The standard defense of the five-year-old caught with his hand in the cookie jar is “My brother made me do it.” It stands to reason then, when someone gets caught cheating, they immediately look for someone or something else to blame. Sometimes that something is our culture.
Cheating seems to be everywhere in the media and in our everyday conversations. Some would even argue that our culture celebrates cheating, to some degree. There’s no denying that cheating is prevalent in our culture, but does our culture actually teach us to cheat?
How long has cheating been part of our culture?
Perhaps you’re familiar with a document known as the Ten Commandments. There is a rule in this ancient document that says “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” It’s doubtful that this was thrown in there because the author, be it God or Moses or some guy hired by the church to do copywriting, wanted to get something down in advance to deal with the infidelity problem that would happen 3,000 years down the road. Chances are that people in the ancient world were sleeping around a bit.
In more recent history, there was the fateful story of King Arthur and Guinevere. This is kind of the insult-to-injury adultery story, because she sleeps with the king’s best friend. This story is also interesting in the fact that it is the victim, the king, who experiences the greatest misfortune while the cheating partners fare at least a little bit better for themselves. So much for justice.
How prevalent is cheating in the media?
If you watch television, whether it’s a movie, a TV show, or even the news, you are bound to see somebody committing adultery. There are movies specifically about it, with perhaps “Fatal Attraction” being the classic cautionary tale for the man who can’t keep it in his pants. There are also TV shows like “Cheaters” designed to show us that classic moment when someone gets caught with their pants down or their legs up.
The ultimate media outlet for cheating, though, is the daytime talk show. Only in these daytime dramas do you get to see the cheaters, the victim, the children who may belong to the cheaters or the victim, the neighbors who know the whole story, and the self-righteous audience who will pass judgement on everyone while anxiously waiting for somebody to hit someone else with a chair.
Even in music, you can hear all about the extramarital exploits of various types of people. Cheating songs have always been a staple of country music in particular, going all the way back to Hank Williams and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
In a manner of speaking, you could make the argument that the media actually instructs us on how to cheat properly. By providing so many examples of cheaters and telling us how they did it, you almost can’t be blamed if it gets your mind racing with possibilities. Television shows in particular also tend to give great examples of how and why people get caught. Incidentally, one easy way to get caught is when your spouse finds you taking notes during one of these cheating shows.
Does our culture make it easier to cheat?
One major thing that our culture has that previous cultures did not is the dual-income household. What this creates is a situation where both partners are working and have an increased opportunity to get out and meet other people, and an increased list of plausible explanations when they sneak out for a tryst. It used to be that only the man would have a “late meeting,” but now both partners may be putting in extra hours, and those hours might not actually be at work.
We are also more connected in general in our current culture. Whereas in the past we might interact with maybe 50 people in a given week, now through digital media, we’re interacting with thousands, including the ex-boyfriend from high school who just friended us on Facebook. The old saying is that “A man is as faithful as his options”; now the options are constantly there for both men and women.
Does our culture give consequences for cheating?
If you want to see consequences for cheating, the media does not disappoint. It seems like every crime show features the vengeful spouse unleashing some fiendish plot for revenge on their cheating partner, and every daytime talk show has someone getting humiliated on national TV with some skank he hooked up with in the local trailer park.
On the other hand, our society seems to be generally more accepting of the whole idea of cheating. It seems like every celebrity couple has had at least one and often several public incidents of cheating in their past, and they just shrug them off and move on. Perhaps because there is so much cheating among celebrities and on television, there is a societal undercurrent that just kind of says “It’s going to happen, just don’t embarrass me or yourself and we’ll get over it.”
Our society has become quite accustomed to the idea of cheating. In fact, there is so much cheating in the media that you could make the argument that it teaches us how to cheat. You could also say that our culture creates an environment in which cheating can thrive, and consequences are limited. That being said, good luck blaming your infidelity on our culture when your wife is ready to throw a chair at you on a daytime talk show.