VULGARIANS AT THE GATE: Raising the Standards of Popular Culture
Steve Allen
Prometheus, 400 pages, $26

Steve Allen more or less invented the late-night talk-show genre as the creator and first host of NBC's Tonight Show in 1953. Ironically, that genre has evolved into one of the chief purveyors of the kind of depravity that Allen rails against here. Before his death last year at 78, the bespectacled comedian had become increasingly troubled by the rampant violence and raunch in popular culture.

Allen's book is an articulate indictment of the entertainment industry. No one is spared. In addition to the usual suspects—Madonna, gangsta rappers, Howard Stern—Allen also goes after media moguls, like Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, who could effectively retrench the problem but "would not dream of risking the diminishment of their own profits."

An outspoken humanist whose 1990 book Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality found him grappling earnestly, if not shortsightedly, with matters of God and theology, Allen does not think "religion" is the solution to the problem. He cites the string of school shootings that happened in communities where churches were prevalent.

The solution, he says, lies in a greater emphasis on morality and manners. Though they would differ with the author on rudimentary issues, many Christians and profamily advocates will appreciate Allen's reasoned analysis of the problem. He encourages Americans to let their voices be heard, to reject the sleaze, and to be proactive by supporting organizations, like the Dove Foundation, that are working to stem the rising tide of vulgarity. Allen was putting the finishing touches on Vulgarians at the Gate when he died. The book's posthumous release ...

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