Saturday night I took my wife of 34 years to MovieLand to screen a comedy romance titled "Zach and Miri Make a Porno," a film whose Internet "Tomatometer" consensus proclaimed it "fresh," "charming" and "an old fashioned romantic comedy."
The Washington Post's Neely Tucker observed, "Everyone on screen seems to be having so much fun," and The New York Times' A. O. Scott bubbled, "a gee-whiz romantic-comedy formula that would not be out of place on the Disney Channel."
Since the wife and I are suckers for old-fashioned romantic comedies, I ponied up $30 for tickets and a bucket of popcorn, and we shimmied past aisle-sitting singles to wedge ourselves into kneecap-bruising seats.
Remember the days when your fellow moviegoers stood up and allowed you to pass them, un-rubbed-against, in the dark? No time for that today; we're too busy text messaging to be bothered.
During the next hour and 41 minutes, the only thing that kept me in my seat was my reluctance to climb over the theater-goers to the left of us, so deep was my shame at the thought of being identified by somebody I knew.
The phrase, "coarsening of culture" " as it pertains to America " has lost any meaningful currency: Watching this movie was like being dropped into a sewerage-treatment pond with your lips stitched to your chin and forehead.
In fact, the money-shot in the film occurs when a constipated porn-princess is "freed-up" by the stud busily sodomizing her from the rear: In a flash of comedic brilliance, she evacuates, explosively, on the face and shoulders of the cameraman filming a close-up from below.
We're all accustomed to laughter and weeping in movie theaters. The consensual groan that escaped this audience was something altogether different. It was the noise you make when you see an animal hit on the highway " an involuntary, guttural expulsion of angst.
"Zach and Miri" is not an old-fashioned romantic comedy, nor would it ever be aired on the Disney Channel. Walt and Roy Disney would've scraped this crap off their shoes in their Anaheim parking lot " not animated it in their studios and tracked it into America's homes.
I'm not going to review the plot, because " beyond the celebration of refusing to pay your utility bills and the lighthearted legitimization of the pornography industry " I'm not sure this movie has a plot. It's just an hour and 41 minutes of bulked-up bad taste.
It's Howard Stern's diarrhea spin-art on steroids.
The problem with Hollywood sewerage isn't limited to the damage it's doing at MovieLands across America. We're piping this crap to countries and cultures around the planet.
It makes no sense to bemoan America's loss of standing on the world stage, while shipping this filth overseas. It doesn't matter who we install in the White House. It doesn't matter how generously we endow the U.N., or how many AIDS sufferers we save in Africa, or how much hand wringing we do over human rights tragedies in the Sudan.
After watching this movie, I think I understand the emotions that motivated Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn to blow things up. I think I can even understand the hatred of Islamic fundamentalists who fear our contagion of their culture.
We are projecting the ugliest possible image of America, abroad, and we're doing it in the most effective way possible, inflicting damage that no amount of State Department diplomacy or cash can undo. It's not just America's military might " "American imperialism!" " that the world's billions abhor; it's the spreading spill of our cultural malaise.
It's like Ted Kennedy emptying his sailboat's bilge on Nantucket Sound or blocking wind farms between speeches to his Sierra Club donors. We talk in high-minded tones about "liberty," but we export licentiousness unchecked by common sense or decency.
Like it or not, we are no longer perceived as "a shining city on a hill," but rather despised by an increasingly broad catalog of people who want to destroy us. We're regarded as a self-indulgent, promiscuous collection of whining, me-first losers who never met an indulgence they couldn't embrace.
We can blame misguided political policy, but that's only a small part of the story. Politicians can't fix what's wrong with this country; and fancy speeches in foreign capitals won't mend our tattered reputation.
It makes no sense to spend trillions on a crusade to "save the planet" from ecological disaster, while we ignore the cultural pollution that's rotting us from within.
We need the sort of "change" no politician can deliver. We have to make a new beginning, punctuated by a grassroots rejection of the messages we're being bombarded with in the popular culture.
How that happens, I haven't a clue.
One thing is clear: "Zach and Miri" don't have the answer.