The Pornification of American Television

TV shows in the 1960s began pushing the envelope of what was allowed, and now we have full-blown depravity coming over the airwaves.

In a recent debate about the success or failure of the Sexual Revolution, moderator Bari Weiss asked the four female debaters to name the feminist they admire the most. Feminist author Louise Perry said without hesitation, “Mary Whitehouse.” 

It is highly unlikely you have heard of this heroine of the British culture wars circa 1960-1980. 

Perry says that Whitehouse was “prescient, flawed, but vindicated.” Vindicated about what?

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Well, about the Sexual Revolution that was known in those early-1960s days as the “new permissiveness” and the “New Morality.” 

Look up a YouTube channel called Manchester Nightlife; videos of often drunken, always wobbly British girls walking down Manchester, England, streets squeezed into sausage dresses and tottering in high heels. You can see them sitting on the curb in the wee hours, drunk and scarfing some nasty British fast food, trying desperately to soak up the booze. Without much doubt they are out on the town fully contracepted and, for good and safe measure, with a clutch full of condoms. Drunken louts leer like they are in a meat market, which they are. These poor girls look like whores used to look; horrific makeup, bits and pieces hanging out. Appalling. Sadly, this is the getup at most senior proms these days. 

They are examples of how degraded Western society has become. Though this is not what the BBC and other cultural mandarins intended in the early 1960s—maybe they did—it is exactly what Whitehouse would have predicted when she began a campaign to stop or slow down what was then known as the New Morality. 

Whitehouse, an Anglican housewife, noted with alarm that programs on the BBC began to be offensive to Christian belief and practice. She said they were out to “destroy a Christian way of life.” Of particular concern in the beginning was a program called Up the Junction. One episode showed girls in bras and panties jumping into a swimming pool and passionately making out with boys. Of course, a back-alley abortion was depicted. 

There was a sitcom called Till Death Us Do Part, the British inspiration for Archie Bunker and All in the Family. The father used the word “bloody,” which is now quite common but then considered as vulgar as the f-bomb. One program suggested the Blessed Mother only had one child because she was on the Pill. 

Whitehouse correctly saw this was the beginning of a massive cultural shift led by the BBC and the other cultural gatekeepers. 

Lest anyone think these instances were merely quaint, and at this remove they do seem quaint, this was also the beginning of the rise of porn. There was a magazine called Oz, which was prosecuted, and acquitted, on charges of obscenity. Among other things, the magazine featured a widely-loved children’s cartoon bear with an erection. At roughly the same time, a man named Martin Cole produced a sex-ed video for school children that showed men masturbating and copulating. 

Putting aside the degradation of society that has come along because of the Sexual Revolution, a look at the so-called “Golden Age of Television” here in the United States demonstrates how low our “creative” community has fallen. 

TV/film historian Peter Biskind has just published Pandora’s Box: How Guts, Guile, and Greed Upended TV (William Morrow). It seems that everyone hated network television prior to the 1960s. You remember the shows we used to love: Gilligan’s Island, Bonanza, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show. It turns out the creatives hated these shows. 

Shows they liked on network eventually came along: All in the Family, Cheers, Hill Street Blues; but they were not enough. The creatives wanted to go further and lower. 

It was the advent of cable, not controlled by the FCC or network Standards and Practices departments, that opened the door for smutty young and old men to draw vulgar images on teacher’s chalk board. 

By this author:

It started with a prison drama called Oz. The showrunner, Tom Fontana, said, “The things I am getting away with, I should be arrested for.” There is not much that can be described in detail: homosexuality, gang rape. One poor guy gets raped with a spoon. The fans ate this up, and it inspired others. What can we get away with? What dark recesses of my mind may I plumb? 

Next came Sex and the City, four women (really four gay men) sitting around talking about their sex lives—all aspects of their sex lives; sizes, shapes, positions, everything. 

Deadwood, a show about a gold rush town in the Dakotas, took nonstop vulgarity to Shakespearean heights. A woman fellates a saloon keeper while he complains about her technique. 

And then there is Game of Thrones, which was so pornographic that series star Emilia Clarke, playing Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen, eventually insisted on “keeping the sheet up” even as the director kept tugging it down. 

It is now quaint to consider that Whitehouse led a campaign to get local city councils to block the Beatles movie Magical Mystery Tour. It included the song “I am the Walrus,” with the lyrics, “Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess/boy, you’ve been a naughty girl/you let your knickers down.” She also tried to block The Exorcist

I have to confess, with the exception of Sex and the City, I have watched all these shows and more. I have believed we are living through a Golden Age of Television. On the other hand, there is a British show called Endeavour, about an Oxford cop that does not use language, and there is no sex. It is delightful and beautifully made. It is nothing like what we see on American cable and streaming services. We must conclude that until we stop watching the filth, the smutty boys will continue to draw dirty pictures on the chalkboard. But it is like trying to hold back the tide. 

Even so, Mary Whitehouse, one of history’s glorious losers, was right about pretty much everything. She saw all this coming. She saw the coarseness of society. She saw the sad women in sausage dresses tottering through the Manchester night. The Sexual Revolution Whitehouse fought against has succeeded wildly and also utterly failed. 


tagged as: Art & Culture

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