Vulgarity

Juxtaposition: last week, I watched an episode of The Andy Griffith Show and later an episode of Mom, both on TV Land. I remember thinking during Andy Griffith how naïve and innocent the show was. Of course, it was made in 1961…when the whole world seems to have been more naïve and innocent. The storyline is based on everyone’s fear of hurting Aunt Bee’s feelings that her homemade pickles are the worst they've ever tasted. Andy and Barney secretly switch the “kerosene cucumbers” with store-bought pickles, but Aunt Bee’s decision to enter them in the county fair presents a dilemma. According to IMDB, “this is one of the most popular episodes of the series.” The moral to the story is summed up by Sheriff Taylor when he says, “What's small potatoes to some folks can be mighty important to others.” Could life—as reflected in the TV—be any more wholesome?

By contrast, the episode of Mom was as honest, gritty, and base as a show can get. The storyline is about a pair of drug-and-alcohol-abusers—a mother and daughter—who try to reconnect. The show is filled with anatomical humor, sexual humor, drug-abuse humor, all laid over a world of teen pregnancy and fathers who abandon. Fortunately, it is a funny show and mostly well acted…but it is a monstrous distance from Mayberry! Could life—as reflected in TV—be any more vulgar? I found it hard to align the juxtaposition: how can a single network attract viewers who enjoy both shows? How can a single network attract advertisers who support both shows?

I clearly remember a time when the world began making the shift—airing all its dirty laundry, so to speak—ostensibly as an effort to increase honesty and reality. The Watergate debacle turned every elected official into a target for accusations; that attitude persists as a new kind of “given.” I remember when sports stars and movie/TV stars were revered and they made public efforts to appear worthy of that respect; today, many celebrities build their celebrity on scandal and indiscretion. I remember when Roseanne was beheld as rude, crude, and “pushing the boundaries”; today when I watch an episode of Roseanne, I’m hard pressed to recognize its daring.

The juxtaposition is an accurate representation of where I regretfully find myself: I was born, raised, and still have a mindset in the times of Andy Griffith, but I’m living in a Mom world. Even though I am no saint,  interactions with the world today surprise me, disappoint me, or even shock me with a constancy of vulgarity. The world of politics is peopled with self-righteous but highly flawed individuals and headlines are a litany of accusations and denouncements. Any trip to a sporting event is constantly punctuated by rude behavior and crude language: the F word seems to be the only adjective some people use. Now, even more than the TV programs themselves, TV commercials bombard me with ideas and images that I’d rather avoid: football-sized rat droppings, wrong-sized menstrual pads, diarrhea, stools, and oil-enhanced intimacy.

I am not naïve and while I can still enjoy Andy Griffith, I don’t really want to live in a world so far removed from reality. At the same time, I am uncomfortable in the vulgarity of the modern world, at having everyone else’s indiscrete sense of “honesty and reality” forced upon me. The world I live in now doesn’t seem to recognize the impact or degree of change. For now, I’ll have to keep searching to find the place in the middle where my naïve hopes for the decency of life can intersect with a reality that isn’t just ignorantly offensive.