ANDY ROONEY: TV and s-e-x
Tribune Media Services May 26, 2000
The big news from Washington this week was the Supreme Court's ruling that it's OK for cable television to show dirty movies all day. The ruling negated a federal law that required cable to keep the smut off their channels during the day when kids might be watching. That was pretty silly because, as is well known, kids already are more familiar with that stuff than grownups.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said the decision involved basic issues of free speech and that the law in this country had traditionally allowed stuff that a lot of people found "shabby, offensive or even ugly."
I don't have any problem with the decision, but there are things that puzzle me about dirty movies. Even for Americans, there are things about Americans that are hard to understand. More than 150 million people in this country claim to be God-fearing, church-going faithful, but if those figures are accurate, who are the Americans who watch dirty movies in such great numbers? Statistically, there must be some overlap -- church-goers who also go to dirty movies.
Even those movies rated a modest "R" use language that most of us would not normally use and certainly not in mixed company. I suppose my use of the phrase "mixed company" makes me an old fogey.
We have gone to two movies in the last few years that were so filled with filth, sex, obscenity and profanity that we left after the first half hour. It wasn't so much the language that drove us out; it was the repetitious monotony of it. "Donnie Brasco" was one. I forget the other.
We know all the words, we just don't enjoy having our noses rubbed in them for two hours. I got thinking about what it would have been like if, instead of an old married couple, we had been high school kids out on our first date. Don't kids get embarrassed anymore?
The use of an occasional reference to sex or body function seems artistically and socially acceptable when it is meaningful to the plot. However, I fail to understand what writers have in mind when they put these words in half the conversations in a two-hour movie. Any shock value or dramatic effect they might have are nullified by the frequency of their use.
I am not holier-than-thou. I don't watch pornography or sexually explicit shows on television because we don't get them free on our television set. I'm not moral, I'm cheap. I don't like those shows enough to pay for them. It's the same reason I don't watch championship fights on television. They cost too much and, like sex, they're over too quickly.
Years ago, I was staying in a hotel in Washington and out of curiosity punched up the numbers on the television set that brought up something like "Debbie Does Dallas." My memory of it was that after the first two or three minutes of frantic sex, it was unwatchable, boring and I wanted my money back. It was badly produced and directed and, worst of all, the naked women performing sex acts with naked men were ugly. If they were neighbors who had left the window shades up, I wouldn't have bothered to watch.
All sorts of things came to my mind as I watched in the hotel room but they were not the things the makers of the movie intended to evoke. I remember, for instance, wondering whether the actors were actually doing it or just pretending. I questioned what they did if the director made a mistake with his camera angles and asked them to shoot a scene over again. If the action was for real, wouldn't they have had to go home and rest and come back again the next day?
The Supreme Court made the right decision but it must have been a difficult one for the nine justices to make. They must have had to go see a lot of dirty movies before they came to their conclusion.