Saturday, November 9, 2013

Wherefore art thou, Archie?

Occasionally, my mind drifts into thoughts that are not relevant.  Most of the time, those thoughts wind up here.  So, in keeping with that theme, here we go.

The old TV show "All in the Family" featured a dialogue between Archie and his son-in-law Mike over one of Mike's friends.  The dialogue drifted into Archie's ideas about England.  Without looking it up, here is my recanting of the dialogue:

ARCHIE:  This ain't England.  We threw England out of here a long time ago.  We want no more parts of England ... and for your information, England is a fag country.
MIKE: What?
ARCHIE:  Ain't they still picking handkerchiefs out of their sleeves?  The whole society is based on a kind of a fagdom.

There is no more relevance to bring to the discussion, other than the idea that the show was broadcast in
1971.  The part where my mind drifted came in when I started to think about whether dialogue like that, or even a show like "All in the Family" could be produced today.  With our penchant for political correctness and our desire to not [God forbid] offend anyone, no character in a television show could proclaim that any country was a "fag country" or "based on a kind of a fagdom" or even [God forbid] use the word fag.  I wondered if this is a step forward or a step backward.

While our standards on television have changed, to the extent that Al Roker is receiving a prostate exam on live television, gay couples are portrayed (although never seen in a physical relationship) and language has been loosened to the extent that we allow innuendo and language that otherwise would not have been allowed in 1971 ... certain words are not permitted to be used that were freely used in 1971.  It's an odd change of attitude that has occurred slowly.

If a character in a prime-time network television sitcom used the word fag or faggot in the sense that Archie used it, it would be front-page newspaper headlines, Twitter-trending, Internet comments ... the world would stop turning if [God forbid] someone used the word faggot on television.

What has changed so much since 1971?

Most of us who were alive in 1971 are still alive today.  However, we no longer use words the same way we used them then.  They used a lot of descriptive terms like kike, Polack, jungle-bunny and other such racially unacceptable epithets on that show.  It caused a bit of a stir back in the day, but all we had was TV and radio.

After the first season, a record album was released of the best moments of the show.  There was no YouTube, Twitter or even a VCR to document the thing, so we had to grasp onto what we had.  It required that we pay attention to television while it was being broadcast. That, in itself, is a foreign concept in a world where DVR time-shifting is commonplace.  Imagine having to be home at 8:30 on a Tuesday night, lest you miss the program altogether and have to wait until the summer rerun cycle to catch-up. Egad.

But I digress.  Network television was a legitimate entertainment medium.  There was no other choice.  You either watched one of the 3 networks (and PBS) or go to a movie.  Perhaps it is the advent of pay-cable and their free speech and nudity.  Making viewers pay for (so-called) bad language and nudity has made network television clean-up its act to the extent that programs like "All in the Family" would wind up on HBO if they were being produced now.  That doesn't change the content as much as it changes the audience.

People with access to pay cable can see programs about meth producers, foul-mouthed social misfits, and other such public oddities that would probably be relegated to film or viewer-supported PBS.  It's an oddity, since theoretically, the audience is the same.  Why can people say fuck on HBO but not on CBS?  Is it the commercial content that makes the difference?  Would the makers of Skippy peanut butter be offended if someone on "Two and a Half Men" said, "So, who did you fuck last night?"  Consumer groups would form an Internet-inspired blockade and boycott Skippy peanut butter.  Say the same thing on HBO and more people subscribe.  Go figure.

Perhaps it's the boundaries of marketing that make the difference?  Perhaps, if the makers of Old Spice sponsored a program like "Modern Family" where, instead of just having a gay couple living in a home together, the gay couple was actually seen kissing or fondling the way actual gay couples do, it would become more mainstream?  Perhaps, if products sponsored programs and did not care about the public backlash - which seems to be instigated by less than 10-percent of the actual public - perhaps we could see real-life dialogue and actions on television?


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