Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Times they have a-changed

There’s nothing writers enjoy more than hearing or reading about other writers’ horror stories. It’s not schadenfreude per se (okay, maybe a little); it’s more that we all have them and take comfort in hearing other stories and thinking “at least that wasn’t me.” Hey, you probably do it too. Ever watch PROJECT GREENLIGHT? Isn’t one of the main attractions watching the constant upheaval and chaos?

So when I discover a book that details the nightmarish journey of some successful play, musical, or movie I’m all in. Recently, I read a book called THE SEESAW LOG by William Gibson. He wrote a very successful play in the late ‘50s called TWO FOR THE SEESAW. (There was also a later movie version.) It starred Henry Fonda and Anne Bancroft and ran for 750 performances and collected several Tony Awards.

The book also included the text of the play and that’s what I want to focus on. (The nightmare section – you had to be there or at least give a shit?) Very well constructed and some very funny lines. I’ve never seen a production of it or the movie. But I was struck with how dated it was and how the times have changed.

First of all, it’s a two-character play. At the time this was considered avant garde. Plays had big casts, even comedies. Now all theatres want plays with small casts. Four is pretty much the max. And if you can stage it with no sets or costumes or sound or lights that would be better.

TWO FOR THE SEESAW is a romantic comedy, and for its time kind of racy. Single people having sex and talking about the subject. But never using a swear word. Obscenities in 1958 were verboten apparently. So the play read like a long sitcom.

A big story point was the guy celebrating his 34th birthday. Henry Fonda was cast in the role. He was clearly in his 50’s. Not even close. Imagine Daniel Craig passing for 34 today. And the woman was Anne Bancroft who at the time was 29 and played her age. So there was about a 25 year difference between them. Audiences didn’t seem to mind. I think they would today.

She was somewhat naive.  So he constantly called her "infant."  Seems a little insulting in 2018.  Hard to believe it wasn't in 1958.   There's a big difference between calling your object of affection "baby" and "infant."  Or is it just me?  

But the most startling change was this: During an argument scene Fonda takes a rolled up newspaper and smacks Bancroft in the face with it, sending her flying. WHAT THE FUCK?! And then it was justified because “she had it coming.” HOLY SHIT! She forgives him. And in the same scene he jokingly offers to slug her every hour. Now I’m curious to see if the movie version contains this beat. But wow – have sensibilities changed (for the better). What was considered acceptable behavior and even Broadway entertainment is truly appalling.

On the other hand...

A recent New York Post article said that many of our classic sitcoms are now cringeworthy because of the womanizing that exists in those shows.  As someone who wrote a lot of those shows I take issue with that.  At what point does this become silly?  Sam Malone or Hawkeye Pierce propositioning a woman with benign comedy banter is quite apart from hitting anyone.   The article cites a Syracuse University professor who showed the MASH episode where Henry Blake is killed.  At one point, earlier in the episode during his goodbye ceremony he grabs Hot Lips and gives her a big kiss.  The students gasped.  A) If you know the show you know that Hot Lips had a very healthy sex drive, and B) she liked it.  A point he makes is that students in earlier classes (before all the sexual harassment charges) did not react this way.  So I'm going to chalk it up to heightened sensitivity because the issue is so in the air. 

But if womanizing is the new line in sand never watch another James Bond movie, or IRON MAN movie, or Bob Hope movie, or Bogart movie, or SWINGERS, or SAVED BY THE BELL, or BOARDWALK EMPIRE, or MIAMI VICE, or FAMILY GUY (Quagmire), or STAR TREK, or THE SOPRANOS, or TWO AND A HALF MEN, or HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER or FRIENDS, and whatever you do, don't watch HAPPY DAYS.  That "Fonzie" character should not be allowed on television. 


Charlie said...

You said it right Ken - "heightened sensitivity".

Something I predicted on your blog has come true Ken 😀

1. James Franco didn't get a nomination.
2. Casey wont present Best Actress. Wont even attend Oscars.

Now for my last wish.... I wish Faye and Warren are called to present something. Because they will be there. Jimmy will surely take cheap shots at those 2 during his monologue. So it would be apt to have them present Best Actress - just for fun 😜

P.S.: Will be terrible to see Tom Hanks present, as these morons are asking in a poll and forcing him down our throats 😭

Angry Gamer said...

Can't wait to see the comments on this one.

I wonder if we can have a sane, level headed debate about social mores 1950s to today without rancor?

Probably not, 5 bucks says "Fascist" gets thrown like a word bomb by midday.

Gloria Hall said...

All I can think of is the line from "The Quiet Man" ... "here's a stick to beat your lovely wife".

Anonymous said...

