TV's Morality, Standards: Loose Across the Board
The heavily promoted Big Coming-Out Episode of "Ellen" is now, Deo gratia, over. Most people (this writer included) were long since sick of the hype. But still the question lingers: Why did they do it?
The mantra within the entertainment community, conveniently trotted out every time it causes trouble, is that it's "giving the market what it wants." In this case, however, the market flatly rejected the lesbian cha-cha-cha. A recent TV Guide survey found that by a margin of more than 3 to 1, respondents believe it's a bad idea for a series to have a homosexual lead character, and 61 percent of viewers familiar with the show said they wouldn't watch The Episode. A USA Today poll found 46 percent of respondents think there are too many gay characters and plots on prime time; only nine percent think there are too few.
But Hollywood's promotion of homosexuality has nothing to do with the market and everything to do with the powerfully militant gay movement, "arguabl[y] the most effective lobby in television," believes TV Guide. What does Hollywood's gay movement want? Robert Peters of Morality in Media has prepared a fascinating, and equally troubling, paper on the subject. Excerpts:
"The gay movement does not exist to elect [former New York governor] Mario Cuomo, nor to... pass the gay rights bill. These are at best steps in a much larger process, namely, the creation of genuine acceptance of homosexuality... in society at large. To create such changes in social attitudes requires action at all levels of society; we need to be concerned with that vast collection of institutions and apparatus that determine ideology... including media... educational facilities, and the like... " Lest anyone use this passage to ascribe conspiratorialist tendencies to the likes of Mr. Peters, he is simply quoting the words of gay activist Dennis Altman in the homosexual publication New York Native.
Altman continues, "[W]e are essentially a radical movement... and in as far [sic] as we are successful we do indeed break down the hegemony of certain traditional values about sex and relationships. Often this perception is argued in terms of the need to defend our own minorities, whether they be man-boy lovers, transvestites, or sado-masochists, a point with which I would agree."
Television's portrait of heterosexual behavior doesn't correspond to what goes on in the real America, either. The daytime hours, with libidinous soap operas and raunchy talk shows, ooze sex. Prime time is just as racy - but has a far larger audience.
A soon-to-be-released study by the Parents Television Council indicates that this raunch has now implanted itself firmly even in what used to be the "family hour" - 8 to 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. PTC researchers examined "family hour" shows during the February sweeps period and found 60 references to sexual intercourse in 93 hours of programming.
When you examine those references, their raunchy nature becomes evident. Forty-three of them focused on either premarital or extramarital sex; only twelve dealt with sex within the context of marriage. (In five instances, marital status was unclear.) The overall sex-outside-marriage to sex-within-marriage ratio: 3.6 to 1. Remember, we're talking about the earliest hour of prime time, when millions of children are the target audience.
Unfortunately, there's no shortage of proof for how sordid it's become. Of the four hour-long episodes of Fox's "Melrose Place" airing in the study period, three were consumed with storylines focusing on marital, premarital, and extramarital sex. Led by "Melrose," Fox was the most sex-obsessed network, with one reference per hour, but in fairness, cheap sexual innuendo is almost everywhere. A clip from CBS's "Pearl":
College professor: "I have been involved with the finest balls [social dances] this campus has to offer." [Laugh track.]
Dean: "You were involved with the president's balls?" [More laughter.]
Professor: "Yes, I handled them both." [Crescendo of laughter.]
And that's only the first hour of prime time. Between 9 and 11 air such heterosexually obsessed programs as NBC's "Seinfeld" and "NewsRadio," ABC's "Spin City," CBS's "Cybill," and Fox's "Married... With Children," recently canceled after a decade of filth.
So what movement is behind prime time's heterosexual exhibitionism, pushing Tinseltown to lower the barrier relentlessly, no matter what the public says... There is none. This one is pure Hollywood, which is pushing the envelope without anyone's prodding. There is no political agenda, just a desire to tear down tradition. And it could care less what the public tells the pollsters. They're still watching.