvious. After the poor girl has nothing else to bring up, the mother pulls out a wet wipe, runs it over the kid’s mouth, and escorts Linda Blair out as if nothing had happened. She doesn’t alert management, she doesn’t try to clean up the toxic pond in aisle 5—she just walks out.

Another time I was at a toy store in the stuffed animal section, when a woman arrived pushing a shopping cart with her toddler on board. He had huge blue saucer eyes and an impish grin. How sweet, I thought. Sweet, that is, until I saw him flicking the contents of his diaper all over the teddy bears on the shelf next to him. The pink bears were suddenly speckled brown. In disgust, I turned away, imagining I would soon hear an outraged reaction from his mother. Several seconds went by. Not a sound. When I turned around, the mother was moving the dung-covered teddies to the back of the shelf. She then wheeled her little Jackson Pollack away to wreak havoc on another part of the store. Imagine her reaction if a fellow shopper’s child had spread his diaper waste all over her $5,000 yellow Birkin Bag. (Yes, I imagined it.)

Losing the Farm

What would possess an otherwise normal person to give up precious hours and hard-earned money to assume the role of a virtual farmer? FarmVille, a ridiculous online farming game, has seduced fools around the world to cast aside family, obligations, and even their health in the pursuit of digital blue ribbons and co‑ops. The kicker is they spend real greenbacks to expand their farming empire. FarmVille gamers blow $100 million annually to purchase tractors, seeds, and animals—that don’t exist! They’re digital! While their fake crops on FarmVille are thriving, their personal lawns are turning brown. These “farmers” will spend a fortune buying electronic dairy farms, but won’t get off their duffs to buy their family a gallon of milk. For some, it has become an addiction and a distraction from life.

One husband lamented on a message board: “My wife spends endless hours on FarmVille and has forgotten about us, and the worst part is, she won’t admit it. Our kids aren’t fed, they go to school dirty . . . wanna divorce? Start Farmin’!”

For those not inclined to go broke on digital Green Acres, there are other games available from Zynga, the company that created FarmVille. If you want to squander your cash on non-existent buildings, why not waste your time in CityVille? This is another money pit posing as a game that casts you as a mayor who oversees the building of a sprawling city. For what it costs you to play, you could bankroll a genuine mayoral campaign in your own town! And for that stay-at-home-mom with a murderous streak: why not drop some cash assembling your own criminal syndicate in Mafia Wars? Though you may want to off yourself, once the bill comes. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Zynga earned $850 million in revenue last year.

Want to make some real money? Come up with a twelve-step program to get people off these games. Only make it virtual, so the addicted will be sure to show up.

The Announcers

I think some public cell phone users believe they are performing at Carnegie Hall. They project as though an invisible audience in the nosebleeds were having trouble hearing them. I was in line at a take-out café at Union Station in Washington recently where a young woman was speaking on her cell phone in front of me. She belted out: “I was, like, that’s all you givin’ me for my twenty-first birthday? And he was, like, ‘Hello! I took you to Shoney’s on Saturday.’ And then I was, like, ‘Duh! That didn’t count. Fool!’ ”

Being forced to listen to her insipid and ungrammatical conversation was bad enough. The added insult was when I asked my friend what kind of soup he got and the cell phone screamer “shhhhh’d” me!

The volume of these cell phone barkers is often so high, they hardly need a phone to communicate at all. The person on the other line could just as easily hear them by opening a window. And it’s even worse when the cell shriekers are speakerphone junkies: people who decide to place both sides of their conversation on public display. I am somehow always seated next to this type of person in a nail salon or on a train. If there’s an enclosed public space and I’m in it, the speakerphone freak will find me. I once asked a fortyish woman if she wouldn’t mind taking her phone off speaker since my (then) two-year-old son could overhear her entire conversation about menopausal hot flashes. Appalled at my request, she replied in the most serious tone, “Sorry, but I’m concerned about cell phones and cancer.” A cancer cell wouldn’t have a chance against that thick skull.

Porn Pilot

Cell phone cameras are fantastic gadgets. They allow us to capture those fleeting moments when a traditional camera would take forever to fish out. In a pinch, they’re a wonderful way to quickly share images with family and friends. But getting a nude photo of someone you barely know standing in front of a mirror is not one of the images we had in mind.

“Sexting” is the transmission of explicit to downright pornographic images (usually self-portraits) via a cell phone or the Internet. The practice is so pervasive among teens that states like Texas and New Jersey are attempting to decriminalize sexting for youngsters. Should these efforts fail, the kids would have to be charged with possession of child pornography (since the images are usually of themselves or acquaintances), an offense that could get them added to the registry of sex offenders. A study by CosmoGirl and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies found that “20 percent of teens and 33 percent of young adults ages 20 to 26 have shared nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves either by text or posting online.” According to studies, teen girls are more likely to indulge in the practice.