Just because you're moving in the same direction doesn't mean it's progress. The class's reaction to MASH, in particular, seems more like something pulled out of Victorian England than 21st century America.


Annie C said...

The pendulum swings. A few folks get hit in the ass by it, but then it swings the other way. Never still until the death of humanity.

Y. Knott said...

"Womanizing" isn't so much the line in the sand as clear consent is. Clear, unambiguous consent before any sort of kiss, touch, sexual jokes, etc.

Yes, some sitcoms and comedic presentations of the 70s and 80s will fall by the wayside because of this. It is now simply unacceptable for a character we are supposed to like or to have sympathy for to behave this way. And I don't think this is a brief blip on the radar -- I believe this is the beginning of a permanent change.

Steve said...

I have to say, your reaction when Henry Fonda smacks his girl with a newspaper is about what I think when I hear Sam Malone grab Dianne and threaten to 'bounce (her) off every room in this place'. Jesus! If I ever said that to any woman I ever dated it would be the last time I ever spoke to them. But she was turned on by it so it's okay.

As for Henry, I don't think that the new line in the sand is womanizing, but it is consent. While we are pretty sensitive at this very moment, that scene is a little shocking in that it's a man grabbing a woman (his subordinate officer!) and kissing her without her consent. That's not the same thing as Hawkeye flirting. In the real world, today, that would be an assault. So she liked it, does that make it okay? In the context of the fiction, maybe, it shows its just a good natured joke. Maybe I'm overthinking it.

But if she had felt enraged and violated, she wouldn't have been wrong. It wouldn't have been out of character either. So why does he get let off the hook just because he guessed her reaction? Does the fact that she has a healthy sex drive mean she doesn't get to choose how she feels about being kissed or who she wants to kiss her?

Maybe it doesn't matter, because it's just a joke, but maybe all the little jokes you see on tv and movies plus the comments you hear your Dad and uncles make plus whatever other culture you take inadd up to your idea of what it really means to be a man. So maybe some kid watched this show and saw the photo of the nurse and the sailor on VJ day and got the idea you could just grab a woman and kiss them if it was an emotional moment and you thought they would really like it and if they didn't they were a prude anyway, because, God, you're just a charming rascal anyway aren't you? Accept that line of thinking and you are half way to jerking off in front of your assistant like Louis CK

Anyway, I'm not saying we should stop showing reruns of MASH or Cheers. Those two episodes are some of the best half-hours of tv ever. But if we've reached the point where some of the things we laughed at 30 years ago are getting gasps or winces now, well good. Maybe it means we've learned something.

McTom said...

While I understand Ken's sensitivity to having not one but two shows on the linked article's "naughty list", there's lots of legacy entertainment that is patently offensive. Do we have the same forgiving attitude to the many, many early cartoons negatively depicting African Americans or Jews? I loved MASH (sorry - my asterisk supply is on backorder...) while I was growing up, but watching some of the unrepentant horndog behavior on recent Sundance Channel reruns - eesh...

VP81955 said...

Even in late 1961, few radio stations dared play the Crystals' ballad "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)." And this was before anyone in the industry was aware of producer Phil Spector's peculiarities. Heck, Lana Clarkson (RIP) hadn't been born yet.

Doug McIntyre said...

In Noel Coward's "Private Lives" at one point the male lead says, "Women should be struck regularly like a gong." In the 1930s, this got howls.

Dave Wrighteous said...

I believe in being politically correct. It's not hard. DON'T abuse women, DON'T use racial slurs, DON'T harass people with a different sexual orientation. In other words, don't be an asshat. The problem is we as a society are finally "woke" and today's society has now swung to being "politically OVERcorrect". Like when a driver OVERcorrects a cars steering while sliding on ice, they may crash. As a result, you can find faults EVERYWHERE! The Hollywood Reporter recently had a cover featuring top actresses and politically OVERcorrect happened; there were no black women! How dare they!! Ok, then, while we're at it, where were the Latin, Asian, Native American, and middle Eastern woman as well? See how the OVERcorrect can get silly? It's clear that THR has no "hidden racist agenda" and couldn't we just celebrate that there's WOMEN on the cover?

gottacook said...

Is it fair to bring Star Trek into this? Maybe so, but Kirk's women - his human women, that is - are nearly all EX-girlfriends (the prosecutor Areel Shaw in "Court Martial," Dr. Wallace in "The Deadly Years," Janice Lester in "Turnabout Intruder," Carol Marcus in Wrath of Khan, et al.). I wouldn't necessarily count the ladies who had merely assumed human female form, or were secretly robots, or were otherwise non-human.

Matt said...

