Submitted for your consideration, this snippet from a Boston Globe story: "The... deploring of language, nudity and those 'sexual situations' on the...networks [is] being heard again."
That line was written in 1989, back when shows like "Married...With Children," which featured the dysfunctional, crass Bundy family, were the rage. Back in 1989 many were deploring the violence on "Wiseguy," the sexual innuendo on "Anything But Love," the raw language on "Roseanne." So often it was so gratuitous, so unnecessary - meant only to titillate some, and (presumably) offend others. It was a pretty sorry state of affairs.
Ten years later we should look back on those days with - dare I say it? - fondness. What was on television in 1989 is "The Sound of Music" compared to the sewage that has taken over the airwaves today. Just how much worse has it gotten, could it possibly get, in just one decade?
A new study by the Parents Television Council, comparing prime time entertainment television in 1989 and 1999, tells the wretched story. The PTC took identical four-week snapshots of the two years, looked at the numbers and storylines, and what emerged should disturb everyone. But when one considers that this is the state of "entertainment" being broadcast into the family living room every evening, aimed at and watched by millions upon millions of youngsters on a regular basis, the findings become truly frightening for any parent.
For starters, consider filthy language. In 1989 there was, on average, a bit less than one obscenity per hour. Ten years later there is an average of 4.98 curse words every hour on prime time television, a staggering 500% increase. Even worse is the actual language used. The editors of this newspaper would never countenance a listing here because it is, simply, a litany of obscenities that would make the reader's hair stand on end. Use your imagination. Think of three obscenities you will never find in this newspaper. The odds are that every single one is now being used on entertainment television, and most will appear during the so-called "family hour," aimed at children.
What of sex? Ten years ago family organizations were up in arms as Hollywood pressed the issue of sexual content in one program after another, with suggestive double entendres or just plain lewd punch lines in comedies, racy storylines, and the like. Some in Hollywood purported to share that concern, tut-tutting that something should be done to restore civility.
Ten years later, according to the study, sexual material has increased more than three-fold.
As with language, it's not the numerical increase but the content - what Hollywood considers is now acceptable programming for the family - that alarms. Nothing, but nothing is considered off-bounds any longer.
During the four-week review of 1989 there were no references found to oral sex. Ten years later - thank you, Mr. President - they found no fewer than 20 examples. In '89 there were seven references to pornography; by '99 the number was 28, an increase of 300%. References to different forms of kinky sex increased by 357%; references to genitalia were 650% higher; references to masturbation increased by - ready? - 700%.
And who says the homosexual movement isn't in full control these days? In 1989 there were four references to the homosexual lifestyle; ten years later there were 125 - an increase of 2,650%.
All of which begs the question: Why on earth is Hollywood so hell-bent on poisoning the airwaves with such garbage? It was a mantra from Tinseltown's defenders back in '89, and it continues today, that somewhere, somehow there is a market demand for this rot. It wasn't true then, and it isn't true now. What broad market is demanding the promotion of homosexuality? Where is the survey showing the public won't patronize NBC in the absence of comedy skits about masturbation? Must dialogue be obscene to generate audience interest?
No, this is not the market's demand. But it is Hollywood's. This is an industry that relishes the angst it is causing with the culture, and the havoc it is wreaking on the young. It's an industry that has no moral compass, that knows full well the influence it wields, yet feels no responsibility whatsoever for the ramifications of its behavior.
After reviewing the results of this study, two members of the U.S. Senate, one a conservative Republican and the other a liberal Democrat, have called separately for government hearings into the matter. Public policy thinkers ranging from the conservative Weekly Standard to the liberal Steve Allen, have raised the issue of government censorship as a possible - and perhaps the only - solution.
The airwaves are the property of the public, and the smell of federal intervention is in the air. Hollywood has only itself to blame for the regulation that is forthcoming.