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My How Time Changes Things: TV Taboos and Other Controversies


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#1

SteveJRogers

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Posted Mar 31, 2006 @ 7:31 PM

This is probably for all the controversies, both mainstream and non-mainstream, that have popped up through the years. Mostly though, this is more about how certain things almost become accepted years after the controversy.

First example: Unwed mothers on TV. When Murphy Brown's character had a baby out of wedlock and Dan Qualye had his infamous denouncement of said storyline, this was one of the biggest controversies of that year. Flash forward about a decade later and Rachel Green on Friends is having an out of wedlock baby herself and its barely a blip on the radar.

I mention it because the two characters are completely different, in other words you should have expected a malstrom of controversy based on the one for Murphy:

Murphy was a famous person in her TV show's world. Jane Pauley, Connie Chung, Linda Ellerbee, Barbra Walters, whatever real person you want to compare her to, that was her. She could very well afford to support her child on her own.

I'm guessing Rachel Green was somewhere in mid-management of Ralph Lauren, or somewhere in the fashion industry. No noteriety what so ever, and she shared an small apartment in the city (despite being next door to a great big apartment I'm guessing Joey's place wasn't as expensive) how exactly was she going to take care of this baby in the first place?

In other words, the character Rachel was in worse shape, and a poor "example" than Murphy Brown was if you want to use the "TV influences" card. Though its probably clear that thanks to the Murphy controversy no one seems to care about it.

#2

dcalley

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Posted Mar 31, 2006 @ 7:48 PM

Well, you've got the married couple sleeping in separate twin beds in the same room from the '50s, and nowadays they share a bed. I'd like to know when the change occurred.

And if they don't share a bed, then they can't get pregnant, right? So no pregnant women on TV until Lucy. (Well, no pregnant characters, since Lucy was pregnant before but they hid it, right?)

#3

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Posted Mar 31, 2006 @ 10:59 PM

Well, on "I Dream of Jeannie", Jeannie wasn't allowed to show her belly button.
And, on the Dick Van Dyke show, Mary Tyler Moore always wore dresses until Capri became one of the show sponsers. Then she was allowed to wear Capri brand pants in 1 sceen, and only one sceen, per episode.

#4

babycakes

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Posted Mar 31, 2006 @ 11:19 PM

When I was young, I thought married couples use to sleep in different beds in the 50's because of the old TV shows. LOL

On another side of the coin, a television show wouldn't be able to get away with almost anything Archie Bunker said.

#5

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Posted Mar 31, 2006 @ 11:20 PM

Well, you've got the married couple sleeping in separate twin beds in the same room from the '50s, and nowadays they share a bed. I'd like to know when the change occurred.

I think Samantha & Darrin (from Bewitched, obviously) were the first couple on TV to share a bed.

Back on topic, what about interracial couples? A few decades ago, there would never have been a couple like Carla & Turk on Scrubs.

#6

VirginiaDee

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 12:57 AM

Actually, I think the distinction of being the first couple to share a bed goes to the show Mary Kay & Johnny. But they were on in the late '40s, on the DuMont network, so it doesn't really count.

Interesting point about "All in the Family" being too risque for today's airwaves. Sort of reminds me of the films before the Hayes Code - they got away with an awful lot when they figured nobody was looking.

#7

BlueOwl

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 1:47 AM

There was a *huge* controversy in 1968 or 69 when an episode of Star Trek had an interracial kiss between Kirk & Lt. Uhura. Never mind that both characters were acting against their will, their bodies being controlled by aliens bent on humiliating them for their own amusement, the mere sight of a White man & Black woman's lips touching on TV in 1968 was just way too hot to touch, TV stations all throughout the South refused to air the episode (despite the fact that the way Shatner & Michele Nichols turned their heads as they shot it, you never even quite saw their lips touching).

To give you some idea of just how screwed up the United States was about this at the time, NBC desperately tried to get Gene Rodenberry to compromise by changing the script so that is was not Kirk but Spock who kisses Uhura, the theory being that that wouldn't count because Spock wasn't a human being but a Vulcan, an alien from another planet. *That* would be preferable to showing two human beings of different skin colors macking. ...Even though in reality, she'd still just be kissing a white guy wearing goofy fake ears anyway.