I've noticed Hallmark has edited MASH episodes to remove "offensive" lines. I need to watch for the season 3 episode "House Arrest." There's the part where Colonel Reese attacks Frank, and when caught she starts yelling "RAPE! RAPE! RAPE!" Hawkeye, who's on House Arrest, and Trapper exit "The Swamp" and Hawkeye says to Trapper:

"I've never been to a rape before. Maybe for your next birthday."

gottacook said...

Is it fair to bring Star Trek into this? Maybe so, but Kirk's women - his human women, that is - are nearly all EX-girlfriends (the prosecutor Areel Shaw in "Court Martial," Dr. Wallace in "The Deadly Years," Janice Lester in "Turnabout Intruder," Carol Marcus in Wrath of Khan, et al.). I wouldn't necessarily count the ladies who had merely assumed human female form, or were secretly robots, or were otherwise non-human.

McAlvie said...

I am firmly on the side of the #me,too movement. However, a lot of the reactions these days are less about hypersensitivity and more about knowing they are supposed to be aghast because its trendy so they look for any and all opportunities to show righteous outrage. In a way, it's an insult to all those women who have been demeaned, harassed, and intimidated because it's so obviously not sincere. Some people just can't stand not being on a bandwagon, even if they have no clue where it's going.

IIRC, Hawkeye and Margaret actually got together, very briefly, in one episode. It was never referred to again, but unless you had never ever seen another episode post Frank Burns, the liplock in the last episode wasn't all that shocking Rather, I suspect the scene was tying up a lose end for viewers. Post Frank Burns, there was always chemistry between the characters, and respect as well. If you want, you can fill in the white space between scripted lines with some off camera "gazing longingly into each others' eyes" instruction.

Ted said...

I recently saw a "Taxi" rerun with a similar scene to that one in "MASH": Latka gets some good news, so he kisses all the male characters on both cheeks, European-style. Then, when it looks like he's about to do the same for Elaine, instead he dips her over backward and kisses her hard on the mouth. We then see her laughing about it as a signal that she's in on the joke, and it gets a big laugh from the audience. But from today's perspective, it's easy to see how a woman in that situation would have felt violated. ("Taxi" seldom dealt with the sexism an attractive woman would have experienced in this nearly all-male environment, or alone in the cab with customers, except with Louie's gross comments -- which are over-the-top and mostly depicted as harmless.)

Viewers probably wouldn't have been bothered by this scene in 1980, but I actually found it disturbing while watching it in 2018. I wouldn't want to erase scenes like that from old episodes, but I can't imagine them in a sitcom made today. Once you've stopped finding a situation like that funny, it's impossible to go back.

Jim said...

For anyone who understands French, TWO FOR THE SEESAW was staged in Paris about a decade ago (as Deux sur la balançoire, a completely literal translation) starring a then minor French TV comic by the name of Jean Dujardin. The whole thing seems to be on You Tube if you start here. No subtitles.

MikeN said...

They've already cast out James Bond.

Steve Bailey said...

"Never watch another James Bond movie." Funny you should say that. Here's an article from yesterday's publication of Britain's The Guardian which states that Bond just won't fly in the #MeToo era:

Anonymous said...

This part! Also, we can't ignore the way TV and film normalized things that are just not okay. It's a tough pill to swallow for those who participated either by creating or laughing at it. Most of the mediums were controlled by one type of person and they told one narrative. Women were shown one way. People of color shown one way. "Boys being boys" involved characters doing things like "stealing kisses," patting them on the butt or getting "handsy", verbally assaulting women, or worse and chalked up as "oh well he's a man." Society and times have changed where people are seen as more equals so men doing whatever they want at anyone's expense is no longer okay. Some scenes taken out of context will wrongfully be shamed but in the grand scheme of things we will all be better off. Balance will be reached. Everyone's mother, sister, daughter, etc will be better off and thus we will all be. No matter how we all feel about these movements we should judge less and self reflect more no matter how difficult it may be. It's easy to see what everyone else is doing wrong but it's harder to see our own flaws. We all play a part in the patriarchy somehow.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

So much depends on characters and context. I've never been at all bothered by Ralph Kramden's repeated threats to "send you to the moon, Alice" because it was quite clear that he'd never dare to hit her and she wasn't remotely afraid of him.


gottacook said...

Please omit my erroneous duplicate post - thanks.

Gary said...

People who are suddenly offended by the non-PC antics on M*A*S*H are ignoring one of the basic premises of the show: the doctors and nurses are in Korea against their will, are horrified by the pointless carnage, and are acting out in many ways just to maintain their sanity. In this highly pressurized atmosphere it's not surprising that men and women would hook up. And in most episodes it's obvious the nurses are just as willing as the doctors are.

If Hawkeye was simply working as a surgeon in a normal hospital, nobody would tolerate his crazy behavior, let alone his womanizing. But with the war as a backdrop, the context is entirely different.

