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. The nation and its representation on TV were both far different than they are today, and what led both to change is a tale of a country enduring tragic moments and embracing cultural change.
TV’s distant past reflects the bygone 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.