Most of my readers are too young to remember Jack Paar, the host of the Tonight Show before Johnny Carson. (If you're too young to remember Johnny Carson, stop reading this article and go do your homework.) In 1960, Jack told a short joke based on the misunderstanding of the abbreviation "w.c." which sometimes refers to a "water closet", or toilet. The television censors cut the joke from the program because they thought it was vulgar and inappropriate. (Read details about this story.)
We have come a long, long... LONG way since the day anyone would be offended by Jack's story. My question is, has American television gone too far the other way? Let me begin by assuring my readers that I am still a strong defender of freedom of speech, and would never support legislation that would determine what should or should not be shown on television. For instance, if Jerry Springer wants to host a program where pregnant women are searching for the biological father of their child, so be it. My problem is not that Jerry Springer produces the program, but I am horrified beyond words that anyone is prurient enough to be entertained by it. It's not the government's job to protect us from worthless programming, but it is our responsibility to change the channel when there is no social redeeming value.
There are several television commercials that are pushing the envelope of public decency in my opinion. I've always thought the Jack-in-the-Box commercials were a little lame because "Jack" walks around with a huge, round head. The restaurant chain now has a commercial that concludes with Jack's dad (also with a large round head) stepping into the kitchen to say, "Call the doctor. It's been longer than four hours". This is a reference to the numerous male libido pharaceuticals that warn about effects lasting longer than expected. Is this really necessary? You're trying to sell bargain breakfast sandwiches. Why must we learn about his dad's affliction? In fact, is it really necessary to have these pharmaceuticals advertised in the first place? If you don't know where to buy "the little blue pill", then maybe you should stay home and build model airplanes. (But, I digress.)
Ricola makes natural herbal cough drops that used to be advertised by blowing long Alpine horns with someone in the background singing "Riii-cooo-laaaaa!" Now they have a commercial where a man and woman are performing a routine appropriate for "Dancing with the Stars". After the man takes the woman's waist and lifts her over his head... he coughs, and drops her around his neck, with her legs wrapped around his head. Are they kidding? Do we now have to have movie ratings applied to television commercials, too? I have no problem with sex, per se. Indeed, each of us is here (for better or worse) because two people decided to have sex, but most of us do not want to watch other people having sex in public. Get a room!
There is also a commercial for Reebok Easy Tone shoes that promises women that their legs and butts will be sexier and firmer just using this footwear. We see the south end of several northbound women, twisting, wiggling, and walking away in tight skirts, spandex shorts, and bikini bottoms. I won't waste time pretending that I don't notice, however in places like California, men can be slapped with sexual harrassment suits for noticing and commenting. Many people in our society complain that women are treated as sex objects. I can't imagine why.
The government is not there to protect us from porn, but does that mean anything goes? Will we see Sharon Stone exposing her "Basic Instinct" on television soon, or are there still things that are unacceptable in public? Where and how should we draw this imaginary line? Keep in mind that the Romans reveled in bachnalia, enjoying toga parties and vomitoriums - just before their empire collapsed around them.
[Oh, heck! I forgot to mention the commercials for K-Y jelly! Sodom and Gomorrah, anyone?]