Friday, June 4, 2010

Is It Just Me, or is TV Going Backwards? Or, "Mooshy, Mooshy"

Today's entry is dedicated to two of my role models, Bea Arthur, who passed nearly a year ago, and Rue McClanahan, who passed yesterday morning. Thanks, ladies.

    My tastes these days run more towards the classics. Some of it is a function of (cough, cough) age and nostalgia. A lot of it is delayed rebellion safely tucked into the corner of my psyche until safe to let it out, or why I look forward to my second cup of coffee with "Maude" in the morning. Mostly it's from a critical standpoint, both artistically and socially.
    I came of age in the 1970's, when feminism and social reforms seemed to point the way to a world based on progressive values. Shows like "Maude" and "Mary Tyler Moore" portrayed strongly drawn female leads. "Barney Miller" had a diverse cast in terms of race and age. "All in the Family" used humor to force viewers to look at racism.
     Except for Saturday nights at my sister's house, rare evenings at my grandparents', or when I snuck in episodes of the above with an ear peeled for my father's footsteps signaling his return from the neighborhood bar, I didn't get to watch those very often. Dad took any and everything about women finding their voices as a threat, and went berserk over anything remotely disrespectful to law enforcement officers. Anyone (read: me) who felt differently was horrible, disrespectful, disloyal and deserved to get dumped on other relatives. Never mind that his own father had been a cop with a record of, shall we say, not being as respectful towards suspects as some might think he should've been, even in the 1930's in a small New England town.
     We watched a lot of sports. All of the teams out of Detroit had a less than stellar decade, and no disagreement was to be had.
     Fast forward to today. As in this morning.  I watched "Maude." The episode moved briskly, had fantastic dialog, and a good balance of wit and plausible absurdity. Maude's and Viviane's husbands had taken off on a fishing trip. Did they mope or sit around waiting? Hell, no. They got out the whipped cream and doughnuts while Walter and Arthur dealt with a rural New England sheriff who'd pulled them over for speeding, and the consequences of its escalation. They also fired off a few lines regarding racism (their cell mate was African-American).
     My question is what happened? Most shows are predominantly white and male, and female characters have reverted to a level of triviality and silliness not seen since the '60's. The reality genre disturbs me to no end because of it. "America's Next Top Model" makes it seem all about looks and little about hard work. "The Bachelor/ette" reinforces the old pattern that you're a loser if not married and gorgeous. There are more reality shows that glorify cute little sociopaths, and a psychologist interviewed on "Today" said that it made mean the new black. "Cougar Town" trivializes mature (allegedly) women. I could never watch "Sex and the City" or "Friends"because it seemed so geared towards shoes and who was coupled with whom that I just couldn't relate. "The Office" recently disappointed me because Pam abandoned her artistic aspirations to become just another victim of the mommy trap.
     "Roseanne" and "The Golden Girls" were two of the last sitcoms I really enjoyed watching. Strong, independent women with full lives took the leads, addressing social issues with their unique humor. Even though "Barney Miller" had all male detectives, the squad pointed to signs of progress through diversity. Linda Lavin was a detective for a few very early shows. But the women on there were treated respectfully.
    But now we have too many shows where women are sexualized and used as props. It's really sad when you look at "Star Trek: OS" and realize that even with the miniskirts and coffee toting and rubbing Captain Kirk's shoulders, it was a hint of what we hoped would come.

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