Lisa said...

Wendy M. Grossman Thanks.

I too thought the same, when Ken spoke about smacking, but from Looney Tunes cartoon.

"One of these days Alice. One of these days. Powwwww!!!! Right in the kisser."

Ralph - Daws Butler.
Alice - June Foray.

Andrew said...

I'm not sure Casablanca would pass today's test. The main love story includes power dynamics, seduction, and sexual innuendo. Not to mention how Claude Rains's character takes advantage of women.

Andrew said...

@McTom, re ". Do we have the same forgiving attitude to the many, many early cartoons negatively depicting African Americans or Jews? "

I watched a few Loony Tunes DVD's with my kids when they were younger. There was a introduction by Whoopie Goldberg about how some of the stereotypes in the cartoons were wrong, but were nevertheless being included (and not censored) to be honest about history.

In my mind it was a little over the top and unnecessary. Is Speedy Gonzales, for example, really offensive? I know a Latino family who loved him (though they were Puerto Ricans, not Mexicans). I'm from the South originally, and Foghorn Leghorn never bothered me.

But the last time I watched Dumbo, the scene with "Jim Crow" and his friends definitely rubbed me the wrong way.

VincentSD said...

Actually, Ken your final rant isn't far from reality. A journalist who wrote an article for the NEW YORKER on how misogyny was encouraged by pop culture cited James Bond movies and, if I remember correctly, even Ralph Kramden as examples of men mistreating women in an NPR interview. Never mind that neither the host (also a woman)nor the journalist qualified the subject matter with, "these are just fictional characters," thereby implying that people are not responsible for their own behavior (ever hear some one defend themselves for beating some one up by saying, "It's not my fault. I watched too many fist fights on television growing up!") the journalist (as well as the interviewer who did not dispute her) specifically cited the barn scene in GOLDFINGER as a rape scene. I guess they didn't see the whole movie in which in a previous scene Honor Blackman KNOCKS SEAN CONNERY AROUND, after which Bond says to Pussy, "I didn't know you knew judo," establishing that she was perfectly capable of fighting Bond off in the barn at the moment she acquiesced if she wanted to. Nor was it pointed out that Ralph made clear he never hit Alice ("Wonna deese days," means it never happened)and that (as you pointed out in a previous posting) Alice ALWAYS stood up to Ralph and when she did it was Ralph who backed down and that it was pointed out in more than one episode that Ralph was actually AFRAID of Alice (see: OH, MY ACHING BACK). And no battered wife would have sassed her husband the way Alice sassed Ralph. But what really made my chin hit the floor was when a woman caller (I guess Big Bad Men were excluded from this conversation) complained about Urkle on FAMILY TIES being a stalker. Urkle! Not only did the host and the guest take this caller - again all women - take this seriously no one even tried to venture a counter opinion. It's unfair comparisons like this that obscure the real real problem it also promotes censorship which is wrong whether it from the left or the right.

Dixon Steele said...

I read this book a few years ago and enjoyed it.

What I remember most of all was that when they started rehearsals, Fonda was friendly to all. But as rehearsals progressed, he turned surly and taciturn and stayed that way through the run. Gibson and Co. couldn't figure out why.

But I think I did. Fonda realized that it really Gittel's (the female lead) play and Anne Bancroft made her Broadway debut and her name with this play. His reviews were good but hers were love letters and made her a star.

Kenneth Nielsen said...

I agree with what Gary said about MASH. I still love it and Cheers, to hell with the thinkpieces.

Ken said...

Couple of observations.
1) Steve's comment about Sam threatening to "bounce Diana off the walls" is similiar to jackie Gleason threatening Alice to the moon in both cases the women knew it would never happen. In Alice's case god save Ralph if he ever did because she sure wouldn't and in Diana's case because that was never part of Sam's make up. Both comments were like characters saying I could have died ( of shame) or other empty expletives and threats expressed in the heat of the moment. The fact that they are empty is known by all involved.

2) Henry Blakes lip lock besides your comments on Margerets character not taking umbrage he is leaving, in public, no longer in command.

As others have said it is consent that is the issue. As time moves on what people consent to and why change. Consent born of fear is no consent, consent born of society standards are subject to time and place.

Another analogy is in the Tugboat Annie movies ( with Walter Beery) his apperent alcohol abuse is considered to be comic relief at the time now not so funny.
Should we no longer watch the Thin Man series because of alcohol abuse is treated as a joke. Even Andy Griffin show would be verboten as they use the town "drunk" checking himself in to jail as a running gag would be viewed as unacceptable acceptence of alcoholism today.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Your comment about Henry Fonda reminded of the famous scene in The Public Enemy when James Cagney shoves the grapefruit in Mae Clarke's face. Of course that movie was made in 1931. This next statement will get me a lot of hatemail, but biology trumps...excuse me...supersedes political correctness. Much of today's attitudes are an artificial construct. i.e. Trying to make the world the way they THINK it SHOULD be rather than the way it is. Not that violence against women should ever be allowed. But, even in this day and age girls/women will choose the "asshole" most of the time, while the nice, respectful guy gets the, "I just want to be friends"/"I like you like a brother" speech.

