Letters

"It's always decent to say 'penis.'" "Give Scorsese the benefit of the doubt." Salon readers weigh in on TV decency and movie sequels.


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Salon Staff
February 2, 2005 2:00AM (UTC)

[Read "He Said 'Penis'!" by Amy Reiter.]

I generally found this article amusing, though it made me wonder if perhaps I too am becoming a right-wing nut case. That or I'm the parent of young children. While my children don't yet stay up past 8 p.m., they will soon enough. The cases cited aren't so much obscene as they are simply coarse. When TV presents this as acceptable talk between people, it is little wonder that people treat one another with less respect.

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TV nurtures pop culture. It may reflect reality in certain households or communities, but this then is seen as the norm by very young people who are trying to figure out how the world works.

I suspect this group's nitpicking is a reflection of that concern. We shouldn't mock this as it reflects a broader discomfort of lots of people with what is being broadcast. (And while we can always tell parents to turn off the TV, it is a fact that many do not.)

-- Kevin Leahy

I had thought the general decline in American culture was self-evident to all, especially educated progressive thinking people, but apparently not. One reason, I surmise, is that a much larger percentage of progressives are childless than the general population and most especially those on the "religious right."

As a progressive and a parent, I see our popular culture as a virtual fount of trash that is particularly bad for children. They are constantly bombarded by unhealthy images and ideas from our electronic media that range from simply being rude and disrespectful to truly pernicious. What's missed in one home is picked up in another and passed around in the schools like a virus. The situation is so bad many progressive-leaning parents like me would be willing to live with a little right-wing censorship just to see some of this checked.

The problem goes deeper than just filtering out some TV shows in a particular home; it's a general decline and needs to be dealt with on a broad level. I suppose it will be up to the religious right as the only political force with even a semblance of strength to stand up against this assault on our children. In one sense, they are the progressives. They are the only ones trying to bring change. On this, I salute them: Even if they're doing it stupidly, it seems better than just letting everything continue on its present course.

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If the childless progressives don't wake up to this issue, they will continue to isolate a number of people who are otherwise their political and social allies.

-- Scott Williams

Not every issue is left vs. right. And this one certainly is not. I am definitely not a Republican, nor am I religious, but I assert that a good number of those complaints that you listed were reasonable.

No one can argue with the fact that TV has become an ever-escalating garbage-making machine over the last 20 years -- and I, personally, watch it only rarely. In the last few years TV has definitely turned up the volume on producing ever more lewd, crude and disgusting programming. The fact that people are offended by some of these things should not come as a surprise.

The bottom line is this: Somebody has to draw the line somewhere. What is reasonable to have on publicly available television, and what is not? Somebody has to decide, and it should be a reasonable decision-making process, not anything goes.

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Otherwise, left unfettered, TV will continue to make cruder and more disgusting programming (an obvious trend), where shock value and deliberate offense are the standard.

What don't you want to see on TV? Even a very "liberal" person has some kind of limit on what they would have children tune in to on a weeknight. How about a circus where everybody is naked, and performs tricks with their genitals? How about a show about prostitutes, describing and performing their tricks behind a slightly blurry haze? Or a show about lonely people (or children) and their sexual relationships with their pets?

Anyone who can't see that these sorts of things are way over the line can no longer be considered reasonable, and has questionable values. Not everything is good and evil, black and white. Some things are more repulsive than evil, and definitely more wrong than right.

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I read Salon on a regular basis, and I enjoy a good many of your articles. However, since the election, Salon has definitely taking a turn to the left and has become more polarizing and sensationalist. I'm sure Jon Stewart would agree, this is not what the media is for. A more balanced perspective would be nice. I think I will be going elsewhere for my news for a while.

-- Burton Miller

A few days ago there was a wire article about these complaints, including a quote from Lara Mahaney, spokeswoman for the Parents Television Council: "In what community in America are graphic terms for genitalia decent?" Not being sure what she meant by "graphic," I sat on my hands. Now that I've read the content of the complaints today in Amy Reiter's article I feel the need to speak up.

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It seems that the council is largely taking issue with words like "penis," "vagina," and "breast" being used on television.

In my house growing up, we were taught to use these words when referring to parts of the human anatomy. My parents didn't teach us euphemisms, and it was only considered indecent to use vulgar equivalents.

If people on TV were throwing words like "cock" and "pussy" around, then I'd understand the complaints. But in my community it's always decent to say "penis."

-- Kerry Lannert

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I guess we all must be saved from our evil selves.

Since these alleged "parents" groups are so willing to pick what I can watch/hear on television, regardless of whether I have a family, maybe they could come over and help me pick out my clothes for tomorrow, my dinner, my next car and more?

They can even choose my peanut butter.

But wait ... the Parents Television Council is probably a little worried about the amount of time Peter Pan is spending wearing tights and playing with little boys. So maybe I should stick with Jiff for the sanctity of my soul.

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-- Kevin Leroux

[Read "Are You Talking to Me -- Again??" by Brian Libby.]

Thank you for mentioning "Kundun," which is definitely the most underrated and unappreciated film Scorsese ever made. But I gotta tell ya, after that impressive rant, I'm a little surprised that you forgot to mention the greatest "Jesus" movie ever made. You know the title.

As for Travis Bickle, I really don't want to know where he is now. Not only that, I don't care where "The King of Comedy" Rupert Pupkin is, or how the witness protection program is working out for "Goodfella" Henry, or if Paul ever returned to SoHo after hours.

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The great thing about the typical Scorsese hero is that despite being a loser, they ironically win in the end. To follow up with a sequel kills the irony that makes the movie great.

Remember "Alien 3"? The McGuffin in "Aliens" was the little girl, named Newt. In the very first scene of "Alien 3," we discover that Newt is dead. All that crap Ripley went through to save her was for nothing! Not only was it impossible to enjoy the rest of the movie, but it tarnished the previous movie. That's what bad sequels always do. The character of Travis Bickle has run its course. Don't mess with it, please.

-- Ernie Lausten

Well, it's possible. When I heard Richard Linklater was making a sequel to the already perfect "Before Sunrise," I thought very much along the lines that Brian Libby is going in his plea to Scorsese to leave "Taxi Driver" well enough alone.

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But did Libby see "Before Sunset"? It made the perfect original even better! I don't like the idea either, but if he wants to do it, I've gotta give Scorsese the benefit of the doubt that he'll do it right.

-- David Zaza


Salon Staff

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