From David Brooks's New York Times column:
This emphasis on mental character lasted for a time, but it has abated. There's less talk of sin and frailty these days. Capitalism has also undermined this ethos. In the media competition for eyeballs, everyone is rewarded for producing enjoyable and affirming content. Output is measured by ratings and page views, so much of the media, and even the academy, is more geared toward pleasuring consumers, not putting them on some arduous character-building regime.
I disagree with this on several levels. First, I think Mr. Brooks is faulting capitalism for failing to do something that it isn't really capitalism's responsibility to do. Character can come from parents, from teachers (who often work for government or non-profit schools), from religion, from sports leagues (often non-profits), from non-profit organizations such as the Boy Scouts or Outward Bound, and from religion. It doesn't have to come from the media.
Second, pleasure and arduous aren't a zero-sum game. Climbing a mountain, for example, is both pleasurable and arduous, and it may even be good for your mental character.
Third, within capitalism there is plenty, plenty, of the arduous mental character-building — "the ability to face unpleasant thoughts" — that Mr. Brooks desires. Psychologists make money in part by selling it. So do the producers of movies about the Holocaust or Indian slums. In fact one of the big not-so-secret secrets about the tabloid news business is that bad news, news of "sin and frailty," sells better than "enjoyable and affirming" content. Witness the John Edwards sex scandal, or the Eliot Spitzer sex scandal.