Hersh Lugginer said...

MAD Magazine was already on this beat 22 years ago:

If James Bond Were Updated for the "Politically-Correct" '90s

Anonymous said...

Family MATTERS. Not Ties.... and that is one of my favorite shows but you can't deny some of his behavior was problematic. There is a scale. It's not all or nothing and black or white. Urkel (not Urkle) didn't have any power in the situation but still his clearly unwanted advances were in the very least "creep behavior." There was a pattern of "innocent nerds" making CONSTANT unwanted advances throughout TV history. Some placing unwanted kisses on victims and going further down the scale of assault. Myra Monkhouse was actually just as if not more problematic as she was very physical and "handsy" with her advances. No one is asking these things be banned but with more knowledge comes a greater responsibility we can't ignore. We also can't pretend media has NO influence on us even if it is a gray area about where our self responsibility begins vs what society norms tell us. We no longer show smoking in most film and tv because we know it leads to more people smoking cigarettes and dying. Media made it "cool" to smoke just like they have made other things normal that may have not been best for everyone. No one is saying Urkel is equivalent to Weinstein but it doesn't help anyone to ignore bad character traits and patterns in tv/film characters or real people.

Steve B. said...

Funny, I happened to watch the Cheers ep the other night with the face "slap-off" between Sam and Diane. Still find it hilarious, but I also couldn't stop thinking that this would never happen on a show in 2018, no matter who started the slapping.

Dr Loser said...

It's hard to see any serious non-PC stuff going on in Taxi. Taking Louie first, his character was always portrayed as a schmuck who thought he had more power over women than he did. And Ms Henner (as Nardo) beat him senseless every time. Maybe that one scene with Latko riles you up, but what about the whole rest of Latke's life with his "mountain girl?" (Carol was superb in that part.)

There is no sexist subtext to Taxi. None whatsoever. One of the finest moments, after all the male characters tell their tiny little stories about taking an outside job, is when Marilu Henner leaps into the dream sequence musical number ... and all of the male characters troupe on out as supporting dancers.

That is the way to deal with this nonsense (in a comedy). If at all possible, laugh the filth off to one side, and celebrate what really matters: romance. Even if it's a bit cheesy.

(Oh, and throw out all the sleaze-bags in Hollywood. Good luck with that. A hundred years and counting.)

On M*A*S*H, and specifically on Hotlips -- I never saw a problem with this. At least the character was allowed to develop away from that weird fixation with Frank. And Sally Kellerman's character in the film was treated far worse, so I suppose that's something.

Anybody who brings supposed issues with Casablanca in this has, not to put too fine a point on it, too much time on their hands.

Ken said...

Save James Bond with new Bond being a woman.
If straight she gets to treat men just as her predessors treated men.
If Gay she treats women the same way.
If bi she just gets to run rampant.
One would think it would be possible if as a satire alone ( almost said "only as a satire" but that disparages satire which is hard)
Considering the directions of bond movies maybe they should follow the arc of the old Man from UNCLE which started out as a straight spy series and quickly adopted a more tongue in cheek approach or even the version of Casino Royale as David niven as retired Bond.

Max Clarke said...

It would be a whole lot easier if the Social Justice Police would just give us a list of what we can read and watch.

Is it okay to watch the Marx Brothers? Are any of their movies on the approved list?

Is it okay to read the Bible? Will we have to buy an official redacted version to avoid being shamed about the violence and sexism?

benson said...

I love getting older. I can reach back and use some wisdom. Ha.

Remember about 13 years ago....The whole freaking country was all about weight loss (more than usual) and the South Beach diet and Atkins were the hottest thing going. Suddenly the whole country would be fit in a matter of weeks and months.

Hmmm. Are we less overweight today? No. In all likelihood, we are heavier.

My point is...are men AND women going to stop being screwing, let alone, being horny? Hell, no.

Will all this attention stop some unwanted advances? Hopefully. But you can't change the fact that people are still animals.

Donald Benson said...

Perhaps related to the consent issue is the old movie / TV convention of the Available Woman; a pretty girl who's not a hooker but readily available for implied no-strings sex with pretty much any male. She's the date from somebody's little black book; the "chorus girl"; the pickup from the bar or wherever; the secretary who sits on laps. If she has an interior life, it's of no interest to the guy or to the audience. Even in "The Apartment", with Shirley MacLaine as a tragic Other Woman, there are other Other Women who are treated (and treat themselves) as harmless comedy.

