I am not in the habit of arguing with people who agree with me. There are enough people around who disagree to satisfy my very low interest in a fight.
But there was a peculiar edge to a number of the "congratulations" letters I received after a recent column about the sex-sell of jeans to teens.
At least three correspondents separately invited me to symposiums on saving the family by censoring things. Another six welcomed me back into the fold of the right-thinking (in both senses of the word) people. And an even dozen praised me for recanting years of liberal "permissiveness" and assorted other pieces of satanic behavior.
There was even one editorial in the Lorain, Ohio, paper suggesting that I had "renounced a long-held liberal view . . . that adults can be sexually irresponsible . . . without worrying overly about the effect on children."
Now, I would like to assure all these letter writers that I am not a born-again ghostwriter for Penthouse Forum. I have never held what are so fliply assumed to be long-held "liberal" views. Nor have most "liberals."
I am, personally as well as professionally, for better and for worse, a first-class worrier about the effect of everything and anything on kids. Just ask my own.
Last but not least, I have not, as the editorial writer said, "begun to suspect that the whole prmiscuous sexual game is a destructive one in a real human sense." I have been ranting about this ever since people began meaningful relationships by throwing car keys in the middle of the floor.
Still, it is apparent that these letter writers are expressing a fairly common assumption. Sex in the media market is one of those issues that has been truly polarized. The 1960s bumper sticker -- "America: Love It or Leave It" -- has been translated in 1980 to "The Sex Sell: Buy It or Ban It."
You can hardly utter a word like "morality" or "family values" these days without being asked to sign up for a package rightwing flight, with a stopover to burn Darwin in effigy and D. H. Lawrence in paperback.
You can hardly stand up for the First Amendment without being asked to submit your children to a lifelong membership drive by the Friends of Hustler Magazine.
As one of those people who try vainly to fly a somewhat moderate course, with two wings nicely balanced, I don't like the choices. It seems to me that the middle of the field has been abandoned.
My own generation grew up when people still had to sneak copies of Henry Miller into the country, when Lenny Bruce was put on trial and when sexuality was airbrushed out of the picture of teen-age life as if it didn't exist.
Having supported some sort of sane moderation of these bylaws, many of us were fighting the old war while the new sex mercenaries were taking over. The lyrics have become more blatant, the beat more incessant, the target audience younger. I don't know anyone who likes it, but I know a lot of people who suffered from a case of delayed outrage.
For a while, the only place an angry parent could go was over to the new old right.
Well, the good news is that most of my mail did not come from people nostalgic for the days of the airbrushed belly button. But they were mad and looking for a way to say so.
The best way is still good old American protest. It's the way we let our kids, the broadcasters, the advertisers and the merchants know what we think.
The Jordache company, for example, explained its ads featuring a half-naked girl on the back of a boy by saying, ". . . we feel that Jordache's advertising reflects the public's current urbane attitudes toward the body." But after being deluged by the protests of outraged parents, they pulled the teeny-sex-bopper ad. So much for "urbane attitudes."
There also is the good old pocketbook protest. The merchants' defense is that "sex sells." Brooke Shields wiggles her 15-year-old bottom and Calvin Klein makes money. The sitcom star jiggles, the recording star moans, the movie star strips and the company makes money.
But not if we don't buy it.
There is a middle ground between condoning the sex-sleaze merchants and censoring every mention of the human anatomy. All we have to do is claim it.