Monday, January 15, 2007

The Question Remains

I ask this question on a daily basis it seems, though the specifics vary. This time I am reminded by Tim Goodman, the excellent TV critic for the SF Chronicle, to reiterate the question: What the fuck is wrong with these people?

But what to make of this third leg: sanitized pay cable television series such as "The Sopranos" being shown on advertising-supported cable channels with edits and, apparently, being consumed voraciously by some people? Not just some -- 4.3 million viewers for the first two episodes on A&E. Are these the same people who bought all that Utah software? Is there a group of people who really want to watch Tony Soprano not use the f-word? Much has already been written about whether taking out the ultraviolence, profane linguistic tendencies and maybe eight or nine rounds from his mobster's gun makes him, uh, too likable?

(When creator David Chase thought HBO viewers were being too sympathetic to Tony, he made the mobster even more evil, more hateful. Let's see how A&E edits the later seasons when the blood really starts to flow and the misanthropy becomes wince inducing.)


These are the scenarios that make sense: 1. Viewers who can't afford cable, the DVD box set or the rental charge from Netflix or some other outfit. This is totally understandable. Life is hard and pay cable is a luxury. 2. Viewers who don't care about the artistic "pretensions" of the writers involved or any sort of adherence to a realistic milieu (hey, strippers in the Bada-Bing are always covered up and mob bosses with anger management issues never use the dreaded f-word). Sad and only defensible in that "never underestimate the American public" way. 3. There is no No. 3.

This notion doesn't make sense: You want to watch Tony Soprano be a woman-hating, thuggish and murderous (albeit emotionally conflicted) mob boss, but you don't want to hear him swear so much? Is it OK to saw someone's head off but not OK to say the f-word? In "Sex and the City," there's a premise in the series that women are getting theirs. They are having careers and orgasms, too. And sometimes they are discarding the men that help in the latter department. How is the realism of the series served by having Carrie & Co. talk about sex but not actually be seen having it?

I guess I can buy that there are some people out there who are too cheap or broke to pay for HBO or Netflix or rent the DVDs from a video store, and don't mind watching a very diluted rendition of one of the more brilliant episodic series ever made, but that many? (Sex and the City on TBS is a different story; that series jumped the Prada shark, oh, roughly around when Carrie walked in on Samantha sucking the FedEx guy's cock in her office. Everyone knows the classier bidnesswimmin prefer to take you out to the parking garage to polish your knob.) That's truly a strange financial situation; most people who can afford a TV in the first place can afford at least one of the above three options; Netflix in particular is very reasonably priced.

But I'm not really convinced, and I don't think Goodman is either; we've all endured enough stupid, hypocritical "culture" wars in this country to understand that the pecksniffs among us don't mind violence anywhere near as much as even the whiff of sex, or heaven forfend, a "dirty" word that they don't think their kids hear every day at school. I find it difficult to believe those people would even bother with The Sopranos or Sex and the City, but they've been known to indulge in stranger shit when they're not fleecing their flocks.

I'm certainly not saying that every first-grader ought to be exposed to The Sopranos or anything, but conversely, the entire culture cannot be brought to a halt to accommodate a six-year-old's comprehension of people, places, and things. Adults do not need to be treated like the teenagers in Footloose; not everything has to be hopelessly watered down for lowest-common-denominator consumption.

Eliminating "fuck" and "cunt" and nipples is not going to change what The Sopranos is about -- a ruthless killer and thief who serially cheats on his wife and terrorizes people who get in his way. What it will change irretrievably is the tone of the dialogue, which is the real art of it. Not only are all the dubbed "freakin'"s going to sound ridiculous pretty quickly, but the bleak humor of the show is part of its charm. This is, after all, the series whose first season culminated with the classic line, "Cunnilingus and psychiatry is what got us into this", and it made sense. And don't get me started on Deadwood, so amazingly, heavily dependent on the dense cadences of dialogue, that censoring Al Swearengen -- without a doubt the most aptly-named character in recent memory -- would be like giving the Mona Lisa a dirty sanchez.

What makes no sense is morons going through life thinking that every goddamned thing has to be bowdlerized to meet their delicate fucking sensibilities, instead of maybe finding a clue and realizing that, on the scale of bad things in this world, titties and four-letter words are pretty low. And what also makes no sense is that HBO, which heretofore has strived to make valuable, creative additions to the world of entertainment, would sign off on this nonsense. It makes sense monetarily I guess, especially since series such as Deadwood and Rome, despite their quality, don't cover their cost of production.

On the other hand, apparently there will always be a market for people who are willing to spend their God-given time watching Jack Osbourne and Erik Estrada taser some dipshits in Buttfuck, Indiana. Now that's entertainment!


ripley said...

My first reaction to The Sopranos on basic cable was 'WTF??? How are they going to make That work?'. I don't get it. (If you ever want an excercise in censorship frustration, watch The Breakfast Club on ABC/Family. oy...) I imagine we'd hear a lot of 'you corn poppin' motherlover!' or some such.

I like your point about cleansing entertainment for six year olds. For the past few years I've given a silent scream every time I see or hear the word 'family', regarding entertainment. Why don't they just say 'children' or 'kids'? Whom do they think they're fooling?

I'm not looking for gratuitous profanity or blatant shock-value dialogue. But, Christ - can't the adults have something of our own? Does money have to trump Art every single year, and grind the things that make a show special into Consumer Chow?

It's bad enough that this perverted Puritanical attitude allows the Attorney General to cover up the boobies (hee hee!) on a statue of Lady Justice, but must we be subject to left-handed editing jobs on shows that are special because they're slightly inaccessible and offer a ghost of edginess? It's madness...

I suppose it won't be long before we see Guns n Roses in tuxedos, playing a Family Concert on the Stage of Magic Dreams at DisneyWorld.

'I'm flippin' innocent!'

Heywood J. said...

Right, and what sort of idiot parent would let their six-year-old watch even a cleaned-up Sopranos? I have to seriously wonder sometimes about people; a kid (who is already one of those problem children who acts out in class and draws violent images) in my daughter's kindergarten class received Grand Theft Auto for Christmas. I shit you not. I have also personally known people who let seven, eight-year-old kids watch things like Hannibal.

Then ten years later, when Junior's setting fires and torturing the neighborhood cats, the parents just can't figure out why their precious offspring is a drug-addled sociopath. It's not because he saw titties somewhere.

If the euphemistically-named "family" orgs decided to stop being political pimps one hot second and maybe address that situation somehow, I'd actually view that pretty favorably. I'm about the last person to endorse social engineering, but I see extreme cases like those become more and more common, and I see all the rhetorical energy directed toward censorship, which does nothing except make the forbidden fruit seem more attractive.

Again, I think the root of it lies in our deep-seated sex/violence disconnect. Children should not be exposed to pornographically violent programming such as CSI, any more than they should be exposed to sex scenes, yet exposure to violence is not considered as much of a problem.

Causation is not necessarily correlation, but I'll wager my last dollar that a high majority of violent criminals became desensitized to violence at a young age. Yet the only thing that gets people riled up is a split-second nipple at the Super Bowl.

Given that severe level of cognitive dissonance, it becomes less surprising that adult fare gets mauled by reprobate idiots who should stick to watching "reality" crap in the first place.

(I also think that "reality" TV is part of the semitotic reactive level we're talking about, as a big chunk of it is based on humiliation, debasement, contempt leveled between people, usually incoherently and at high levels of volume. I would be far more worried if my daughter caught ten minutes of Trading Spouses or some nanny show, than an entire Family Guy marathon.