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Commentary: Does Sitcom Strategy Explain Anti-Porn Laws?

Commentary: Does Sitcom Strategy Explain Anti-Porn Laws?

As any fan of television comedy knows, the better sitcoms have always been plagued with censorship by the networks, and the better producers have always fought that censorship tooth and nail. Larry Gelbart has expounded on CBS's attempts to soften the bite of the long-running "M*A*S*H"; Barbara Eden's bellybutton was verboten on "I Dream of Jeannie"; and more recently, producer George Schlatter spoke on TV Land's "TV Land Confidential" about how he dealt with NBC's joke-stripping practices on Laugh-In.

The answer the producers have almost always come up with has been misdirection: Have the show's writers load the script with oftentimes outrageous material the censors were sure to order taken out, and that would allow racy but tamer material to stay in. This ruse has worked since at least Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows," and shows no sign of failing even in 2007 – to the point that one might even suspect that the censors collude with the writers and producers to allow some racy material to get on the air. (The reactionary Parents Television Council undoubtedly believes this.)

But what does that have to do with the adult video industry?

We ran across an article published in the Christian Science Monitor last May, where author Gail Russell Chaddock noted that, "GOP leaders are gearing up to bring a number of issues on the Christian conservative agenda to the floor of the House and Senate in the next few weeks, including gay marriage, broadcast decency, the 10 Commandments Act, a cloning ban, and laws protecting 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance" – promises rolled out to coincide with the myriad events scheduled for the "National Day of Prayer," May 3.

So what happened to that much-touted "conservative Christian agenda"?

Well, the anti-gay Marriage Protection Amendment failed to pass the Senate last June, and is considered not to be a strong contender for passage in the newly-inaugurated 110th Congress.

The Public Expression of Religion Act (HB 2679), which would have prevented the courts from removing, for example, public displays of the 10 Commandments, after passing the House, wound up stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and its future in the 110th Congress doesn't look promising.

Sam Brownback's bill to prohibit human cloning, S. 658, was last seen in March of 2005, languishing in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, unlikely to see the light of day again.

The House also managed to pass, last July, a bill to prevent the courts from striking the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance ... but then that bill went to the Senate where, according to Fox News, "its future is uncertain."

So out of that mini-agenda, what did get passed?

You guessed it: On May 18, the Senate passed S. 193, a bill which raised fines for broadcast "indecency" ten-fold, from $32,500 per incident to $325,000 per incident. Since the House had passed an almost identical bill the previous year, it landed on President Bush's desk shortly thereafter, and was signed into law on June 15.

And so, we started to think: Is it possible that even the right-wing zealots in Congress know they don't have enough support to pass unconstitutional laws promoting fundamentalist beliefs on prayer, public monuments, reproductive research, etc.? They do know their constituents like to hear them sponsoring such bills, but they also know that if too many of them get shot down, their supporters will lose faith in their ability to get anything passed, and may actually even vote them out of office at the next election.

But what's the one favorite issue of the rabidly religious that the theocrats can get bipartisan support for?

You guessed it: Eliminating from public discourse anything having to do with sexuality!

So is it possible that the conservatives understand, as have comedy writers for the past half-century, that by loading the agenda with items they know will not become law, they may be able to persuade Democrats, who'll be appalled by all the church/state violations but who nonetheless want to be bipartisan when they can, to agree to restrictions on sexual speech?

Seems to us that that's an issue that any senator or representative who has no real allegiance to free speech – i.e., most of them – can look at as a win-win situation.

How sad!

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Mark Kernes

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