A friend and I were talking earlier this week, following the death of actress Jean Stapleton, and we both agreed that television pushed the limits more in the 1970s than today. Let me clarify that – network television pushed the limits, cable being virtually non-existent. With the wealth of cable channels available now, no matter what you want to watch, you can probably find it somewhere on the dial. But back then you were pretty much stuck with the three major networks, plus PBS if you were lucky. Of course, living in southern Ontario as I do, in addition to those, I also had access to the two major Canadian networks, CBC and CTV. There was also CITY-TV in Toronto which, very late on Friday nights, would run what they called the “Baby Blue” movies – basically soft-core porn.
Interesting sidebar to the “Baby Blues”. I recall reading an article in one of the Toronto papers at the time that said on Friday nights it was common for people (read “men”) to drive to a place near the border with their television sets they could plug into the lighter socket in the car, and hope they could catch CITY’s signal across the lake. But, enough of CITY – they’ve become civilized now.
I said the major networks, and by that I mean the American networks. Jean Stapleton, for those too young to remember, was one of the stars of “All in the Family”. The other star was Carroll O’Connor, who played Archie Bunker, a dyed-in-the-wool bigot. Keep in mind this was the early ‘70s, therefore the show was quite controversial. I won’t use any of the words he used, but think of all the derogatory and racist names used for other races, religions and nationalities and you’ve pretty much got Archie’s world view. Can you honestly see any network trying to get a show like that on the air in today’s politically correct times? Not a chance.
Then we had “The Jeffersons”. George Jefferson can best be described as a black Archie Bunker, only living in a better part of town. Again, I doubt there is a network that would even consider a show like that today.
One more show that caused quite a stir was “Soap”. It was situation comedy about the Tate family, but what ruffled the public’s feathers was the character played by Billy Crystal – an openly gay man. As I wrote above – this was the ‘70s, and things like that weren’t part of the normal viewing schedule. Now it is common to see gay or lesbian characters. I must admit though that I’m waiting for the day a show has an openly trans person as a main character.
Today it is also quite common to see people jumping into bed with each other on network television – just watch the soap operas. Back in the ‘70s though, such things just weren’t shown on television (CITY’s “Baby Blue” movies excepted). I can’t recall where I read this, but apparently the first network series to actually show a married couple in bed together wasn’t one of the more mature dramas, but that most apple pie of shows “The Brady Bunch”. Again, a case of 1970s television pushing limits.
There are no doubt some will read this and think “yeah, but the world has progressed since then. Attitudes have changed”. True, the world has progressed.. But it’s also become much tamer; much more afraid of causing offence and much less willing to take a chance. As for attitudes, if they’ve changed so much, why is there such a furor in the US over equal marriage?
Enjoy your weekend and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.
Since Pickering Village is holding its annual jazzfest this weekend, and I can hear it all from my window, I guess it would be appropriate for me to sign on with: