******** This article was originally written in 2001. I have made a few updates. Please read and review (comment) for me. Your feedback is greatly appreciated. *********************************************************************************************
“Frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.”
My father-in-law remembered being one of the theater patrons who were shocked to hear Clark Gable say that to Vivian Leigh in 1939’s “Gone With the Wind”. Many demanded their ticket price refunded over that profanity. That may seem comical now, since “damn” has made it’s way into even Saturday morning cartoons years ago. The word has lost it’s impact on us.
Some say: “Art imitates life”. Or is it the other way around? We live in an entertainment-oriented culture, where we even have sub-cultures who base their identities on their preferences of music, art, movies, and television. TV brings a barrage of images and influences into our homes; often unsupervised into the hearts and minds of our youth. We identify with characters or ideas and make them a part of our lives. Unfortunately, the bad examples far out-number and overwhelm the good. With alarming comfort in their success, the entertainment business aggressively presents some of the most negative human characteristics as healthy and normal, even glorified. And it’s getting worse.
In the early 1970’s, “The Bad News Bears” made comedy of foul-mouthed children. I laughed too. A few years ago, I saw a live-action rendition of a Dr. Seuss classic children’s story. The theater was packed, mostly with children under twelve. When the title character used the word “bitchin'”, nobody seemed alarmed, or even to notice, except me.
For years, movies had the ratings system to caution prospective viewers. Profanity used to merit an “R” rating, supposedly prohibiting anyone under seventeen to see it. And any nudity earned the now defunct “rated X”, requiring ID to prove being at least eighteen years old. Enforcement of these ratings restrictions has always been as effective as prohibiting minors from buying cigarettes. I was ten when I saw my first “X rated” movie, and twelve when I bought my first pack of cigarettes. In early 2015, my grandsons, ages 10 and 12, saw an R rated very popular movie. The film had received that “restricted” rating due to adult language and graphic violence. They both liked that movie.
However, television used to uphold certain standards. Nudity was completely unacceptable, and profanity was censored. Of course, this was only a concern when television would air a movie. Because regular programming simply didn’t contain any objectionable material. The makers of TV shows were successfully producing popular and profitable programs without it. Networks were terrified of offending audiences, resulting in loss of viewers, and loss of sponsors.
TV networks considered the time block of 7 to 9 p.m. as “prime-time”. Programming and advertising reflected the fact that this was when families, parents and children, watched television together. If a program or commercial wasn’t family-oriented, it would air later at night, when the children were supposedly in bed. This standard worked very well for many years.
Nevertheless, from what I’ve observed in recent years, the prime-time standard has been canned. Perhaps its no coincidence that the onset of cable and satellite TV, paralleled by the disintegrating traditional family unit, has instigated some disturbing changes in regular network programming. Maybe it’s all related. Family sitcoms today are generally based on dysfunctional families, where the parents are selfish and the children are disrespectful.
The late comedian, George Carlin, back in the 70’s, joked about “the seven words you’ll never hear on television”. But now, “prime-time” TV has not only permitted partial nudity, but has developed an ever-increasing acceptance of profanity. On “family-type” sitcoms during “prime-time” on regular networks, our ears have grown numb to adults and children saying such words as: “damn”, “hell”, dumbass”, “bitch”, “slut”, “whore”, “boobs”, “ass”, and “son-of-a-bitch”. And recently, I heard “Godd**n” and “sh**” popping up in the 8:00 hour. To many people who reverence God, the first one is considered blasphemous; yet, it was uttered with no reaction from the other characters. It’s just another word. This trend troubles me.
But I wasn’t always that way. I was raised primarily in bars, where drinking, smoking, sexual immorality, gambling, and of course cussing were the standards. But even in that environment (in the 60’s and 70’s), the most vulgar cussword (you know… the “F- Bomb”) was only used in drunken rage, or telling a dirty joke; and never by women!
Nowadays, that word has become such an intricate part of so many people’s vocabulary, they fit it, for no apparent reason, into everything they say. I cringe when I hear pre-teen girls cussing worse than anything I ever heard in the bars. When so many people say it and hear it, their sensitivity to vulgarity is dulled.
So how long, I wonder, before the f-word is just another word blurted out of the mouth of a fourteen-year-old on some “family” sitcom? Is television just attempting to “realistically” portray our culture? Everybody of all ages cusses, right? In the interest of honesty and integrity, isn’t it television industy’s responsibility to show it that way?
Or, are they exercising their power to influence people by appealing to humanity’s most basal tendencies? Is there maybe an advertising dollar agenda at work? Advertisers have long said “sex sells”; and the entertainment business is really about selling advertisement.
Television is a powerful magnet, especially to American audiences, that entices with glorifying fleshly and self-gratifying behavior. Why would they do that? People who are seduced into self-focus and indulgent lifestyle make excellent consumers. Advertisers, essentially the puppet-masters of the entertainment industry, know this. And they know who are the most vulnerable.
It wasn’t until I was an adult watching some of the shows from when I was a child that I noticed the frequency of smoking and drinking in those shows. Darren Stevens (Bewitched) smoked occasionally, but drank daily. It was the means of relaxing and relieving stress. Even Andy Griffith would occasionally light a cigarette, as a means of relaxing (although he was always throwing it away after one puff). Is it a coincidence that back then, cigarettes and hard liquor were allowed to advertise on television? TV presented those very profitable products as wholesome, enjoyable, and therapeutic. Perhaps some of the alcoholics and people addicted to cigarettes in my age group were influenced by this conditioning.
With all of the examples television gives us, encouraging to relate and emulate them,some people are able to discern and weed-out the bad. But some are not.
The pre-teen and adolescent years are primarily when we search for our own identity, beliefs, and values. In our culture today, television, music, and the internet have a greater influence on our youth than their parents, schools, or churches. They are now the largest and most-indulgent consumer group in our country. They are THE target audience. What do young people want to see and hear from their entertainment? The most successful programming would suggest they want to see young, attractive characters who are independent, rebellious, and happy in their consequence-free indulgences. Does that seem like a realistic portrayal of life, steering masses?
The recent flood of so-called “reality TV” shows portray reality as attractive people in completely contrived and unrealistic situations, where qualities such as greed, lust, self-grandization, and dishonesty are glorified (and don’t forget the bleeps!). The popular panel confrontation format (i.e. “Jerry Springer Show”) displays the most depraved human behaviors to a thrilled and cheering mob. Why are these shows so popular?
As a result of our youth’s identification with the characters, situations, and apparent lifestyles, they imitate what they see and hear. Teens buy the clothes, music, and all the other effects suggested.
My concern is the direction I believe the entertainment industry (with it’s most effective tool being television) is steering young people. I’m dismayed when I see pre-teens and teenagers emulating their favorite performers, saying and doing things that are dangerous, rude, illegal, and violent. Young girls, driven by the desire for acceptance, especially by boys, are shown examples that sacrificing their dignity, intelligence, and virtue will gain the prize for them. Young boys also desire acceptance, both from other guys and from girls. They imitate examples of violence, greed, alcohol and drugs, abuse and disrespectful treatment of everyone, especially girls. After all, the message is that girls want to be treated that way.
Despite the industry’s denial of accountability for the message being sent, and even the existence of “a message”, I believe there’s too much unity in the ideas and behaviors presented (even comparing competitors) to be coincidental. There is a social engineering agenda, and it’s driven by advertising dollars. Life is imitating art, because the sponsors say so.