Randall made his point with rare candor: "You think, 'It's OK to go to a strip club and have a couple of beers with your buddies and still go home to your wife and baby and live with yourself.'"

In his article, St. John compares characters of older television classics as "men who have the occasional affair or who tip the bottle a little too much." But these new characters are very different. "Instead they are unapologetic about killing, stealing, hoarding and beating their way to achieve personal goals that often conflict with the greed, apathy and of course the bureaucracies of the modern world."

Others have attempted to explain this phenomenon in terms of social commentary. According to this line of argument, the popularity of these antisocial male characters can be traced to male frustration and being forced to work within a bland and bureaucratic corporate environment. Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, put it this way: "These kinds of characters are so satisfying to male viewers because culture has told them to be powerful and effective and to get things done, and at the same time they're living, operating and working in places that are constantly defying that."

Of course, that line of argument has been around for a very long time. It was the theme of the 1956 movie "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," and it has reappeared in new dress in virtually every generation. Professor Thompson goes so far as to suggest that the real "enemy" as understood by contemporary males is "the legal, cultural and social infrastructure of the nation itself." Frankly, Dr. Thompson is overreaching, to say the least. It's hard to dignify this kind of media taste as social commentary. After all, these young male viewers are sought by the networks and cable channels precisely because they are the demographic that drives the sale of so many consumer products. It's hard to dignify and respect cultural angst in a generation that demands the latest technological gadgets and consumer goods.

Attracting the young male demographic is clearly the main ambition of those producing and marketing this new and savage form of television entertainment. As St. John observes, competition from the Internet, video games, and a vast array of cable channels has caught the attention of television producers who "are obsessed with developing shows that can capture the attention of young male viewers."

Spike TV, owned by Viacom, "has ordered up a slate of new dramas based on characters whose minds are cauldrons of moral ambiguity," he explains.

Paul Scheer, a 29-year-old actor and viewer of "Lost," told St. John that a character can now even commit murder without alienating an audience. "You don't have to be defined by one act," he commented. On "Lost," three characters have killed others in cold blood, "and they're quote-unquote good people who you're rooting for every week," Scheer observed. The moral he takes from these shows? "You can say 'I'm messed up and I left my wife, but I'm still a good guy.'"

Peter Liguori, creator of the FX shows "The Shield" and "Over There," who now serves as president of Fox Entertainment, defended his programming: "I think that moral ambiguity is highly involving for an audience. Audiences I believe relate to characters they share the same flaws with."

That is a truly frightening statement. Are we to believe that he is intentionally directing the programming of his network towards an audience of young males who share "the same flaws" as the violent, perverse, and antisocial characters he so willingly presents?

We are now witnessing the corruption of the masculine ideal into absolute violence and amorality. This phenomenon has developed over time, as manhood and the role of men in the home and in the society have been undermined by social, legal, economic, and ideological forces.

We now know that boys are doing more poorly in school than girls and that young women now outnumber young men on college campuses. The vast majority of violent crimes are committed by young men, and young males drive the statistics in virtually every form of antisocial behavior. The absence of strong male role models for boys and young men to respect and emulate--especially fathers--is surely the largest contributing factor to the rise in the social pathologies and antisocial behaviors.