Marilyn Monroe's nameless "The Girl" in "The Seven Year Itch" is perhaps the platonic ideal. Yes, she has a job and taste for potato chips and all. But all her attributes combine to make her the ultimate Available Woman; one who'd pop into bed with Tom Ewell as casually as going to a movie with him. She isn't even offended by a clumsy pass at the piano; she merely remarks it happens to her all the time. She exists so Tom Ewell can be tempted and then panicked by theoretical fallout.

Liggie said...

And right on cue with this blog post, Formula 1 has chosen to remove the "grid girls" from its races beginning this year. They were models who marked the spots of the drivers on the starting grid with flags and signs, and interacted with fans on behalf of F1 and sponsors.

Terrence Moss said...

Ricky spanking Lucy always bugged me regardless of the era. I'm surprised that Lucille Ball allowed that since she had the say to extricate it from any script.

Anonymous said...


JAMES KIRKWOOD- Diary of a Mad Playwright: Perilous Adventures on the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing (Applause Books) Paperback

Anonymous said...

I was raised in a small, conservative religious cult (which is why I want to remain anonymous - I still have have relatives there), and we were constantly warned about how consuming any entertainment that deviated in ANY way from our beliefs was poisonous. Everything had to be examined and reexamined , and if anything was even slightly less than completely morally pure it had to be excised. One of the benefits of leaving, despite all I lost, was the ability to enjoy things without totally approving or disapproving of them. An ability that only lasted a short time, since as I began exploring liberal morality, I found the same level of scrutiny, only coming from the opposite direction. Nothing is neutral, everything is on a moral continuum from "problematic" to,well, "slightly less problematic". The immoral must be identified and purged in order for society to advance.
I'm not sure how to finish this thought. The older I get, the more I realize that defining and practicing our version of morality is all humans really do with their lives, and that standards are constantly changing and will always be changing. I doubt I'll find any more peace outside the place I left than I did inside it.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

In the fourth season of "Taxi," there was an episode called "Louie Goes Too Far," in which Elaine contacts the National Organization of Women after Louie spies on her through a hole in the wall as she changes clothes in the women's room at the garage.

The episode was written by Danny Kallis and originally aired on ABC Dec. 17, 1981.

Darren said...

Hi Ken-

Do you think you could do the slap fight between Sam and Diane on a sitcom today?

Ron Rettig said...

And you'd better never watch Bob Cummings' sitcoms "My Hero" or "Love That Bob'.

DBA said...

Doug McIntyre, PRIVATE LIVES is a bad example. Both main characters are assholes, by design.

Andy Rose said...

I come back to a point that's been made repeatedly here... comedy is funny when you get laughs, and not funny when you don't. If a younger generation isn't laughing at an older show because they are distracted by something they find bothersome, then *to them* it's not funny. Trying to convince them they are "wrong" for not finding it funny is as pointless as trying to argue humor from any other angle.

The difference between funny and offensive is often generational, and sometimes even case-by-case. It's been generally agreed in the U.S. since the 1960s that blackface entertainment is not okay, and poisons whatever else might be funny in a scene. Yet in the 80s you had the movie Soul Man, in the 90s Darrell Hammond's impression of Jesse Jackson on SNL, and in the 00's Jon Hamm in a blackface skit on 30 Rock. While you might disagree on whether any of those things was particularly funny, I don't recall them being extraordinarily controversial boycott fodder at the time.

Being overattentive to sensitivity can kill comedy, but not being reflexively anti-PC can extend the life of comedy. Robert Smigel tells a story about shooting the Triumph remote where he made fun of people lining up to watch the first Star Wars prequel. At one point, Smigel sent out a guy dressed as Spock to walk past the crowd silently holding a sign that said "Fags." At a staff screening, everyone thought it was hilarious, except for the youngest interns, who looked uncomfortable. When Smigel talked to them, they told him they thought using that slur was pointless and mean-spirited, even if the joke wasn't overtly anti-gay. At the last minute before air, he decided to substitute another take where Spock gives everyone the finger. Smigel says he's glad he listened to the interns, because now the original version makes even him uncomfortable.

Ron Rettig said...

I remember Vampira un local L A TV introducing honor movies at the time his "My Hero" was filmed.

Filippo said...

I think the problem with 'hitting on' is the same for anything else one likes and wants: do you ASK or do you GRAB?
The first is legit - with the chance of being said: "Yes" or "No" -, the second equals stealing.

This, in regard to sexual favors, applies indifferently to both someone you are or you are not engaged to.