Sweetie, unless your ambition is to be the Playboy Playmate of the Month, might I suggest that you spend a bit more time adding to your résumé and a bit less time photographing yourself in the buff ? This whole sexting thing has become a type of courting ritual. The fellows want to eye up the merchandise to see if you’re worth the effort. As an old chef once said, “A sure way to kill the appetite is to give away too many hors d’oeuvres.”

But the teens are only partly to blame for the explosion of sexting. They are merely mimicking what they see their heroes doing. In early 2011, nude pictures and videos of music star and woman beater Chris Brown surfaced online. Brown claims an ex‑girlfriend leaked the material, though some reports suggested that he may have leaked them himself as a publicity stunt. NFL legend Brett Favre went for his own three-point conversion when he allegedly sent photos of his upright to a Jets “game day hostess.” And more than fifty Hollywood A‑listers were stunned when hackers stole their nude photos off cell phones and computers. Some of those hit included Jessica Alba, Miley Cyrus, Scarlett Johansson, and Christina Aguilera. All of this could have been avoided had they not taken the shots in the first place. By their example, stars have encouraged this cultural narcissism masquerading as courtship. It’s not flirty, it’s filthy—and it always leaks out.

There was a time when people got dressed up and had conversations to see if they were compatible—now they examine tan lines. Though there could be one advantage to the exposure: people will develop a new esteem for the option of seeing you clothed. I was recently told about one girl who tried to laugh off the nude picture of her circulating on campus. She announced to a college guy who had seen one of her salacious photos, “Bet you didn’t know I was a natural brunette.” To which the guy replied, “I didn’t know you had stretch marks on your hips, either.” If you’re actually interested in the guy, clothing can be your closest ally.

The Touchy-Feely TSA

If I need a massage, I’ll schedule one. Being groped in front of hundreds of weary travelers by a TSA employee at seven in the morning is not my idea of a good time. It doesn’t make me feel any safer, in fact it makes me feel less secure. I’ve heard the ads for a certain airline claiming “You’re free to roam.” These TSA people have taken it literally! This is their moment to get back at all those people who scored higher than they did on the SATs (or who took them at all). I know the Obama folks did away with the color-coded terror alert system, but maybe they should reconsider.

First, you have to shed your shoes and walk where thousands of athlete’s foot sufferers have trod before. (Be honest: have you ever seen anyone actually clean the floor alongside the conveyor  belt or through the metal detector?) Then, should you make it down Fungus Alley to the filthy rubber mat on the other side of the scanner, you know the humiliation is just beginning. There stands a TSA masher motioning you to come closer. Once you reach Bertha, she asks you to spread your legs and arms as she menacingly tosses her electronic wand back and forth. Every muscle is seizing up as you assume the vulnerable position. (By the way, her rote preview of the assault she is about to commit— “I’m about to touch the underwire of your bra”—doesn’t make the experience any less humiliating.) Then this woman who can barely bend at the waist proceeds to run her discolored rubber glove over every crevice and seam of your body. By the time you collect your things and redress yourself, you don’t know whether you should head for the gate or ask for a rape kit.

Safety for Dummies

For the illiterate first-time flier there is the perennial safety instruction offered by the crew before every flight. If you don’t know how to snap a belt shut at this point or twist open an air vent, perhaps you should remain in the terminal. Do we really need to see the sleep-deprived flight crew go through their tired floor show before every flight?

We know: buckle the belt like this, unbuckle it like that, and pull twice on the oxygen mask, air is flowing! If I promise to do the whole routine for them as I enter the plane, can I be exempted from the safety exhibition? And some of these flight attendants get downright nasty if you don’t pay attention. On a recent flight to Phoenix, one stewardess (woops) in the middle of a safety briefing noticed I was reading The Wall Street Journal. “Is that article on the price of gold more interesting than saving your life? Please pay attention, ma’am,” she snipped. I’m sorry but your little standup isn’t exactly the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular.

Seatback Compartments and Tray Tables

Without gloves and a pair of tongs, I would never remove anything from a seatback compartment. To my mind, these are nothing more than miniature, in‑flight landfills. All manner of human refuse will, one way or another, gravitate into that seatback pocket. I have witnessed people shove drenched Kleenex into the slot, bags of vomit, half-eaten foodstuffs, used cotton swabs, and—I am not making this up—dentures. Is it any wonder that I cringe when I see a mother putting her baby’s teething toys in the seat back pocket for safekeeping? She might as well store the teethers in the rear cabin commode. It has to be more hygienic.

But the most unappetizing incident that took the cake was the mother across the aisle from me who pulled down her tray table and proceeded to diaper her baby without laying out so much as a changing mat. Imagine being the passenger gifted with that seat on the next flight? I think of this scene every time I see someone facedown on a tray table in a vain effort to sleep. Naturally, after the mother had finished changing her child, she shoved the soiled diaper in the seatback pocket. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself. The diaper is probably still there.

From "OF Thee I Zing: America's Cultural Decline from Muffin Tops to Body Shots" by Laura Ingraham with Raymond Arroyo. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Threshold Editions, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.