When I was a kid, we were so poor we couldn’t even afford real cuss words. In times of aggression, we would call each other “meanofatguy”, a single word insult with power so destructive, so fiery, it was more ruinous than the blazes of hell and damnation itself, and it's very utterance would crush even the strongest of strongmen. That is, if the strongman knew what “meanofatguy” actually meant.
The desired effect was less powerful on my neighbors than it was on my siblings, so I found it was most effective to turn to comedy for verbal aggression.
Of course our neighbors who we considered unsavory types used insults that were more conventional, but not those anymore associated with more educated speech than ours. Theirs were words that you couldn’t use on television at the time, because the FCC would issue a fine for every occurrence and the perpetrators would of course risk being damned to hell (obviously).
Since we were sheltered, (think homeschooled and kept in a social bubble) we didn’t initially know the most popular curse words. That is, until we were fortunate enough to get our hands on a subscription to Cinemax (or as some called it Skin-emax). The premium cable channel, when paired with a VCR, equipped us to discover and implement all sorts of new vocabulary words and cultural practices your typical sheltered kid with eleven siblings was asked not to ever know about. Inevitably, we learned about them all and if deemed appropriate, put them to use when our parents weren’t looking. Most of what we implemented was removed from our school curriculum (the presumed reason we were homeschooled), but we were privileged enough to discover it all anyway, despite the internet not being very useful for the majority of my childhood.
Cinemax had plenty to offer if by plenty you mean a maximum of 24 hours of curated content aired in real time over the course of 36 hours and then repeated through the week. We didn’t need its help with violence though. The violence on TV never really seemed real. The A Team had punching sounds that sounded more like smashing tomatoes against a wall than it did like a strike to the face, and impressively, Hannibal, Face and Mr T were able to have machine gun shootouts without anyone that wasn’t an extra ever getting shot. As for violence, we were able to find plenty of that in real life. We knew how to hit people because not only did our neighbors occasionally start a classic middle school street fight, we were also quite familiar with corporal punishment inside the house.
TV feeds us entertainment, but it’s also presenting a character of what we accept as normal. By that I mean that the Cosby Show wouldn’t depict a Dad drugging young women to coax them into sex, because that wouldn’t be accepted as normal. No, those things will happen behind closed doors and in the case of Cosby himself, accusations run as far back as the 1960s and number over 60 women.
In the 50s, Lucy and Desi were sleeping in separate beds on a black and white television to be modest, however real life was far more colorful. Scandals about Desi Arnaz being caught with prostitutes plagued their real life marriage. Although I doubt that he would have been taken seriously if he ‘splained to Luci that their twin beds were two feet apart the whole time. The show protected their image as a hilarious loving couple.
Today, it’s more normal to see any couple sharing the same bed on TV, but the producers, like Harvey Weinstein, prefered to keep their improprieties behind closed office doors. Of course this is a trend he did not start, considering the founder of MGM, Louis Mayer was known for his sexual advances in exchange for career favors even in the 1920s. It was nearly a century before the #metoo movement would expose this all too common occurrence in Hollywood.
In the fifties, you couldn’t talk about sexual assault. In 2022, you can’t escape it.
To be sure, “escaping” isn’t the desired result of the voices of the #metoo movement. The target is to expose the guilty, and disempower a culture of abuse that is hidden in private audition rooms and back offices. Bringing it out into the open was the only way to exert power over the strongman. Sometimes airing out dirty laundry is the only way to remind someone it needs cleaning.
But airing and cleaning are separate steps. Cultural norms only change when culture itself changes. The voices of the #metoo movement did their part and now it’s our turn to do ours.
Sexual assault has become a topic of widespread conversation, but domestic violence still remains in the closet despite measures indicating that it has increased. The pandemic is blamed for a lot of it, with more people stuck at home and communities having less to offer in terms of intervention support, shelters or other services. However, violence and abuse has become more public. What was once a dirty little secret is in some cases, normalized on prime time television.
Today, not only do we have social media for our own problems, now we have Kanye West tweeting his complaints about his ex-wife’s boyfriend while he’s picking up his kids from school.
It’s easy to look at Kanye West as some sort of idiot savant. It’s not like he made a living and earned multiple major awards by being smart, kind, and professional like some of our more revered role models. But he did start a new club as I recall. The club of stars who have come up on stage at a nationally televised award show and abruptly interrupted the live broadcast to make a scene because they were upset because something did not go their way.
As of last check, there are two members in the club.
The key criteria to club membership includes being incredibly rich, very famous, receiving some of the most prestigious awards on earth, and still complaining about what happens on stage.
Being in this club will not disqualify you from winning an award though, so members should plan their acceptance speech. Acceptance speeches are often filled with statements of activism and moral superiority. Statements meant to motivate social change while placing oneself on a pedestal.
But now, you can also slap someone in the face on live television. And get an award.
In a world where our role models attack people in front of millions of viewers, it’s no wonder we still have a problem with domestic violence.