Mainstreaming the “F Word” or How Not to Promote a Civil Society

November 17, 2010 at 5:02 pm 1 comment

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I don’t watch much television these days.  Maybe a little Wheel of Fortune while I’m on the elliptical trainer before dinner, or occasionally kicking back in front of a rerun of The Closer after a tiring day.  For one thing, free time is at a premium, but I’m also just plain turned off by the current programming on that machine I’ve been turning on since I was four years old.  Even at seven o’clock in the evening, I can’t imagine kids and parents sitting down to watch together.  That slot used to be called the Family Hour.  Howard Stern’s family, maybe. 

I can hear the husband of a certain friend of mine now, as she reads this and says to him, “This week Sue Anne is offended by the content of commercial television,” and he says, “What isn’t she offended by?!”  In my defense, behind these particular convictions is painful personal experience and a long  history of trying to squeak out small protests amidst the oceanic roar that is the American Viewing Public, voting loudly with their viewing habits, week after bawdy week.  

What set me aboil over this hot topic, after decades of escalating coarseness?  Well, I got behind in my schedule and ended up having dinner alone at 7:30 one recent evening, so I looked to the TV for a little company as I ate.  Channel-surfing led me all the way around the dial, passing up The Big Bang Theory (frequent sexual innuendo, juvenile references to masturbation); Grey’s Anatomy (crude language and uncommitted sexual hookups, staple elements); Bones (fixated on kinky fetishes and provocative subcultures, as well as their characters’ pulsating libidos during brief periods of [gasp] celibacy); The Vampire Diaries (sex scenes including teenagers, some involving coercion, violence, and occult lore); and $#*! My Dad Says (profanity – there’s a shocker – and gratuitous references to oral sex, masturbation, genitalia size).  This jaunt landed me briefly in the smack-middle of an episode of Hell’s Kitchen, featuring the out-of-control rantings and ravings of restaurateur Gordon Ramsay. 

The violent tone of this side-show was the first thing to reach out like a slap in the face, but when I realized that participants were screeching the “queen mother of all dirty words” back and forth at each other across the counter tops, it almost put me off my dinner.  It takes a lot to put me off my dinner.  Even the short time I sat stunned, my thumb frozen in mid-air above the channel selection button on the remote, exposed me to scathing diatribes and rude antics (like throwing cooking utensils across a crowded room) I would never tolerate in a friend, acquaintance, family member, or co-worker.  Why would I choose to spend precious time wincing my way through an hour of it from a spectator’s seat? 

I don’t care how effectively the film editors patch together a dramatic crescendo or flesh out sympathetic real life characters, nothing can make this horror show seem like entertainment to me.  But let’s say I got into it, and started caring about those characters, and started loving to hate the Chef Almighty whose artistic temperament and directorial mandates give him license to verbally abuse those around him.  The question then becomes, should I risk desensitization to lewd, destructive behavior by exposing myself to it, packaged under the guise of entertainment? 

I have learned to say, “No,” but it’s not always easy, as when I get momentarily intrigued by the abject shallowness of the characters on Sex in the City and linger longer than I need to, to check out that ridiculous designer outfit that Carrie is wearing today.  I’m embarrassed that I even know their names, but I have watched five-minute chunks of many programs I don’t like just to make sure I know what’s afloat in the cesspool.  Know the enemy, I remind myself, but don’t climb into bed with them – you should pardon the expression. 

“Sow what’s her point?” I can hear my friend’s husband ask.  “Nobody is making her watch this stuff.  She can turn it off any time she wants to.”  Yeah.  And I can stick my fingers in my ears whenever I hear I hear raunch rap blasting out the windows of a tricked-out Honda Civic, but it’s still out there, polluting adolescent minds. 

And that happens.  I know.  I grew up fully convinced that certain behaviors were wrong.  Then in my late teens and early twenties, the Hollywood “morality” promoted in television, movies, and books started to eat away at my convictions like acid on metal.  James Bond movies, The Graduate, the John Updike novel Couples, Helen Gurley Brown’s flippant flip-off of virtue and self-respect, Sex and the Single Girl. 

