Thursday, June 22, 2017

"It's Their Problem - But That Doesn't Stop Me From Thinking About It"

Upfront Apology:  I will be unable to write this very well, as my thoughts today go to a character – known in real life as an actual person – who is substantially different from myself.  And I am, sadly, not a skillfully enough writer to satisfactorily delineate them. 

Other writers can do it; delineate characters dissimilar to themselves.  But living by the dictum:  “Nobody does ‘Me’ better than me”, I am obliged to acknowledge the dictum’s implicit corollary:  “I cannot equally successfully do anyone else.” 

My best effort, were I to try, would be seen, by me and probably you as well, as “counterfeit money.”  (Which reminds me of my Canadian brother’s joke about the Jewish counterfeiter who was apprehended because the forged currency he engraved said, “Qveen Elizabeth.”)

We live in a diverse culture in which disparate value systems must somehow learn to co-exist.  For me, a lot of things are, like, “It’s nobody’s business.”  Gender issues, for example.  What do I care?  A former female wants to avail themselves of the “Men’s” bathroom?  So what?  Side-by-side at the urinals, you might possibly hear something interesting, maybe a wistful “I miss peeing sitting down.”  That would be fascinating.  You can tell people about it at parties and they’ll laugh,

Other things, however, which will be revealed in due course, encroach on our daily regular existence.  Recently, I started to think about those underdogs, who may, in fact, be numerically superior but, as things currently stand, you pull the handle on the “Cultural Slot Machine” and the winner is,

“Not people like you.”

(Note:  I am about to talk ignorantly through my hat, as I try to delineate those “Not people like me.”)

What entered my mind were thoughts of ordinary people who unwaveringly never swear –even when they whack their thumb with a hammer – people raised with values of acceptable language and public behavior unlike those currently in vogue, people for whom the words “vulgar”, “crude”, “tasteless”  “coarse” have palpable meaning, people a more “liberated” society denigrates with words like “prudish”, “old-fashioned”, “fuddy-duddy” and “repressed.”  

I bet there are a lot of those people, and I bet they get tired of defending what they grew up to perceive as “natural behavior.”  Of course there’s the fire-breathing ugly contingent,  “Legion of Decency” and the like – but I’m not talking about them.  I am talking about people exhibiting – and expecting in return – traditional “good manners.”  Or are “good manners” just code words for “So-o-o ‘What century are you living in’?”  (I originally wrote “So-o-o ‘Ozzie and Harriet’” but I feared confusion if not outright hostility for the antediluvian reference.)  

As I write this, I sense the inevitable “push-back.”  And I understand where it’s coming from.  Historically, “Traditional etiquette” has enforced tons of culturally sanctioned inequities.  “That is simply not done.”  I get – and unequivocally agree – that a lot of that nonsense had to be blown up.  But does it really have to be “All or nothing”?  Is individual liberty the same and “Everything goes”?  (It just occurred to me that maybe it is.)

If a person objecting to the coarsening of our culture is behaviorally tolerant – and there is no reason they necessarily wouldn’t be, and if you think otherwise you might want to revisit your own tolerance – if that person is tolerant, then the life choices of others, for them, would be unworthy of comment, criticism, ridicule or legislative prevention.  It’s just, “People are different – Have a nice day.”  The different does not affect them, it’s “No harm – no foul” and see you at the next Brotherhood (or Sisterhood) Annual Dinner.

But then there’s the media.  (The aforementioned inescapable “encroacher.”)

The media is everywhere; it “gets on you” wherever you go.  The media – with its “Free Speech” protection and concomitant big money opportunities – is inside your house.  You cannot get away the media.  You could throw out your TV, I suppose, but should you have to?    

What I recently started to wonder is what do these people I’ve been talking generically about – people truly uncomfortable with coarseness and crudity – actually watch?  

What do they watch with their children?  (assuming their children are willing to participate in family viewing.  They could respectfully be “otherwise engaged.”)

Note:  Twenty-five years ago, I was warned by my agent – for my own good, meaning my career survival – that I should start writing more “edgy”, “more edgy” being a euphemism for more blatantly sexual.  (Satire and cultural commentary are also “edgy” but they didn’t do any back then.)  My bristling reaction to my agent’s advice – “I can’t!” – reflected an equal amalgam of “I would feel very uncomfortable doing that” and “I have no idea how.”

(The preceding paragraph is the only section of this narrative that is exclusively about me – an unrivaled record for Just Thinking.  The only reason it’s in there is habit.  And now back to the decent people.)

Cable television altered the boundaries of acceptable content.  Other delivery services ran with the ball, all aware that commercial television, due to its pressurizable business model, would be unable to keep pace.  (This sexual “Dividing Line” harkens back to decades ago, when foreign films had the monopoly on nudity.  Then the limiting “Code” went away and American movies quickly caught up, offering the unbeatable combination of nudity and unadorned women who spoke English. 

Still constricted by language and subject matter controls, TV networks, trying desperately to remain relevant, gradually loosened their rules, so that now, even mainstream comedy routinely goes “south of the border” for its laugh-inducing shenanigans.

Where then, I ask seriously, is a legitimate decent person searching for entertainment to turn?

“We do not see the problem”, some might contrarily rebut.  “It’s a different time.”  “Get with the program.”  “if you don’t like what you see, change the channel.”

The question is – asking you to momentarily identify with their troubling predicament –

To what?

1 comment:

Mike T. said...

You're in luck, Earl. I just happen to be one of "those people," so I can tell you what they--or at least I--watch. Growing up in the 1970s and '80s, I was only allowed to watch pre-1970 TV shows and movies for the most part, with contemporary cartoons and (some) game shows also permitted. To this day, that is pretty much all I watch because I can be assured that there will be no swearing or suggestiveness, let alone outright nudity (though with movies, things get iffy in the '60s). I have shelves full of DVDs, so I'm never at a loss for entertainment (which is especially important now that TCM has been moved out of my cable tier). I have a 13-year-old daughter who has mostly grown up watching these same shows with me, although my wife has been a bit more permissive in what she lets her watch. We've also used services that censor the bad stuff out of more recent movies.

However, I can say that in the past I have watched many episodes of certain '70s series, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show, which is why I recognized the name Earl Pomerantz when I stumbled onto your site years ago. I appreciate the intelligence in the writing of those shows, which were still mostly clean, and even the less-than-clean moments were usually handled tastefully. I also was at times an avid Cosby Show viewer for similar reasons and vividly remember your goldfish-funeral episode.

One of the things I like about your blog is that you rarely cross the bad-taste line. In fact, I was a bit shocked a few days ago when you threw in a particularly unnecessary F-bomb. You just don't seem like the kind of guy to do that. You are, as you pointed out, not "edgy," which is a good thing in my book. But I'm still here, reading your musings faithfully every day, trusting that your momentary descent into edginess won't become permanent.