Part Two: The Impact of Game Shows and the Modern Age
In part one of this essay we explored the impossibly pure imagery television initially presented to viewers, images that reflected the mores of a bygone America. We reviewed the impact on our culture presented by the popularization of color television and how seeing real conflict and tragedy in color shocked the sensibilities of our unprepared nation, and how that shock was expressed through several cutting edge (or “bleeding edge”) television shows beginning in the early 1970s. Finally, we explored how the landscape of television was affected by cable television, and how it continued to change to the point where it was showcasing the lack of restrictions imposed on it and the lack of self-restraint that was becoming prevalent in our nation throughout the 1990s.
Part One: The Sanitized Era and the Beginnings of Reality
Television was once the conveyor of virginal imagery, the bringer of the Norman Rockwell version of America as beamed to homes from coast-to-coast by the Gods of Television on a daily basis. During these days long past there was a security in television that’s all but extinct today. Censors and sponsors combined to make TV a sterile landscape devoid of most forms of offensive behavior, sexual innuendos, and expressions of thought contrary to the perceived norms of American society. Those were the days when “men were men and women were women,” when homosexuality was ignored, and when heterosexuality was limited to platonic hugs and closed-mouth kisses. War was a bloodless display of valor and manliness according to shows such as The Rat Patrol and Combat, while the American West was a place of brave, noble men who tamed fierce savages and felled outlaws with equally bloodless gunshots as evidenced by shows such as Bonanza and Gunsmoke. Women were seen as aspirants to domestic perfection, embodied by such fictional pre-Martha Stewart domestic divas as June Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver and Margaret Anderson in Father Knows Best. As to displays or the mere mentioning of the sex act, it was avoided at all costs even if it meant depicting a boudoir as surreal as the one containing the separate beds of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy, or as unseen as Ralph and Alice Kramden’s bedroom on The Honeymooners. Such is how it was prior to January 29th, 1968–the date of the Viet Cong’s bloody Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War–as television was, to that date, used as the great sanitizer of American life. Afterwards, it was a whole new ballgame.