Monday, May 21, 2012

HOW MODERN TV SITCOMS, IN THE TRADITION OF NORMAN LEAR, STILL COMBAT THE POLITICAL AND CULTURAL ISSUES OF MODERN SOCIETY!

One of the blogs I like to follow is Ken Levine's. He's currently a baseball announcer working for the Seattle Mariners, but before to that, he was a writer, producer and showrunner for shows like "M*A*S*H", "Cheers," "Frasier," "Wings," to name a few. Recently, he discussed in his blog about how the material sitcoms are based around has changed drastically. The link to the blog is below, you guys should chekc it out:

http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2012/05/what-you-can-and-cant-say-on-television.html

The main thing he pointed out was how drastically television's taboo subject matters have changed, but the idea originated when he showed a group of film students a scene from "All in the Family," which shocked a film school crowd, because they were amazed that such language and controversial subject matter could be said in a sitcom. (The episode, the famous one where Sammy Davis Jr. was a guest star, and involved a character saying the word, nigger) While, I'm personally distraught that there's an entire film school full of students in the United States, who apparently haven't seen "All in the Family", he makes a few comparisons with modern television shows, and how, while they don't talk about subjects like race anymore, Mr. Levine noted that they seem to be allowed to talk more freely about things like sex, and he noted a scene from "2 Broke Girls," in which the word "vagina" was used five time in less than a minute. "2 Broke Girls," broke ground earlier this year by becoming the first network sitcom to make a joke about anal sex. I personally wrote a blog a couple weeks ago, where I outlined a trend in network sitcoms where I talked about how too many shows have characters constantly talking about smoking marijuana. If marijuana was ever discussed on a sitcom back in the '70s, or even as late as the '90s, it always surely involved some kind of two-part, special message episode. Anyway, to a certain extent, Mr. Levine makes a very good point, most sitcoms will just not touch controversial subject matters the way they used to. Saying that, what are the controversial subject matters of today? Shows like "All in the Family," took place and/or were made in the '70s, where things like Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy's assassinations and Woodstock and Women's rights and Vietnam were at the forefront of our mind, and were on the TV news everyday. (People forget that, but Vietnam was pretty much televised back then, a mistake the U.S. Government has gone to painstaking detail not to make again, even and especially with Afghanistan and Iraq.) With all due respect, and I mean no belittling to those who it effects, but considering we live in a world where a major civil rights victory is a President endorsing gay marriage, I'd say our world has vastly improved since then. (An African-American President, no less) I think we've progressed from those issues, which TV was shockingly bold enough to tackle in the '70s, and while it is disappointing that sitcoms don't discuss things like, rape, eh-gaybashing, race, abortion even..., (and the ones that do, are animated series like "South Park," and "Family Guy" which seems unusually immune to controversy) they are tackling subject matters that are current and prevalent to our world today. Mainly sex, actually. Yes, we have President's endorsing gay marriage, but the reason that's a seminal moment is because the opposition, which so drastically fought against it and other such issues, which instead of civil rights, they've rebranded "family values", like pro-2-parent household, anti-divorce, anti-abortion, anti-condoms, anti-stem cell, anti-science, anti-anything remotely sexual in nature, they seem to fight it, anti-homosexual included, but it is more, anti-sex. We are a country founded by Puritans unfortunately, and it's taken us a little longer to evolve on this than, say, everywhere else in the world, but we are getting there and television reflects that and tackles that issue, and they've been fighting it since the beginning, even before a so-called 'moral majority' existed. I'm posting a clip below from youtube.com, it's a scene from a TV show called "Soap". It's one of my all-time favorite shows, it ran in the Late '70s. (this would've been, after the episode of "All in the Family," keep that in mind for comparison) Now the scene you're about to see is a seminal moment in modern sitcoms; something occurs in this scene that previously, had never happened on TV before. I'll tell you what it is in a few moments, but if you can, I'd like you all to watch it and see if you figure out what it is exactly that's just occurred, that makes it a historic television moment.



That's a funny scene, even out of context, isn't it? Did you figure it out though? I don't blame you if you didn't, especially younger readers, but here it is: This was the first time on television, where someone said the word, "horny"! That sounds strange actually, but that's a fact. Well, look how TV's evolved since then. "Cheers," wouldn't have happened without this scene. "The Golden Girls," "Friends," "Sex and the City," yes that's HBO, but now every show on basic has borrowed from it. Hell, the basic TV sitcom plot, is that two characters, have to overcome numerous obstacles in order to eventually, have sex with each other. Almost every show now has at least one character who constantly has multiple sex partners, and not like how Fonzi use to, they dwell on all the little nuances and issues regarding sex, sometimes in pretty extensive detail, and most shows have multiple ones, male and female, and gay and straight. ("Soap" was also the first show to have an openly-gay regular character.) If there are those of you who wonder about the cultural mindset of America, this is the way to look at it; we were okay hearing the word "nigger" on television, before we were okay with "horny". Right there. We first, evolved to Nigger, than to Horny, and now, Vagina is okay.

In that sense, and taking a look at sitcoms and modern society today, I think a good argument can be made that television actually still tackles the hot-button issues of the day. No, we're never gonna get another "All in the Family," or a character like Archie Bunker today, but why would you want one? I'm serious, it wouldn't be believable today, certainly not in a sitcom; even if it is on HBO, nobody would buy it. The closest we have is Eric Cartman on "South Park," and you'd have to be an immature animated 8-year old to have those points of view in today's society. Archie Bunker was of his time, the same way that TV shows are of their time now, and they're still taking on the most critical cultural issues of are time. Yes, I mentioned I complained about the numerous marijuana jokes on TV, but guess what, never in the history of this country have more people been in favor of legalization, and that includes me. Once upon a time, a woman would be a game show contestant, and be asked by the host, what her husband did for a living; and the sad part is that a lot of the people fighting these social changes of today, wish that was still the case. The main culture war today is over sex, in every aspect of the word. TV reflects that, and takes a stand. Gay married couples, gay parents, sexually-active teenagers, step-parents, mixed-race relationships, old man-younger woman relationships, and that's just on "Modern Family". It's strange to consider it, but in it's own way, TV sitcoms still reflect and examine the hot-button political issues of the day, and they continue to do so. Sure, it's not the way Norman Lear would've imagined it, but, that film school class aside, we've seen Archie Bunker already, we don't need to see him again. We're still political but, I think his time has gone, and maybe what we really need are shows about adults having to share apartments with strangers as they struggle to pay rent, and tell vagina jokes to get through the day. That might seem like a step backwards for television, and content-wise, maybe it is, but look closely and you'll realized that it means we live in a society, that's moving forward. As far as I'm concerned, tell as many vagina jokes as you want.
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