Steamy Sitcoms Fog Up the TV Screen under the Mantle of Laughter, Sitcoms Tend to Normalize Sexual Exploitation

By M. S. Mason, Writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Steamy Sitcoms Fog Up the TV Screen under the Mantle of Laughter, Sitcoms Tend to Normalize Sexual Exploitation


M. S. Mason, Writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Let's be frank. Sex is everywhere on the small screen these days. It's casual, it's cheap (devoid of consequences), and it's fantastical. Real life is seldom this lurid or this easy. Predatory self-interest is sometimes satirized, but more often touted as the norm on TV.

What used to be reserved for late night is now prime time - or worse, daytime. Even the news and newsmagazines, which are not rated, exploit the allegations of misbehavior in Washington, for example, using language that no seven-year-old should have to process.

Many daytime talk shows dig up sleaze on a regular basis. And the kids are watching. But as bad as "Melrose Place" and "Jerry Springer" can get, it's the cumulative effect of sitcoms that may be most problematic. They are fun and they are funny. Under the mantle of laughter, they tend to normalize conscience-free sexual exploitation of others. The melodramas at least include some inkling that unrestrained predatory urges can be emotionally damaging, while the sitcoms are too often cynical about love, trivializing both sex and the relationship. Of course, not all are equally objectionable. Some comedies, like Ally McBeal, Spin City, 3rd Rock From the Sun, Just Shoot Me, and Suddenly Susan, have a parodistic element that effectively skewers the mores of our time. They may dress every episode in the usual round of innuendoes and one-liners, but with under-the-surface jokes, something more is going on. And while most sitcoms are as far removed from the genuine issues of human intimacy as daytime TV is from art, a few do try to incorporate humane values. Dharma and Greg, Mad About You, and Home Improvement are clever comedies about love and marriage that mock the very human frailties of their characters without trivializing their affections. The married people in these shows are committed to their relationship, not just to each other. And the relationship is the thing they work to preserve - the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

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