The classic end result of repetitive suggestions that the Christian Ethic and codes of good conduct belong to our grandparents’ generation?  Profound confusion masquerading as fierce independence.  It’s a tough trend for a young person to fight, when its coming at you from every direction, and it took me a while to get my thinking straightened out.  Not everyone is blessed with a second chance. 

When we, as a culture, accepted 60s and 70s entertainment encoded with non-traditional values, we paved the way to today’s ultra-tolerant attitudes toward vulgarity and irresponsible sexual conduct.  No one will ever convince me that today’s children aren’t being adversely affected by the soft-porn messages being broadcast around the clock, from midday soap operas to Two and a Half Men (non-stop sexual dialogue, outrageous promiscuity, demeaning attitudes toward women) time, and beyond.  They’re just getting confused a lot younger these days, and that plays out in a long list of negative social trends from public profanity to escalating venereal disease rates to unwanted pregnancies – the side of things you won’t hear about on How I Met Your Mother, where Barney cavalierly uses women for sex and then dumps them. 

That Family Hour designation I referred to was based on a quaint concept put forth by the FCC in 1975 following widespread public criticism of the amount of sex and violence then available on American television, but it met its demise a mere two years later.  As a subjective blueprint for devoting the first hour of prime time to material adults wouldn’t have to monitor, it was seen as a usurpation of freedom of speech and was overturned in court.  If only the families of the nation had simply exercised their own free speech rights and refused to allow offensive junk to become profitable junk for the garbage haulers behind it, this reasonable goal could have been met without FCC intrusion. 

Defenders say all of this vulgarity is merely representational of reality – art imitating life.  It’s not my reality; I hope it’s not yours.  I’ve also heard three different interviews with child actors who were required to utter crass “kid dialogue” so foreign to their reality that it made them stammer and blush, and they had to inure themselves to it before they could deliver the lines on set. Maybe we could learn something from these youngsters.  If I can’t say or do it without guilt or discomfort, perhaps I shouldn’t be watching others with fewer scruples demean themselves and me by doing or saying it in the name of entertainment. 

Now here we are at a different crossroads.  The ante has been upped; the challenge has been quadrupled; and the onslaught continues from every media outlet.  Many televised interviews are starting to sound like Chef Ramsay’s bleeped-out prime time tirades, so we viewers are regularly treated to fill-in-the blanks sessions of saying the obscenity in our own heads instead of hearing it in the speaker’s voice.  How much farther do we want to go down this path, and what do we do about it? 

I had a very disappointing experience a decade-and-a-half ago when I participated in a United Way (yes; I know better now) community activism (didn’t sound like a scary concept back then) seminar, where we broke up into smaller, special topic groups.  I chose the area focused on family-friendly television content.  At one point I suggested that we could organize a city-wide letter-writing effort to purveyors of objectionable programs; an “if everybody recruits one neighbor, who recruits one more neighbor” challenge.  The response?  Hemming and hawing and irrational rationalizations.  “Oh, it would take a groundswell to get anywhere,” one fellow pooh-poohed.  “We are the grassroots, right?”  I asked in a tone of controlled querulousness.  “Isn’t that where groundswells begin?”  

What followed is a blur in my memory, but apparently everyone had attended this little meeting because they wanted to appear to be involved and had an empty evening to fill, because we met only one more time before dissolving into a goo of apathy.  I was disappointed, but continue to this day with my own letter-writing campaign, holding on to the hope that I can have an effect on my cause. 

You may have seen a well-constructed email making the rounds six or seven years ago.  It spoke of television as a crude stranger, one we would never choose to socialize with or want our children to emulate, but whom we invite into our living rooms on a daily basis.  Perhaps we can, at the very least, un-invite this crude stranger and encourage each other to set the earth to rumbling a tiny bit, to generate some ripples and undulations in the calm waters of the entertainment industry’s status quo.  

We are up against a persistent army of creative if misguided souls who desperately need for their amoral world view to become universal. In the tiny patch of the universe where this blade of grass puts down her roots, the battle goes on.

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Entry filed under: Advice For Life. Tags: , , , , , , .

Schizophrenic Weather and Two-Way Suppers Power to the Pupil

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Keith Wissman  |  November 17, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Time is the only gift God gave us that is not retrievable, once it is passed it is gone forever. How we spend our “free time” will determine the kind of person we are and will become.

    Reply

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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