Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tracing the Progressive Raunchiness in Modern American Television

I start with The Simpsons in the 1980's. Matt Groening's depiction of the American family gripped the nation by the funnybone and never let go. It was accurate, blunt, unapologetic and hilarious. Only in animation could you get the spontaneous timing and outrageous visual gags. It stereotyped and made fun of stereotypes and became its own stereotype. There was subversive content in television before, but this was raunch on primetime television... for over two decades!

Married with Children took the Simpsons into live action but with two twists. First, there was no didactic punchline, nor redeeming quality, nor lesson learned. It was even more bold than its animated counterpart because it just gave a slice of ugly life, let us laugh at it, and left us with the conclusion that that's just the way it is, fugly. The second was sex - and lots of it. Married with Children flirted with cancellation almost ever season but continued to defy the networks it made money for.

And then came South Park. The Santa vs. Jesus tape of South Park made its way around thanks to the internet in 1997, heralding the current age of viral video youtube-ification. And people were just slack-jawed at the boundaries the cut-out kids were crossing, stomping, demolishing. Raunch reached all new levels thanks to Stone and Parker. But in their comedy there was often a point being made if not a moral, illustrating a "Hey look at how ridiculous this is."

Then Family Guy arrived and said, "You thought that was raunchy? I'll show you raunchy." It was cancelled amid controversy and then revived due to rabid DVD sales and audience uproar. There is no moral or point being made other than, "Let me show you how bad we can be on national tv." It's often just plain gross.

Robot Chicken on Comedy Central is nothing less than pure genius. And just plain wrong. It takes Saturday morning cartoons from our childhood, soap commercials, current celebrities and everything under the sun and puts them all together in a stop-motion extravaganza, juxtaposing elements in a way only animation can. It's rude, crude satire and you can't help but gawk at what new stratospheric levels of raunch American television has reached today.

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