Things get a little more complicated if the asker (even if he or she is just an asker and not a grabber) is in a position of power, like a boss at work. His or her request could be intimidating and could lead to a positive answer out of fear, on the part of the requested, of retaliation, e.g. firing.
Still, that intimidation is only potential. Unless your boss does in fact fire you or move you to a lower position or diminish your wage, after you said: "No" to his or her hitting on, you have no right to accuse him or her.

That is, if no one of the involved is married. In which case things get a tad more complicated.
But not much. The essential is ASKING vs. GRABBING.

MikeN said...

Andrew, ridiculous that they have excised Speedy Gonzalez. What did you think of Slowpoke Rodriguez, who was singing songs about wanting marijuana?

Donna Hoke said...

Lucy was always terrified Ricky was going to hit her.

McAlvie said...

On the subject of whether or not Bond works today, I'd like to suggest folks try reading Casino Royale. I did, not long ago, and frankly Bond came across as an idiot. My idea is that the movie treatment fixed a whole lot of problems with that character, and are remarkably better overall than the book was. All that said, I don't think the movies would have played as well if they had come out any earlier than the 60s, when spy fever was at its peak. So I would argue that the successful run of the movies owes more to time and place than anything else. Casablanca remains one of my favorite movies; but if they tried to update it I don't think I'd be able to stand Elsa, which in turn would sour me against Rick for falling for her.

Andrew said...

@Dr Loser: Just to clarify, I love Casablanca. It is my favorite movie, and I don't have any issues with it. I was simply mentioning it as a hypothetical. Nowadays, I think many young people would be trained to look down on the movie by imposing modern (oversensitive) standards.

@MikeN: I loved Slowpoke Rodriguez. I also loved the minor characters among the mice.

I honestly wonder how anyone can really find Speedy or Slowpoke offensive. It seems very contrived and thin-skinned. I especially have a hard time with white liberals presuming people of other ethnic groups are obligated to be offended at something. It comes across as condescending, and (ironically) racist.

Laura McClendon said...

HI Ken,

To be honest, I'm not nearly as troubled by the scene between Henry and Margaret (we'll leave the whole "hot lips" thing out for the moment) as by your defense. I get where you are coming from, believe me. My husband, father and most of my male relatives served in the military and I am acutely aware of the changing mores. This is why I view the scene as amusing in context, along with the absence of any hint of malice. And In general MASH was ahead of the curve on racial and sexual issues. For one thing they got rid of the whole "Spearchucker" legacy quickly ( I was a child when the episodes originally aired and didn't even know this was a racial pejorative until I asked my mother about it) I believe you are one of the good guys, which is why I'm bothering to respond.

The problem comes when you say it's okay for Henry to kiss his highest ranking female officer without her consent in front of the whole camp because the woman in question "has a healthy sex drive". This is just wrong on it's face, and dangerously close to the "She really wanted it" excuse powerful men have been giving for literally ever. I'm sure Harvey Weinstein tells himself the same thing.

I have seen every episode of MASH multiply times and there is nothing in the text to suggest anything but at best a cordial working relationship. At times they were actively hostile, and Henry is at least a decade older. As a thought experiment, think how you would feel if it were your daughter that was grabbed and kissed suggestively in front of the whole company. Again, I get that it's war and that things were different in the 70's which is why I'm focusing on your comments today. Maybe ask Annie for her thoughts on the matter.

Ken Levine said...


Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I won't dispute any of your arguments.

But you bring up a point that is a pet peeve. Person A has an opinion Person B doesn't share. Then Person B accuses Person A (or at least suggests) of being either sexiest, raciest, homophobic, etc. based on his opinion.

When I said Hot Lips had a very healthy sex drive -- she DID. All those times with Frank, all the visiting generals in her tent, etc. Why do you think she got the nickname Hot Lips? So for me, as someone who wrote on the show, to suggest she had a healthy drive is not close to suggesting "she really wanted it." Did I condone Henry's action? No. I simply tried to explain the reasoning.

The danger with accusing people of being sexist, homophobic, racist, whatever is it becomes a personal attack on their character. So those accusations should not be made unless you absolutely believe them to be true; not as a way of discounting someone's opinion.

I'm sorry to be unloading on you. I've devoted entire posts to this. I say one nice thing about a Woody Allen monologue and suddenly I condone child molestation. I criticize the announcer for the Emmys and since he's African-American I'm a racist. It's getting ridiculous.

DBA said...

Ken, I also think you're in a slightly different position re: MASH. You wrote the show. So you, among a handful of other people, are in an actual position to say "this character was OK with this happening" or "this character would've preferred it not, but wasn't tremendously offended" or "this character took this in good fun", because your job was literally to decide how the character felt. So I take your word on it as canon, because you wrote it. I have no quibble there.

