The New York Post’s Ruth Brown has declared a number of classic sitcoms, and one beloved cartoon character, problematic in this age of The New Enlightenment.
Using words and phrases like “worst offenders,” “sexual predator,” “grossly inappropriate,” and “shouldn’t be shown to kids,” Brown has selected MASH, Taxi, Cheers, WKRP in Cincinnati, and even Pepé Le Pew for a little time in Room 101.
Overall, though, what Brown and those she interviews (all one-sided) truly reveal is a lack of empathy, and a blindspot when it comes to the wonderful complexities of human nature, adult relationships, subtext, and humor.
We will begin with Brown’s shallow criticism of Abyssinia, Henry, a justly-famous 1975 episode of MASH that bid farewell to McLean Stevenson’s Henry Blake. The episode’s thoughtcrime is described in this way…
“But right before Blake leaves to return to his wife and kids,” Brown writes, as though adultery is suddenly a sin among leftists, “he grabs nurse Maj. Margaret Houlihan and forcibly kisses her as a gag in front of their cheering colleagues.”
At this point I am going to ask everyone to behave like adults and actually watch the scene, which you can do right here starting at 18:40 mark.
A few facts…
- Like most sitcoms, MASH had a laugh track, which is removed here. This is important because, although there is all kinds of humor in the scene, the creators saw it as human drama. Blake was a beloved character who shared complicated relationships with everyone in the 4077th, and other than Jake Tapper– er, I mean Frank Burns, this is a time for closure.
- Blake’s relationship with Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan over 73 episodes has been mostly one of conflict. Although this would change as the series wore on, at this point she is still a shrill, humorless hypocrite.
- Look at Houlihan’s face after Blake tells Frank to “Take it easy.” This is called character development. Despite all her bad behavior, we are finally seeing her humanity. Almost when it is too late, she realizes she is going to miss this man. Moreover, as he walks away, you can see she wants to say something, but doesn’t. She is looking for closure.
- Now watch the kiss. While it is true he does not ask permission or have her sign a release form, the kiss between the two of them is consensual, is at long last two people coming to an understanding, admitting that beneath all the swordplay they have a real affection and respect for one another. Hot Lips doesn’t scream “Well, I never!” Instead, for a long time she looks him in the eyes to say goodbye.
- This all culminates when the news of Blake’s death is reported and Houlihan is the only one who breaks down and cries.
Revealing an astonishing shallowness, Brown dismisses the early seasons of this show in this way, “But he, and the other men, also terrorized Loretta Swit’s Houlihan — who they called “Hot Lips” — and other nurses with sleazy, handsy come-ons.’
To begin with, Hot Lips was not “terrorized” because she was a woman. Both she and Burns were terrorized equally as stand-ins for the weak-willed, skinny-lipped oppressors in the Establishment.
Moreover, with the obvious exception of Houlihan, all of the women in the 4077th are portrayed as strong, capable women who can handle themselves when faced with a come-on or joke. These are sympathetic women who understand why these men act the way they do, who do not need to tattle to control their own environment, and who themselves are a lot of fun to be around.
All of the so-called sexism in the early seasons is not about okaying sexism. Rather, it is about the subtext involving the pressures of war; men and women acting as though they might not live another day, doing whatever they can not to crack under the strain of the carnage.
In the later seasons, as Alan Alda gained more creative control, he basically turned Hawkeye Pierce into Frank Burns — a self-righteous, humorless, preachy, opinionated ass. The first three seasons, however, are pure gold.
As is the movie.
This is, by far, the least insightful thoughtcrime on our docket.
In episode ten of season four, Louie Goes Too Far, the lecherous Louie De Palma (a fantastic Danny DeVito) is fired after Elaine (a wonderful Marilu Henner) discovers he has been using a peephole to watch her change clothes. During the episode’s lengthy final scene, the two of them have it out. He ends up revealing a piece of his humanity by explaining why he is the way he is — the humiliation he endured as a child due to his size and girth, how such things can twist a person — and then they hug it out. You can watch the moment at right around the 19 minute mark here.
But Brown explains the episode’s final moment in the most narrow-minded way imaginable…
“The pair make amends and embrace — until Louie uses the hug as a chance to grab Elaine’s butt, while the laugh track again goes wild,” she writes.
No, no, no, no. no…
Yes, Louie grabs Elaine’s butt, but she slaps his hand away and laughs with the recognition (and a bit of resignation) that Louie is who he is. The grope also removes the awkwardness and tension that is sure to come between them after this baring of souls — it resets their relationship to normal, but two crucially important things have still happened.
1) Louie is changed. He will never go that far again (and doesn’t).
2) Elaine not only better understands him, she accepts him for who he is, flaws and all.
3) I can’t believe I have to remind people of this, but Louie is the lech, not the hero. No one is being asked to approve of his behavior. Quite the opposite. Are we now only allowed to laugh at people when they behave appropriately? What a sterile, stiff world that would be.
Finally, the power dynamic in their relationship is forever altered. She got him fired. He knows this. As does the rest of the male crew. But her power does not come from vengeance (his banishment), it comes from drawing boundaries, forgiving him, and accepting him.
