Commentary: TV Controversies – Protesting The Protests!

by | November 12, 2009 at 10:01 AM | 42-Inch Television, TV News

South Park (Comedy Central)

South Park (Comedy Central)

Not to go all ‘Seinfeld’ on you, but when did saying someone used the f-word start meaning the “f-word” and not the “f-word?” Did I miss the cultural memo on this? Because from where I sit, there is only one f-word, and it’s of the four-letter variety. Also: what’s the deal with airplane food?

Regardless, the “other f-word” (the one ignorant bigots use as a derogatory term for homosexuals, if you’re still confused), was at the center of some controversy last week thanks to ‘South Park.’ In an episode specifically designed to push buttons—appropriately titled “The F-Word”—the children of ‘South Park’ began using the slur against noisy and annoying Harley Davidson riders—and not gay people—in an effort to change the stigma of the word. The thought process being: if you use a slur out of context enough times, it loses meaning entirely.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work. As GLAAD responded, eloquently: “The creators of ‘South Park’ are right on one important point: more and more people are using the F-word as an all-purpose insult. However, it is irresponsible and wrong to suggest that it is a benign insult or that promoting its use has no consequences for those who are the targets of anti-gay bullying and violence. This is a slur whose meaning remains rooted in homophobia. And while many ‘South Park’ viewers will understand the sophisticated satire and critique in last night’s episode, others won’t—and if even a small number of those take from this a message that using the “F-word” is OK, it worsens the hostile climate that many in our community continue to face.”

As much as I think getting upset about an episode of ‘South Park’ is about as relevant as arguing over the results of the 2000 election, GLAAD makes more than a fair point. Trey Parker and Matt Stone might have had the best intentions, but they can’t account for the lack of sophistication in their audience. Satire is tricky that way.

The ‘South Park’ vs. GLAAD debate is an example of a protest against the content of a television show that added to the discussion in a positive way. Of course that means it also stood out as a rarity. Apparently, this fall is the season of unnecessary protests run amok. Enough already! Would anyone else like to join me in protesting the protests?

The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention vs. ‘The Office

The protest:
Remember that amazing cold open to the Halloween episode of ‘The Office,’ when Michael (in full “D–k in a Box” regalia) scared a bunch of unsuspecting kids by “hanging” himself to show them the dangers of suicide? Well the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention says it could encourage people to take their own lives and called it “kind of over-the-line.”

Protesting the protest: Um, perhaps I’m missing something. Suicide wasn’t the joke in that scene—Michael didn’t kill himself or attempt to kill himself—but rather to show, yet again, how out of touch Michael is with fellow members of the human race. It’s not like this is ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ a show based entirely on the concept of Hangman. Oh no. I may have given the AFSP some more ideas…

The Parents Television Council vs. ‘Gossip Girl

The protest: “Will you now be complicit in establishing a precedent and expectation that teenagers should engage in behaviors heretofore associated primarily with adult films?” So said Parents Television Council president Tim Winter in a laughably earnest letter sent to CW affiliates before this past Monday’s episode of ‘Gossip Girl’ aired. Following the largely threesome-free episode, the PTC released a statement saying watch out for next week when the storyline continues.

Protesting the protest: That the PTC actually had to resort to the “well this wasn’t bad, but just you wait and see what happens next week!” defense should tell you all you need to know about the validity of this protest. Yes, on a normal show a threesome might be worth gnashing of teeth, but on ‘Gossip Girl’ it’s about the 63rd most scandalous thing that has happened in the past three seasons. Lest we forget, this is a show that once started with Blair self-pleasuring herself to the thought of Chuck performing oral sex on her. When viewed through that prism, a little kissing between three friends isn’t all that dirty.

Disabled advocates vs. ‘Glee

The protest: Some disabled Hollywood actors protested last night’s episode of ‘Glee,’ because it focused on Artie, the wheelchair bound member of the glee club, who is played by a non-disabled actor, Kevin McHale.

Protesting the protest: That anyone would call Ryan Murphy’s series discriminatory fails the laugh-test almost immediately. Last night not only dealt with the trials that Artie must go through on a daily basis while being handicapped, but also the fallout from Kurt coming out of the closet. And did I mention that the episode featured not one, but two actresses affected with Down syndrome? We defy you to find another show airing in primetime that would deal with one of these issues, let alone all three in one episode. This is a show that prides itself on acceptance and understanding. That McHale isn’t handicapped doesn’t make it less so. What’s next: Teen actors protesting that Cory Monteith is actually 27 years old and not 17?

Three More Inches

Speaking of ‘Glee:’ after last night, where she got to play both hilarious (after a perfectly choreographed routine from the Cheerios: “Mediocre”) and emotional (reading ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ to her Down syndrome affected sister), I think it’s about time to just hand Jane Lynch her Emmy award.

Instead of continually appearing in failed sit-coms (see you in another life, ‘Hank’), Kelsey Grammer should go the Ted Danson-route and start taking supporting roles in critically acclaimed cable shows.
And finally… after watching ‘Mad Men’sJanuary Jones play beer pong on ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,’ I have decided she must be a great actress. How else to explain the way she can damper her ebullient personality to play such a stifling bore, episode after episode?