Flash forward to today, and interracial couples are literally all over television, and the only taboo seems to be in any way acknowledging it as if it's even an issue. That aspect of it might not be *quite* yet be true to life for every last corner of the US, but we're getting there faster than even I would have thought possible 20 years ago when I was nervously flirting with my African American lab partner in High School (she was just playing along to get me to do her work for her, and I knew it), and to the extent that TV really can affect attitudes as to what's acceptable, showing couples of different "races" as normal and nothing to even comment on is definitely helping to make America a better place, especially given the baggage of our history.

ETA:

Interesting point about "All in the Family" being too risque for today's airwaves. Sort of reminds me of the films before the Hayes Code - they got away with an awful lot when they figured nobody was looking.


You ain't kidding. I once saw a clip from an old 1920's film where a guy and a headstrong, "spunky" blonde dame were standing toe to toe having a really, really fierce, heated argument (talking in that quick, stacatto way they did in movies back then for some reason), with an even more heated sexual tension between them, until finally she says something which gets him so angry that he slaps her in the face, and without missing a beat she angrily spits back: "Hit me again, I like it!"

Whoa.

And, kinda, ick.

Edited by BlueOwl, Apr 1, 2006 @ 2:01 AM.


#8

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 5:55 AM

Anything that has to do with Sex has changed a lot. Nowadays it's very common for a TV show to discuss sex, to show hot and steamy sex scenes, etc, something that rarely happened once. I don't know when exactly it has changed though, I believe it was a long process.

#9

PerpetualLurker

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 12:07 PM

On another side of the coin, a television show wouldn't be able to get away with almost anything Archie Bunker said.


I remember reading something about how when Matt Stone and Trey Parker were creating South Park, they kept hearing this, that the character of Archie Bunker would never make it on television today. This got them thinking about how they could encorperate an Archie Bunkerish character into thier show.

Thier solution? Make him a cartoon eight year old boy-Eric Cartman.

It's strange how we will tolerate certian behavior from certain characters but not others.

#10

cowkitty

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 12:24 PM

What about the I Love Lucy show?

Frequent appearances: Ricky raising his fist to a cowering Lucy, forbidding her to do something.

At least once, had her over his knee spanking her as punishment as she cried and yelled for help

One of the many where the three were trying to get into Ricky's show: Fred and Ethel enter the Ricardo apartment in stereotyped Native American attire, Fred doing the clap-hand-to-mouth while yelling and talking "me heapum glad..." etc.

Lucy trying to communicate with a non-English speaker, and describes a Chinese person by yanking the corners of her eyes out and talking in stereotypical Asian garble.

Archie Bunker was portrayed as the racist idiot that he was and his ignorance was always the butt of jokes.
Yet the Ricardos and Mertzes portrayed ignorant racists and violent spouse abusers as wonderful people everybody loved and looked up to.

WTF????????

#11

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 3:59 PM

And if they don't share a bed, then they can't get pregnant, right? So no pregnant women on TV until Lucy. (Well, no pregnant characters, since Lucy was pregnant before but they hid it, right?)

My deeply religious cousin and his wife have separate beds and 10 kids--they also have working legs.

Lucy's pregnancy on the show was her first, with Desi, Jr. They couldn't say the word "pregnant," though; network censors forbid that, for some weird reason.

I believe The Jeffersons, in the 70's, had the first interracial married couple on TV, their neighbors from the building, Tom and Helen. Lionel married their daughter.

I remember the first rape-related TV movie, with Elizabeth Montgomery, called A Case of Rape. It was considered very groundbreaking, made about 1972. While it didn't show anything of the actual crime, which was of the "stranger climbs through the window" variety, it did reveal the horrors of how gruesome an experience going through the justice system is for the victim.

And how about the famous "Maude gets an abortion" episode? Jeez, TV won't touch that hot-button issue today, 30 years later.

Edited by Shnuglet, Apr 1, 2006 @ 4:20 PM.


#12

rafflestv

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 4:12 PM

I remember a big hopla over Maggie and Beth kissing on Brookside in 1994. So horrific and shocking was the kiss that they removed it from weekend repeat of the show. Of course only a few years later we had "Bad Girls" pretty much treating lesbian relationships like ever other on the show. In fact Bad Girls had a good number of lesbian characters, all interesting and different in their own ways and none of them fit into a sterotype. And of course not forgetting Nikki and Helen getting the big Romeo and Juliet style romance treatment.