In this iconic episode, Elaine is revealed as a strong and decent woman who does not abuse her power like some fascist shrew, but uses it in a benevolent way that protects both her and accepts him.
This is one of the smartest sitcom episodes ever produced.
WKRP in Cincinnati
This throughtcrime is just plain stupid.
Anyone who remembers this fantastic sitcom remembers Jennifer Marlow, the jaw-droppingly sexy receptionist played by the jaw-droppingly sexy Loni Anderson — I mean, holy moly.
Here is Brown’s idea of this particular sitcom’s alleged crime….
Garishly dressed Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) is the office sleaze at the fictional rock radio station on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” where the married sales manager constantly hits on unreceptive blond-bombshell receptionist Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson).
“How about this: hop into a pair of black leather skintights and we go bowling in Kentucky?” he tells her in one second-season episode of the show[.]
Jennifer always shoots Herb down with withering zingers — but he always comes back for more.
Is the fact that Herb is the “office sleaze” not a bit of a tell? He was the bad guy, the butt of most of the jokes, the person we are not supposed to identify with.
And then there is this tiny fact… Jennifer Marlowe held all of the power at that radio station, not just because men lost their ability to think at the sight of her, but because she was smarter than most everyone else.
“I’d love to travel back in time to represent this woman to sue the entire company,” one of Brown’s joy-challenged interview subjects says.
Sorry to bust your bubble, princess, but Jennifer Marlowe was a strong, independent woman who did not need anyone’s help. She got the best of everyone, defined her job duties in ways to protect her dignity (she would neither fetch or even make coffee), and by the end of the series, she and Herb became friends.
Rather than suing him, she made him a better man (by finally agreeing to a date, which he chickens out on — which leads him to solve a drinking problem). This is how real people with character and tolerance are supposed to interact with one another.
Declaring Cheers a thoughtcrime is basically the act of declaring romantic pursuit a thoughtcrime. You have to read this in order to believe it…
Womanizing bar manager Sam Malone (Ted Danson) relentlessly pursues his new barmaid, Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) — including pulling her into an unexpected kiss in the fourth episode, forcing her to judo throw him off her.
A similar pattern repeats when Diane is replaced by Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley), although this time she is Sam’s boss — not that that makes it any better if the advances are unwanted, Richman notes.
“You can be harassed by not only coworkers, but third parties and people that are below you,” he says.
What is Cheers about?
Ask yourself that very important question. What is this iconic and brilliant sitcom about.
It is only about one thing… How the women around Sam Malone make Sam Malone a better man.
Diane and Rebecca open the eyes and horizons of an egotistical hound dog. Without screaming for the police or government — without neutering Sam into a whimpering metrosexual pajama boy — two strong, independent women bring out the best in him.
Now imagine what Malone’s opinion of women would have become had they proved how weak, helpless, and unequal they are by calling the authorities for help.**
Pepé Le Pew
As if to prove she is everything sexist men believe women to be (shrill, emotional) Brown actually says this about a cartoon character, “But all of the previous fictional pervs pale in comparison to television’s most notorious sexual predator: Pepé Le Pew.”
“Sexual predator,” y’all.
And another of her one-sided interview subjects adds that these cartoons “shouldn’t be shown to kids.”
Yep, the same crowd eager to destroy the innocence of grade-schoolers with condom giveaways and kindergartners with lessons about homosexuality, want Pepé Le Pew banned.
Where to begin…
1) There is NOTHING SEXUAL about Mr. Le Pew. He is NOT a sexual predator. Intent still matters, no?
2) The whole premise of the series is that he is a self-involved romantic mistaking Penelope Pussycat for a fellow skunk.
3) The cartoon is a biting satire of clueless narcissism.
5) What about the series of shorts where Pepé Le Pew gets a taste of his own medicine, when he is pursued by Penelope Pussycat? Is she now the sexual predator?
What we are witnessing here is the first stage of corporate fascism, of the New Book Burning through SJW scarlet lettering, the parade of horribles who, without any context, without any generosity, declare art dangerous and backwards… Where mere words and pictures are treated as criminal actions because I’m offended.… Where what is portrayed in fiction is itself a crime, regardless of the subtext or overall moral message. Where a single episode, as opposed to the entire artwork, is extrapolated so someone can scream WITCH.
The moral of these wonderful and timeless shows is that we are all imperfect, but we still have to do our best to get along, to accept one another (flaws and all) by recognizing even the humanity of a Louie De Palma. Running to the authorities is the last thing any decent person should want to do.
WARNING: These narrow-minded, provincial, humorless, corporate-funded prigs are the new Moral Majority. And these totalitarian crusades always begin the same way — with the certainty of all purifiers that they know what is best for us, and for The Children.
**Of course there are times when people should involve the authorities. Of course, if the harassment goes too far, if no understanding can be reached, if power is abused, people should take legal action. But above even begins to approach a situation where decent, strong, and empathetic people cannot work things out without the government or a lawyer.