That said, the exact phrasing you chose to use in discussing that scene in this post did sound a little too close to what Laura was describing with the issue of actual bad dudes saying "she wanted it". Your A-B list did make me wince a little bit because it reminded me of that type of statement. I don't think you meant it in that way. I don't think there's anything malicious in that scene. It doesn't play to me as a superior officer taking advantage of a power dynamic. Hot Lips would clobber anyone who did. So I wouldn't gasp at the scene because I know the characters and their history and the moment makes sense to me in context. But even with me knowing all of that, when I read that small part of the post it did make my mind go where Laura's did because of the way it was phrased. I'm not trying to nitpick you to death here because I generally agree with your overall point. But you're a writer, so I figure you probably care more than most about which part of your words landed in a particular way and evoked a particular response.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't really feel like you heard what she said because you felt attacked. She didn't call you any of things. Look for the gray area and not the wrong or right aspect of it. "Maybe ask Annie for her thoughts on this matter" as she suggested. Could shed some light and coming from a loved one you might be able to hear it.

Ken Levine said...

I apologize to Laura if I came off too harsh. I admit to being overly sensitive on this issue. I take pride in not being homophobic, racist, sexist, etc. And it bothers me that I have to word everything so pin-point carefully to make my point without unnecessarily offending anybody.

God, I miss the days when readers just called me Fat Head. Or when Roseanne called me an "asshat."

This is a humor blog. And humor sometimes ruffles feathers. Also, I'm opinionated. And there are those who don't share my opinion. But if I had no opinions and my humor was so gentle it didn't offend a soul, why would anyone read me?

Have I gotten crankier? Yes. Maybe if I was making money on this blog it would be different. But I'm not. I have no obligation to do a blog post every day. I offer this for free... in the hopes that it's entertaining, informative, honest, and at times thought-provoking (although not often).

I appreciate Laura and those of you who defended Laura. Like I said, this just touched a nerve.

Laura McClendon said...

Thank you for taking the time to respond.

I absolutely know you are not a sexist, and I apologize if my post came off as an accusation. If I thought you were a sexist I would not have bothered to respond. I rarely respond to blog posts as it's mostly not worth the effort. I took the time because none of us is perfect and it can be easy for comments to be misconstrued (as is apparently the case here) or for a person to be unaware of how they are coming off to the masses.

I am also not suggesting that Margaret doesn't have a healthy sex drive. Most women I know have a healthy sex drive. What I am saying is that a healthly sex drive does not excuse unwanted advances. I am glad we agree on that. My apologies if I misconstrued your remarks as condoning his actions. That is how I took the original post, and I don't think it is an unfair reading.

I have very much enjoyed your writing for most of my life and have been very favorably impressed with your generosity on your blog. I frequently encourage my college freshmen daughter and aspiring writer to read it as well.

You have my sympathy for the crap I'm sure you endure in trying to separate the artist from the art with regards to Woody Allan, et al. I know it can't be fun, particularly for someone left of center who has demonstrated compassion for all in a lifetime of writing. I hope you can shrug it off and keep going - we'd be poorer without you.

Ken Levine said...

Thanks, Laura.

GREATLY appreciated.

Myles Warden said...

Love and appreciate your willingness to have an open dialogue. For that reason alone we know you are good at heart and not those names that you listed above. These are new and tough times. We are all learning. Lena Waithe just made a great statement on sexual assault but it could easily apply to those other terms you listed as well. Here's a part of it below... Also, we have to keep in mind marginalized groups have always had to word everything just right and tip toe around others or risk being casted away. This is only a new thing for some people. The times have indeed changed.

“I think a big thing is, we have to have a dialogue,” Waithe said. “And I think if we’re unwilling to have a dialogue we’re gonna continue to keep hitting our heads against the wall. We have to start reeducating ourselves about what consent is, what’s appropriate behavior at the workplace. We have to create codes of conduct. Those are things that we need. ‘Cause also I think there’s an element of — how do you know if you’re breaking a rule if you aren’t aware of the rules? Or how do you know what appropriate behavior is if no one’s ever communicated to you what appropriate behavior is? Even though some people may assume, Well, of course we all know what appropriate behavior is, but some people may not know.

“It’s about really educating ourselves and not stepping in it and just [saying], Oh, I’m sorry. My bad — and sort of keep going. But it’s about really sitting with yourself and educating yourself in terms of what consent is, what it looks like, what it feels like, what it sounds like. And all of us starting to really act accordingly based on this new information that I think we have now. We all gotta start talking to each other, start educating each other.”

via -

Andrew said...

I proclaim to everyone, except Ken:

"Lighten up, Francis."