Followed by the rather explicit "Tipping the Velvet" which generated a mere 2 complaints to the BBC saying there was not enough sex in it. Even the bastons of conservatism, the soaps are apparently getting in on the act, although with Sonia/Naomi I really wish they wouldn't.

What they can show between two women on British tv seems about equal with a hetro couple. Still there occasionally can be a bit of backlash when it comes to gay men however.

#13

snapcracklepop

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 4:20 PM

And how about the famous "Maude gets an abortion" episode? Jeez, TV won't touch that hot-button issue today, 30 years later.


Did any other shows have an abortion episode? I think it's fascinating how a taboo like that can regress over time. All of the recent "abortion episodes" I can think of involve a character considering an abortion and then not going through with it. Specifically, I'm thinking of Party of Five where Julia has a miscarriage right before her appointment (I was pretty young at the time and even then I thought "I'm so sure! Whatta cop-out!") Also, on Sex and the City, Miranda changes her mind at the last minute. Although it's revealed in the same episode that Carrie had had an abortion in her 20s.

#14

rafflestv

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 4:27 PM

It could be a society thing with the abortion. After all in the 50's and 60's it might have been impossible for a young un-married woman to keep her baby because of the shame of being unmarried and pregnant and also the financial considerations. Today it would be easier for a woman to actually keep the baby. Perhapse TV is reflecting this, but it's certainly not as balanced as it could be. Even on 'South of Nowhere', we are told that Ashley had a miscarriage not an abortion. But at least there was some logic in their explination for it that did tell us a bit about her character.

Edited by rafflestv, Apr 1, 2006 @ 4:26 PM.


#15

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 5:23 PM

Even on 'South of Nowhere', we are told that Ashley had a miscarriage not an abortion. But at least there was some logic in their explination for it that did tell us a bit about her character.


I actually liked they way they did it on that show. It would have been something else if she had been planning to get an abortion and then lost it (see the aforementioned Julia oh, and Christina on GA), but if I remember correctly, she'd intended to keep the baby, though her rationale (wanting someone to love her for her) is depressingly--well, teenaged.

#16

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 5:37 PM

I believe the first few seasons of MASH were forbidden to show actual blood during the operations.

Compare that to the gore on today's doctor shows.

#17

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 6:32 PM

According to imbd, The Flintstones was the first to show a couple in the same bed.

#18

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 6:33 PM

Did any other shows have an abortion episode?

Six Feet Under (Claire) and Everwood (some random character) had abortions. Okay SFU was hardly surprising being on HBO and all, but I remember being shocked that a WB show would actually go there. The whole time I was anticipating a Party of Five resolution. Kudos to the Everwood PTB for not going down the easy route (although the SFU episode was far superior).

And come to think of it, there seems to be an unwritten law that every girl who loses her virginity has to have a pregnancy scare or something bad happening to her. I think every teen soap under the sun has done a variation on that theme (Buffy takes the cake here with her lover wanting to slaughter her afterwards). Girls enjoying sex is appearently to this day a taboo.

Incest and bestiality (save for Homer and the panda on The Simpsons) are also still being considered a taboo although you wouldn't know it from reading fan fiction ...

#19

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 6:47 PM

rafflestv mentions Brookside's famous lesbian kiss above; if I recall correctly they also had an incest storyline (between a brother and sister - and they knew they were related) a few years later. I thought that was rather daring (or gratuitous) for an early-evening soap.

#20

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 7:03 PM

Oh I recall that two, the biggest problem with that storyline was the horrible acting and the totally unsympathetic characters. Brookie always went where no other soap would go, be it drugs, murder, abuse, rape, incest, if it was on a soap you could rest assured that Brookside did it first. I kinda miss the show.

#21

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 7:11 PM

They [on "I Love Lucy"] couldn't say the word "pregnant," though; network censors forbid that, for some weird reason.

And yet they could say "sexy" -- I think maybe in the Edward Everett Horton and Barbara Eden (respective) episodes.

#22

VirginiaDee

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 8:40 PM

Regarding "I Love Lucy" -

I remember a number of instances where they used "sexy" - but mostly early in the show. The Edward Everett Horton episode, and one involving Ricky's old dance partner (described by Lucy to Fred as a "sexy Cuban gal") both come to mind.

As for the beds, there were a few where they were pushed together - sometimes when the plot called for it (the handcuffs episode), and sometimes for no apparent reason. But they were still two separate beds, with their own blankets, etc.

Oh, and there was a whole episode centered around the "hilarity" of Lucy recieving a black eye. It's one that's not shown much (like the Indian episode, which - hideous stereotypes aside - is a shame, because it includes a really beautiful song) - Ricky tosses a book to (as opposed to at) her, but she doesn't catch it and it gets her square in the eye. Fred and Ethel fret over Ricky's turn as an abuser; Fred and Ricky wind up fighting - and each recieving shiners of their own in the process. I think Ethel gets one, too, though I can't remember how. A generally unsettling episode.

#23

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 10:15 PM

Faith Yokas on Third Watch had an abortion. It was pretty unusual way for the show to go considering the character was married and already had two kids.

I really didn't think they'd go through with it, and they even had a fake out where she was hit in the stomach by a perp she was chasing, but she didn't miscarry.

I believe the last shot was her about to have the abortion, and they established very clearly in the next episode that she had gone through with it.

#24

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 10:55 PM

Faith did eventually straight out tell both her husband and (cop) partner about the abortion (she initially lied to them and said she'd miscarried).

#25

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Posted Apr 1, 2006 @ 10:56 PM

On Degrassi: TNG, a character had an abortion but the eppy wasn't shown in the states. Also in Degrassi High, one of the twins had an abortion.

Sex may be on television on more now, but it's never treated realistically. Either the world ends and it's a massive casatophe, like Buffy as Philip noted. Or it is treated as this great bonding experience that will forever make you closer to a person.

Niether is accurate and both give the wrong idea.

#26

rafflestv

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Posted Apr 2, 2006 @ 8:18 AM

Oh it should be noted that the first lesbian kiss on Brit TV wasn't Brookside but a BBC mini series called The Rainbow that aired back in 1988. I don't remember much about that but the Maggie/Beth kiss sticks in my mind because of all the attention it got.

Speaking of Brookie incest plot line, the actress who played incest!sister showed up again in Bad Girls playing another contriverisal character, Caroline the nonce. Apparently she had been making/selling child porn with her boyfriend.

#27

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Posted Apr 2, 2006 @ 9:22 AM

Back on topic, what about interracial couples? A few decades ago, there would never have been a couple like Carla & Turk on Scrubs.

Don't forget Lucy and Ricky. Didn't I read somewhere that the network didn't want Desi to play the part of Ricky because they didn't think the audience would accept a caucasion woman with a Cuban man, but Lucy dug her heals in until they gave in?

In regards to pregnancies, I also recall reading that Lucy was the first tv actress to have her pregnancy shown instead of being hidden--once again because she insisted.

Speaking of Archie Bunker and political correctness---there were quite a few shows in the 70's that would have had a hard time today getting away with half of the things they said. Another case in point: WKRP in Cincinatti. One episode has Les asking the African American dj "Surely you must know some black, plantation voodoo thing that gets paint off of a frog?". I don't think we'll be hearing lines like that again any time soon.

#28

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Posted Apr 2, 2006 @ 9:29 AM

Teegan beat me to the punch. And no there would not have been a couple like Carla and Turk 20+ years ago because there were not many shows with 2 minorities (Latina and Black) as leads. 'Cept for "Sanford and Son" (Redd Foxx and Freddie Prinze) but I'm not feeling the Ho,Yay from that "coupling."

#29

curiouser

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Posted Apr 2, 2006 @ 9:42 AM

There has been a huge change in acknowledging and even showing what used to be private acts of grooming--especially waxing, which is now everywhere.

#30

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Posted Apr 2, 2006 @ 10:56 AM

Well, in the 80s there were two soap operas that had characters have an abortion. The first was All My Children which had Erica Kane seek an abortion behind her husband's back because she was a model and didn't want to lose her career momentum. The second was on The Young and the Restless where Ashley Abbott had an abortion because she thought the father of the baby was going to go back to his wife. However, in the last case, the character had a nervous breakdown because of the abortion.

I can't think of any primetime TV character that chose abortion after Maude though.